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SF Is Getting the Activated Charcoal Food Festival No One Asked For

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And taking a cue from circa 2011, it’s named 50 Shades of Charcoal


In a victory for style over substance, SoMa will be home to what apppears to be the world’s first food festival dedicated to activated charcoal, the charred carbon substance often used to darken foods and make them more palatable to Instagram photographers.

Taking a cue from circa 2011, it’s named 50 Shades of Charcoal and will go down at the SoMa Street Food Park with a dozen food trucks and pop-up stands (maybe more) on Sunday July 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival is wielding the tagline “Charcoal is definitely the new black” (although charcoal was already black), and will feature vendors like French puffers Choux, hotdog dippers Batter Up, and empanada-makers Nucha. All of them will be serving dishes or drinks dyed black with activated charcoal, such as charcoal lemoade or sangria from the on-site bar, charcoal battered corndogs, empanadas, and more.

While foodstuffs with discernible flavors — such as almost anything else — might merit their own food festivals, it seems frivolous here, to say the least, given that activated charcoal is considered mostly flavorless, save for a slight tinge of chalk or cement. To skirt that issue, it appears that 50 Shades is leaning into the medical uses of activated charcoal in the event’s Facebook description, which notes that “As a natural detoxifier, activated charcoal is really good at soaking up all the molecules in its path”.

Activated charcoal does indeed soak up substances it encounters — which is why it’s used to counter overdoses — but it can also soak up nutrients and other beneficial things, hence why 50 Shades has included a disclaimer on its event noting that the charcoal-laced foodstuffs shouldn’t be eaten within a two hour window of taking prescription medications.

In any case, there’s not a ton of evidence that activated charcoal has notable health benefits (beyond the very specific medical uses for things like overdoses) — although it’s “generally recognized as safe” to consume in small quantites that would be used to color ice cream, burger buns, and beyond. (That didn’t stop New York City from banning activated charcoal in food earlier this year.)

So feel free to (safely) run down to 50 Shades of Charcoal this weekend — but don’t expect that a charcoal-dyed corndog will cure all that ails you.