Black foods made using activated charcoal have proven popular on social media platforms, with the Instagram affect boosting innovation in the area. From black ice cream, burger buns and cheese to lattes and smoothies, interest in black food spans various categories.
While the appeal of activated charcoal as an ingredient can be linked to so-called ‘detox’ attributes, the majority of brands play on the dramatic colour it lends products, which proves eye catching both on shelf and in consumers’ Instagram feeds.
Activated charcoal is one source of food coloring E153 Carbon Black.
When derived from vegetable origin, Carbon Black is approved for use as a food additive in territories including Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Although a 2012 EFSA review of the safety of Carbon black found it was suitable for use in food, the additive remains banned in the US because of concerns over possible carcinogens.
Indeed, there is a significant question mark over the so-called health benefits associated with activated charcoal consumption, which are said to include digestive health.
The European Food Safety Authority has previously rejected claims that activated charcoal could help reduce bloating, although it has approved the claim that it “contributes to reducing excessive flatulence after eating". Meanwhile, Italian authorities have insisted bakers cannot make any health claims about the benefits of charcoal.
Rye breads could use black fad as springboard
According to Mintel, other ingredients such as dark rye could use the current interest in black food as a springboard for growth.
“Dark rye bread could offer longevity to the black food trend by marketing its health benefits, especially as the activated charcoal hype is beginning to dampen,” Mintel global food and beverage analyst Edward Bergen suggested.
Manufacturers hoping to capitalise would be able to leverage rye’s proven list of health benefits, as well as its whole grain status and “deep colour”, Bergen continued.
Several studies point to the health benefits of rye over other grains. A 2010 study from Lund University in Sweden concluded whole grain rye consumption contributes to reduced body weight, slightly improved insulin sensitivity, and lower total cholesterol. Meanwhile, researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala found rye has greater satiating properties than other grains. Rye is also naturally high in fibre, which contributes to gut health.
With 39% of UK consumers stating that it is hard to know which breads are healthy choices, Bergen believes that there is an opportunity to educate consumers about the benefits of different grains.
“Rye has been declining as an ingredient in bakery launches globally in recent years, but as long as the benefits are highlighted, rye could make a dynamic comeback,” he forecast.
Recipe innovation to elevate taste
Rye bread is known for its sharp, sour, tangy taste. Its texture is soft but dense and rye breads often have a harder, crunchier crust.
Bergen conceded that these factors may be a barrier to purchase for rye breads.
“Rye bread is more bitter and dense than white or brown loaves, which can be a barrier to purchase,” he said. “But using seeds, grain, nuts or fruit would help to elevate the drier taste of rye. Spices such as caraway, citrus, cardamom, chia and poppy bring out additional depth and colour in rye breads. Honey or molasses can also give rye bread a deeper colour as well as a hint of sweetness. The ingredients offer a 'superfood' halo and a more premium image through textures and visual appeal.”