Recently, images of a pitch black vegan croissant went viral after Amy Charlotte Kean Tweeted a photo of a pastry she encountered at trendy London café Coco di Mama, noting, "I feel like this might be a bit much even for east London.” It seems everyone has an opinion on these croissants (given the over 11,000 retweets of the original post), which get their color from activated charcoal, so here are three things you need to know about this plant-based pastry.
1. Apparently, they’re better than they look.
From the moment the first images of the vegan croissant appeared, skeptics shared far worse judgments than Kean’s “too much,” noting that the pastry resembled anything from a burned croissant to a dead seal.
“It looks like it came out of something that barks,” wrote one commenter. A journalist from the Guardian even called it “a global hate object.”
But according to Coco di Mama, the croissant “tastes better than it looks.”
“It’s much lighter and less greasy than a regular croissant,” writes Deniz Safa, Coco di Mama’s Head of Food, who sourced the product for the London chain from a bakery in Italy. “It has a lemon sugar crumb topping, which gives it a very Italian flavor profile. Some customers on Twitter have described it as ‘lemony candy floss’ or a ‘hot cross bun.’”
One Instagrammer who actually sampled the croissant agrees:
“It was surprisingly nice,” he wrote. “Although I’ve now worked out the way they make a vegan croissant taste good is to lace it with sugar… #peakhipster”.
2. They might not be better for you than a traditional croissant.
Croissants are famously rich, made with wheat flour and a whole lot of butter. The vegan pastry, on the other hand, explores elements of the functional food space: not only is it plant-based, but it features activated charcoal as one of its main ingredients, a trendy alkaline substance that a spokesperson from the café tells Mashable helps “to detoxify any poisons in the body by neutralizing excess stomach acids.”
While the powers of charcoal for stomach ailments have been well documented, and the Guardian even notes that charcoal is used to “treat some overdoses and instances of acute poisoning,” it’s unlikely that the charcoal in the croissant actually benefits eaters.
“Don’t expect to reap the health benefits of vitamins or supplements if you consume them while sipping on a charcoal lemonade drink or after throwing back an activated charcoal pill,” writes McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN for Nutrition Stripped.
Most food products just don't contain enough charcoal to provide health benefits, and perhaps more importantly, Hill explains activated charcoal doesn’t “play favorites."
“It will absorb substances no matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you.”
Add to this the fact that the other ingredients in the croissant – sunflower margarine, sugar, flour – are acidifying, and the alkaline benefits of the charcoal really aren't all that enticing.
3. The French opinion on the pastry is (surprisingly) split.
When news of what their neighbors across the Channel did to their token pastry reached the French, reactions were more perplexed than incensed: French newspaper La Voix du Nord calls the croissant “extreme,” noting that croissant “purists” are not huge fans of the idea.
It’s not just the look that's problematic – it’s also the fact that activated charcoal is not an approved ingredient to add to baked goods in France.
“Using activated charcoal in baked goods seems to be enjoying a certain success among professionals these days,” writes Les Nouvelles de la Boulangerie, a French news site specifically targeting baking professionals. “That’s why Dominique Anract recently reminded the entirety of the profession that activated charcoal, considered to be an additive (E153) is not authorized for use in bread.”
In France, the product is classified as a coloring agent and is thus forbidden from use in bread; French bakers wishing to color their bread must do so with ingredients like squid ink, basil, or tomato.
That hasn’t stopped some bakers from including the trendy ingredient in their baguettes. Cyprien bakery in Toulouse makes an activated charcoal “baguette tradition” with flour, water, salt, yeast, and 15 grams of activated charcoal per kilo of flour. The baguette, which was originally intended to be a limited-edition product for the month of January, has become so popular that the owners of Cyprien are considering making it a staple product.
While an activated charcoal vegan croissant may be pushing things a bit too far for the French, who are famed lovers of tradition when it comes to their baked goods, innovative bakers like those at Cyprien may well embrace the idea of such a novel pastry.