Activated charcoal continues to gain popularity for its ability to turn just about any food jet-black while also boasting purported health benefits, such as drawing toxins out of the body, quelling gastrointestinal distress and alleviating a hangover. A popular culinary additive in Korea, Taiwan and Japan, it can even be baked into “black velvet” cake and serves as a blackening agent in Burger King Japan’s Kuro Burger (the cheese and ketchup also sport a jet-black hue, thanks to charcoal).
Unfortunately for bakers in Europe looking to cash in on the fad, activated charcoal counts as food coloring — in this case, E153 Carbon Black — the addition of which is banned in baked goods under EU law. The European Food Safety Authority doesn’t buy charcoal’s alleged bloating-reducing properties, and the Italian Ministry of Health is cracking down on bakeries selling charcoal-infused bread marketed as tummy friendly (our words, not theirs). That’s right, amici, until good, solid science backs the benefits of the black stuff, don’t try using it to sell more ciabatta. If it contains activated charcoal, it’s not real bread.