Seeing a jet-black waffle can be a bit disconcerting, but it’s one of the most popular menu items at Stateside, on Capitol Hill. Here’s why, and how to make them.

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When advocates of a healthy, balanced diet recommend that people “eat the rainbow,” there’s one color they’re rarely including — and it’s black.

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Outside of squid ink, seeing food the color black usually meant it has gone bad or is something to be avoided at all costs. But while living in Hong Kong a few years ago, Stateside chef/owner Eric Johnson noticed a strange phenomenon.

“The charcoal waffle was starting to become popular,” he said. “In fact, black food was having a bit of a moment.”

In addition to charcoal waffles making waves in Hong Kong, both Burger King and McDonald’s introduced black cheeseburgers in Japan. Even now, charcoal buns, waffles and even cakes turn up thousands of results in Instagram posts from all over the globe.

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When Johnson added brunch at Stateside in November 2015, a charcoal waffle featured — and began to feature on Instagram — prominently.

Of course, it didn’t always go over well — it’s still a jet-black waffle, after all.

“Many people don’t know what it will be when they order it. Some think it is somehow cooked over charcoal…,” Johnson says. “We did have someone keep trying to send it back because they thought it was burnt. They, of course, Yelped about this. Classic.”

In the end, he notes that almost everyone loves it, and since we’ve seen the appearance of more black foods in Seattle.

More recently, Capitol Hill neighbors Frankie and Jo’s and Central District Ice Cream Company have joined in, introducing a salted caramel ash ice cream and charcoal waffle cones, respectively.

Although there have been rumblings in regard to what food-grade charcoal can do for you in terms of health — everything from teeth whitening to help detoxing — Johnson added a charcoal waffle to the Stateside menu for pure nostalgia.

“The dish we created started out of the pop culture black-food trend in East Asia. That’s the kind of thing we’re interested in, as well as the classics,” he said.

Additionally, charcoal powder absorbs moisture, making the waffles at Stateside incredibly crisp.

Other than aesthetics and added crispness, charcoal powder makes no impact on the flavor of dishes, meaning Frankie and Jo’s black ice cream “just tastes like a perfectly balanced salted caramel ice cream,” co-owner Kari Brunson says.

For anyone looking to add a little black to their favorite breads, cakes, waffles, cookies or ice cream, all it takes is a package of food-grade activated charcoal, made from either bamboo or hardwood, available online at Amazon.com and at certain specialty food stores.

Johnson recommends proceeding with caution, however.

“It’s a super fine powder; literally you breathe on it and it can go everywhere. We’ve had more than one cook have to change their white shirt the first time they used it,” he says with a laugh.

All it takes is a steady hand, shallow breaths and patience to slowly add activated charcoal powder one spoonful at a time to your favorite recipes — beginning with Johnson’s waffles.

 

Charcoal Waffles

From Eric Johnson, Stateside

Makes between 4 and 6 waffles, depending on iron size

 

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

4 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 egg whites

3 egg yolks

½ cup melted butter

2 cups milk

¼ cup activated charcoal powder

 

1. Preheat waffle iron

2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then lightly add charcoal powder using a whisk.

3. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks, and add the milk, buttermilk and the melted butter. Add the sifted dry ingredients.

4. In a small bowl, beat the egg whites to a thick foam and add them gently to the preparation until just combined.

5. Pour ¼ cup batter mix onto your iron; cook until done through.

6. Serve with anything from coconut ice cream to maple syrup.