“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all,” Coco Chanel once said, and she could not have been any more right – even when talking about ice cream. Black ice cream has been around for a while, but within the last couple of years the newest fad is making it with activated charcoal.
Yes, we’re talking about that ingredient that you see in face masks, spa soaps, and teeth whitening powders lining the aisles of pharmacies and grocery stores. “My grandfather used to brush his teeth with a bar of charcoal paste back in the 1940s—due to its popularity, manufacturers are beginning to add the powdered additive to toothpastes found at major grocers like Whole Foods,” says Stella Metsovas, author of Wild Mediterranean. So, if activated charcoal is often used to detox our skin and clean our teeth, how could it possibly be safe to actively consume?
The trend of adding activated charcoal to ice cream started at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream in New York City a couple of years ago. Its black ice cream, called “black coconut ash,” didn’t take long to flood Instagram feeds. While it wasn’t initially designed to be a health food (but while we’re on the topic, here are some superfoods you should stock up on this fall), the charcoal ingredient does in fact have a detoxifying attribute, which draws out toxins from the body. This process is called adsorption, where the positively-charged toxins bind to the negatively-charged, porous surface of the activated charcoal.
Consuming activated charcoal starts to become controversial when one of its primary uses is brought into question: removing toxins due to overdoses and poisonings in emergency rooms. With that in mind, if you are taking over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs (including birth control), and/or vitamins (or any other type of supplement), consuming activated charcoal may actually make the drugs and vitamins ineffective. This is due to the charcoal being unable to differentiate from the good and the bad drugs and supplements. Because of this, there have been a multitude of petitions to require shops, like Morgenstern’s, to post warning signs to inform their customers of the potential side effects after consuming their products containing activated charcoal.
Ultimately, is it safe to consume black ice cream? If you’re not taking any over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, or other supplements, then yes, but in small quantities. Experts say there is more of a concern when consuming activated charcoal in the form of a daily supplement than in the form of an occasional ice cream. “Everything in moderation,” Elissa Goodman, a Los Angeles-based holistic nutritionist, told Eater.com. “I don’t think it’s good to eat or drink it all the time. When you’re feeling bad, it’s great to use. When you’re healthy and normal, you don’t need it.”
(Activated charcoal isn’t alone in affecting drug effectiveness, though. Grapefruit and medications also don’t mix well.)