If you've been naughty this year (that fourth drink always sounds like such a great idea), you should actually hope for a lump of coal in your stocking.
In the never-ending search for ways to punch up the weird on cocktails, we've seen some bartenders using activated charcoal not only for the health benefits but also the rich, black hue it lends to a drink. (Activated charcoal is often used in detoxes thanks to its ability to absorb impurities and toxins. Local Press + Brew even has an activated cocktail juice called the Morning After. Hello, hangover cure.)
Until recently, the go-to ingredient to create black cocktails has been squid ink, which does create the same dramatic murkiness, but gives a briny note to the drink — and no one wants to drink something that tastes like the Gulf of Mexico. Activated charcoal adds a touch of smoky, bitter flavor and a very slight grainy texture, neither of which markedly change a cocktail's profile. Oh, and it gets better ... activated charcoal is also said to reduce gas to improve digestive health, lower cholesterol and even apparently whitens teeth and gives skin a little glow.
So right now you're thinking, "Why don't all our cocktails have this miracle ingredient?" Well, the dark magic it adds is both figurative and literal. Since it's a binding agent, which makes it great for removing toxins, it actually is just a bit too good at doing so. Yes, it can help mitigate a hangover, but it may also bind to any medications you've taken, rendering them less effective or even completely ineffective. That said, it's strongly recommended that if you are taking a medication and consuming activated charcoal you pop your pills at least two hours before imbibing.
"Activated charcoal should not be taken with any other medication. A dose should only be taken at least two hours before or one hour after a dose of any other medication because charcoal binds to other drugs. When the charcoal binds to other medications, it can make them less effective, which can be dangerous if the drug is vital," says Morgan Debs, certified family nurse practitioner.
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So, what's the solution? We're not advocating abstention (because what fun is that?), we're just advocating education. Since the new phenomenon seems to be popping up more places, bartenders using this ingredient should be warning patrons of the possible effects of the dark addition. So, partake, imbibe and consume, but make sure to get those meds downed a timely manner before doing so.