Behind the Scenes, In the Kitchen, Japan, Yardbird • Jun 23, 2017
Grilling has probably existed since the discovery of fire, but there’s much more to this method of cooking than meets the eye. Factors such as cooking time, flame temperature, grill technique can all affect the taste of grilled food – whether it’s chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables. Generally, the idea of “barbecue” encompasses everything from charcoal grills to cedar smokers to fire pits, but when it comes to Japanese barbecue, it’s all about binchotan, also known as white charcoal.
Japanese cooking has a long history using binchotan, which comes from the Oak Tree – the official tree of Wakayama prefecture. The sturdy Ubame Oak of the Kishu region in Wakayama is a 100% carbon charcoal that burns into a white ash. Binchotan is prized by chefs because of its steady, low temperature that burns for a longer period of time. It is also odorless, which allows the natural flavors of the grilled food to come through. Yakitori and unagi dishes are traditionally grilled over binchotan charcoal.
Besides using binchotan for cooking purposes, the purity of this charcoal makes it useful for other things as well. Binchotan’s porous nature aids in absorption and, when treated, can be placed in water to help purify it and remove any heavy metals or chemicals. This charcoal can also be used as a deodorizer and dehumidifier when placed throughout one’s house as it absorbs moisture, draws out toxins, and helps cleanse the air by adding positive ions. There are even dental hygienic products that use binchotan charcoal as it’s believed to help deep clean and whiten teeth.