Black has long been beautiful except in food perhaps but that is fast changing with all kinds of delectables, from pizzas and burgers to ice-creams and tikkas, taking on a shade as inky and impenetrable as a dark, moonless night.
Overcoming the inherent distaste for anything in shades of grey and darker in food, gourmets are embracing the little black dish with as much enthusiasm as fashionistas take their little black dresses.
For the longest time, even a pinch of black in food was a reason to get the knives out at the chef. Not anymore.
People want to have their plates with something dark or the other, be it from charcoal, ash or squid ink.
“The popularity of charred foods, the acceptance of squid ink as more than a novelty ingredient, and the rise of activated charcoal as a health food has given a whole new concept of black food in the culinary industry,” said Rananjoy Banerjee, executive chef at The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa.
“It is not only unusually coloured but visually appealing too,” added Banerjee, whose hotel is known for its hot-selling Japanese “black sesame ice-cream” and has recently introduced a “black burger”.
Squid ink, the newest must have in high-end gourmet kitchens, is an edible black substance taken from the ink sac of a squid.
Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from bone char, coconut shells, peat, coal, olive pits or sawdust. The charcoal is “activated” by processing it at very high temperatures. Both, black burger and ice-cream, get their colour from activated charcoal.
And so it is that black-coloured foods, which earlier took Instagrammers by storm, thanks to charcoal-infused goth ice-cream, now includes pastas, pizzas, burgers, health drinks and even our very own desi murg malai tikka too.
The fandom is only growing.
Recently, Pizza Hut, one of India’s leading pizza chains, introduced the “country’s first ever black pan pizza” at its Gurgaon restaurants. The black pan pizza, claimed Pizza Hut, is more unique since it gets its colour from a “secret natural ingredient” that is wholly different from charcoal.
“Millennials form a majority of our customer base, and they love to experiment with food that not just satisfies their palate, but also caters to their visual and creative senses,” said Prashant Gaur, chief brand and custom officer, Pizza Hut.
So what is the back story of this black food story?
The idea originated from days when a lot of meats and vegetables were charred for taste, explained Anooj Wadhawan, executive chef, Roseate House.
Kheer, Roseate’s in-house restaurant, has on their menu a black-hued ‘Murgh Malai Tikka’ designed and plated keeping the charcoal look in mind.
“There are infinite number of ways to convert any dish into something black, but we, at Roseate Hotels & Resorts use a special ingredient of a specific brand which we import from Dubai to help give a black colour to the dishes without it really effecting the taste of the dish,” he added.
Imperfecto Shor Cafe uses squid ink to blacken and flavour ‘Spanish Black Rice’, a favourite on its menu.
“For Spanish Black Rice, we use squid ink which is naturally black. The dish is for all sea food lovers because squid ink has a very distinct flavour of the sea as well.
“Customers really do enjoy the dish because it served with a lot of seafood such a squid and calamari,” said Akanksha Dean, chef manager of the eatery.
And to wash it all down, what better than a goth drink to go with goth food – like activated charcoal detox shots or black water?
Akiva activated charcoal aloe vera health shots and Evocus black alkaline water claim to be big on health grounds and are cashing in on the black obsession.
While Akiva superfoods boast about their product being “healthy and tasty”, Evocus banks highly on the “unique formulation” of its black alkaline water.
“It is alkaline water enriched with 70+ minerals that offer benefits such as optimum hydration, better detoxification, increased metabolism and heightened alertness. You won’t find this formulation in regular drinking water,” said Aakash Vaghela, co-founder and managing director, AV Organics.
There are some drawbacks too.
Activated charcoal is used in various hospitals because of its preventive nature against poisons and lethal overdose of drugs. But, being a natural absorbent, it tends to soak all the molecules irrespective of their toxic and non-toxic effects on the body, said Meena Kumari, chief dietician at the Sarvodaya Hospital and Research Centre in Faridabad.
“It should not be given to a person on medication or on a birth control pills since charcoal is likely to absorb the drugs. It can be used as a detoxifying agent but in very small quantities,” she added.
Sarthak Gupta is one of those who is experimenting with black food, not making it but eating it.
“Forget about change in the colour of food, even plate colour effects our perception of the flavour of the food. So yes black food was different in taste to my senses. That said, the photos are more exciting, ” said the 28-year-old who has cut his teeth on both black ice-cream and black burger.