By Hollie Harris

Jet black ice cream, macarons, smoothies, cheese, bagels, buns and pizza crust made with activated charcoal as a colorant look pretty cool on Instagram and Pinterest photos, depending on what you find appetising. explains how it’s made: “Activated charcoal is the byproduct of burning coconut shells, wood or other plant materials. If that sounds dangerous to eat, don’t worry: charcoal made from coconut is harmless and is different from consuming food that has been charred or burnt.”

Besides being a colorant, charcoal has a reputation as a detox remedy, though that use might not hold up to scrutiny.

Parents and medical personnel have long known of charcoal’s use as an antidote to severe poisoning or overdoses due to its binding capabilities – adhering to the toxic contents before the body has a chance to absorb them. The drawback is that it also can take up nutrients or medicines, which may be a good reason to avoid this latest food fad.

“It can indeed absorb some substances but not all, and it can only do that in the gut. This means that for detoxifying the body it is next to useless in many situations,” says Exeter University professor Edzard Ernst, an author of many books on alternative medicine. “It absorbs things that the body needs — for instance, medications, which can lead to problems, of course. Foremost, it absorbs water from the gut, which can lead to dehydration and constipation.”

Another way to color food black is to mix up your own black tint, using red, green and blue food coloring. Generally speaking, use equal amounts of each color; adjust as needed.