Last month, on a 16-day trip to Japan, I happened to be in Kyoto on the 21st, the day every month a huge — and hugely popular — flea market is held on the grounds of Tō-ji (temple).
While browsing the booths hawking everything from freshly made okonomiyaki to used Nikon cameras, I came across one selling flat pieces of charcoal.
And I had no idea why.
So I walked over and, in my very elementary Japanese, asked the smiling woman in the booth what these charcoal blocks were for.
Thankfully, she could speak English. And even better, she had brochures for American tourists just like me.
She explained that these were pieces of bamboo charcoal, taken from older plants and burned inside an oven at extremely high temperatures. The result is an environmentally functional material that has excellent absorption properties — and lots of other uses I had never heard of before.
For example, you can place it in water to purify it. You can put it in your refrigerator to remove odors and keep your fruits and vegetables fresh. You can place it in hot oil to improve the taste and crispness of whatever you’re frying. It can even clean and ionize the atmosphere in your room and protect your electronics.
But one of the more common uses of bamboo charcoal is for cooking rice. It absorbs chlorine, bad odor and toxic substances from water, thusly improving the taste, look and quality of the rice.
That sold me.
So I bought a bag of bamboo charcoal, shared some with my parents, and saved one to try myself.
I debated between using this block of bamboo charcoal to purify my drinking water — another popular use, one that dates back centuries — or in my rice cooker. The latter was more of a draw for me since I eat way more rice than I drink water. So I tried it last night.
I placed the block in my rice cooker, right in the water, before I cooked it. I wasn’t sure what it was going to do or how the rice would be improved by it. I had my doubts.
Not only was the rice shinier — I thought, for a minute, the rice might turn black due to the charcoal, but it didn’t — it actually tasted better. Derek put it best: “It’s like the difference between drinking tap water and mineral water.”
It actually tasted cleaner, like I had rinsed the rice in Evian.
Anyone else tried using bamboo charcoal? (If not, you should!)