The Q Bar at the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC serves the most addictively delicious charcoal-spiced popcorn with their drinks. Inspired to recreate it, I was curious to see how else I might use food-grade activated charcoal.
First, though, I wanted to learn what it is and what it does. Activated charcoal – not to be confused with the chemical-laden stuff you use on the grill! – is made from a variety of sources such as hardwood and coconut shells and naturally traps toxins, chemicals, gases etc. in its porous surface.
Activated charcoal (AC) doesn’t absorb these toxins; instead, it works through the chemical process of adsorption. A quick refresher: In the body, absorption is the process that occurs when elements such as nutrients, chemicals and toxins are soaked up and assimilated into the bloodstream. Adsorption is a chemical reaction in which elements bind to a surface. The charcoal’s negative electric charge causes positively charged toxins and gas to attach to its tiny nooks and crannies, allowing them to be flushed out so the body doesn’t reabsorb them.
6 Common Uses for Activated Charcoal
Having purchased a bag of the stuff from Amazon, it was time to figure out what to do with it besides making popcorn (stay tuned for recipe).
Teeth Whitening Being a fan of coffee, tea and red wine, my teeth often look a bit dingy. AC is supposed to whiten teeth while promoting good oral health and it’s certainly cheaper than Opalescence or whitening strips so I figured I’d try it. My Internet search revealed that AC attaches to plaque and microscopic stains while changing the pH balance in the mouth to help prevent cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.
I spoon a small amount into a ramekin and tote it to the bathroom. Be warned, the fine powder can (and will) stain grout and fabrics. Protect counters, floors and clothing before using and lean way over the sink. And always avoid breathing it in (there’s a warning label about potential hazards).
Directions are simple: Wet a toothbrush and dip into the powdered AC. Brush teeth for about 2 minutes, paying special attention to areas showing the most staining. Your mouth will immediately turn black, and I looked like an extra in a road company production of Les Misérables; truly hideous. Then sip a bit of water, swish through mouth thoroughly and spit out. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.
For best results, brush your teeth with activated charcoal two-three times per week.
Note: If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them, although most users say this isn’t a problem since these are smooth, hard surfaces. Play it safe and just brush it on natural teeth. Of course, if your teeth become sensitive, quit using it.
Gas & Bloating AC has been found to alleviate discomfort by binding with gas-causing by-products in certain foods. Several brands of charcoal supplement tablets are available at pharmacies and drugstores, which has to be a lot neater and more appetizing than dumping black powder into a glass. Make sure to read the directions and drink plenty of water to get the charcoal into your system.
Incidentally, drinking 8-10 glasses of pure water every day helps to calm the digestive tract, fight fatigue, keep organs functioning, and lubricate joints and tissues.
Alcohol Poisoning & Preventing Hangovers While AC does not adsorb alcohol, it does help to quickly remove other substances from the body (such as artificial sweeteners) that contribute to symptoms.
When taken at the same time as alcohol, some studies show that AC can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. Seems easier to just stop after the second margarita, no?
Bee stings This is a cool home remedy! Make a paste with powdered charcoal and water and put it on the painful area. Be sure to cover it with a bandage so you don’t stain your clothes. Again, a bit messy but if it works, why not?
Mold I’m diligent about spraying Tilex in the shower but never thought about mold living in people’s bodies (Ick!) Turns out, inhaling mold spores has been linked to eye irritation, headaches, respiratory and immune system issues, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function and heart disease.
If you experience symptoms such as rashes, headaches, watery eyes, coughing or wheezing that aren’t explained in other ways (e.g., allergies), check your home for mold spore levels, even if you don’t see visible mold. It can develop behind drywall, under floors and in ventilation ducts, especially in homes that have flooded or have small leaks under a sub-floor or in the walls.
Poor ventilation exacerbates the problem, and damp, humid areas such as bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms are particularly prone to mold growth.
AC tablets can help flush out spores in your body; check with your doctor for dosing recommendations. And if there is visible mold in your home, natural remedies such as baking soda, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil and borax will clean hard surfaces and help keep mold from growing back. Make sure to wear gloves and a protective mask during cleanup so you don’t inhale more spores.
Water Filtration Activated charcoal traps impurities in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals. (Hello, Brita!) Note that AC doesn’t trap viruses, bacteria or hard-water minerals.
Food Poisoning AC is also recommended for food poisoning accompanied by nausea and diarrhea. Check the dosage on your bottle of AC tablets and of course call 911 in severe cases of any type of poisoning.
Now, about that popcorn: Mix garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add a tiny amount of powdered food grade charcoal and stir, being careful not to inhale the charcoal.
Charcoal powder won’t stain sinks and other hard surfaces but it could stain grout and WILL stain clothes. So use carefully!
Sprinkle a small amount on buttered popcorn and enjoy!