A strange new food trend that has gained traction over the past year is “Black Ice Cream” or “Goth Ice Cream.” It’s ice cream that is shockingly black and much darker than chocolate ice cream. It’s being sold at ice cream shops in Los Angles, New York and elsewhere. But what actually makes it black isn’t some food coloring.
It’s activated charcoal, which is thought to have detoxifying or cleansing benefits. The ingredient is used in other foods to make them look black. It can even be used to replicate the famous all-black burgers that were popular in fast food restaurants in Japan.
However, there have been questions about the activated charcoal and it’s supposed benefits. An online petition that has over 14,800 signatures even wants restaurants serving black ice cream to warn customers that activated charcoal can make prescription medicines less effective.
Here’s what you need to know about black ice cream and activated charcoal.
1. Activated Charcoal Is Really Used in Emergency Rooms to Treat Overdoses
Charcoal-colored foods became a trend in past couple of years, starting with juices, like lemonades. However, activated charcoal isn’t meant to be just another trendy food ingredient. It has real medicinal uses.
Activated charcoal can be used to treat poisonings or drug overdoses in emergency rooms. It is made with common charcoal heated in gas that creates “pores” or internal spaces within the charcoal. The pores “trap” chemicals and makes it absorbent.
But back in 2015, juice companies started adding it into their drinks. Into The Gloss noted in 2015 that Juice Generation launched its first line of activated charcoal drinks and reported that the drinks tasted the same as juices without the ingredient.
However, some of the more wild claims about activated charcoal, like the idea that it can cure hangovers or whiten teeth, haven’t been proven.
2. Activated Charcoal Can Have an Impact on the Effectiveness of Your Prescription Medications
Judy Fulop, a naturopathic physician at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told BuzzFeed in 2015 that she does suggest activated charcoal to some patients, like people exposed to mold or athletes who have diarrhea from running in marathons, in capsule form. Fulop explained that the charcoal can help cleanse the gastrointestinal tract of the “problematic particles.”
“It’s effective in binding, but it can be too effective, in terms of binding medications a person needs,” Fulop told Buzzfeed. She said that this is why she recommends patients wait to take activated charcoal for two hours before or after taking prescription medicine. She added that activated charcoal can also absorb vitamins from food.
That’s partly why Care2 petitioner Julie Mastrine wants stores selling black ice cream to add a warning label.
“These treats look totally delicious, and I’d definitely eat them. But in the interest of informed consent, ice cream shops should let their customers know the risk,” Mastrine said in a statement. “This could be as simple as hanging a sign inside the shop. Customers don’t need to be frightened, they just need to know what’s up.”
3. Activated Charcoal Can Make Birth Control Less Effective
Along the lines of Fulop’s warning in her Buzzfeed interview, it is true that activated charcoal can make birth control less effective for the same reasons she outlined.
Patricia Raymond, M.D., a gastroenterologist, explained to Women’s Health in 2015 that activated charcoal is usually given to patients who take too much medication or overdose because it is “so absorbent.” She added, “But if you’re drinking it and you also are on any meds, even birth control pills, the charcoal is likely to absorb the drugs. So you risk having them become ineffective.”
Even in 2014, when the activated charcoal trend was just getting started, doctors were cautioning against it. Linda Fan, a physician at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, told U.S. News in October 2014 that she wouldn’t recommend using activated charcoal without talking to a medical professional.
“The whole purpose of activated charcoal in the medical world is to prevent absorption of medications or drugs in order to prevent toxicity,” gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, told Insider in June 2017.
4. You Can Get Black Ice Cream at New York’s Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
Black Ice Cream is available at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, one of New York City’s most popular ice cream parlors. Their ice cream was featured in the New York Times back in 2014 and by People Magazine in 2016.
Owner Nick Morgenstern told Mic in 2016 that his black ice cream is made of “coconut ash,” which is a form of activated charcoal.
“Activated charcoal is just something organic that has been charred and processed with high heat so that it behaves like a filter,” Morgenstern said in 2016. He added, “I had been monkeying around with coconut ash for a while and then I had this fancy chocolate bar that used coconut ash. I knew I had to use it. We wanted to put a coconut ice cream on the menu and it all came together.”
Paste Magazine’s list of places where you can get black ice cream include a food truck at the Platinum Fashion Mall in Bangkok; the Ca Lem Creamery in Montreal; Glacier Vanille Noir in Marsaille, France; and Ice & Pan in Queens, New York.
5. Little Damage in Los Angeles Introduced Black Soft Serve Ice Cream in April
If you thought he black ice cream fad died down, the Little Damage Ice Cream shop in downtown Los Angeles introduced black soft serve ice cream in April.
The shop is calling the flavor “Almost Charcoal,” so it does include activated charcoal as an ingredient.
The flavor is also served in a black cone. You can also add toppings in case you want to add some color to your frozen treat.