Binchoutan, “White Charcoal” is the key to Bird’s Nests amazing aromas and flavours.
The history of charcoal in Japan goes back several thousand years to the Jomon era. Binchotan charcoal was introduced to Japan by Japanese monk and scholar Kukai 1,200 years ago. And it was during the Edo Period that a man called Binchuya Chozaemon made it popular.
In the early modern period, Chado (the Way of Tea) took on greater importance, and this led to the making of an even finer variety of charcoal for the tea ceremony.
Today, Japan’s charcoal-making techniques are admired worldwide. We can classify the different types of charcoal used in Japan into two broad categories: kuro-zumi(black charcoal) and shiro-zumi (“white” charcoal).
Why do chefs choose Binchotan?
This high quality charcoal has many benefits.
Binchotan burns cleanly with a high steady heat and the alkalised ashes are said to neutralise protein acids and other undesirable acidic products during cooking. Due to far-infrared radiation produced by the charcoal, foods are quickly sealed enhancing the natural flavours of the food. Binchotan is a highly dense charcoal and burns for a very long time, with each piece being able to burn for 3 – 5 hours depending on the thickness.
When grilling skewered food, you don’t want to ruin the delicate taste of the food. The worst enemy is the smoke coming from the grease dripping onto the hot charcoal. But with Binchotan, thanks to its high steady heat, the food doesn’t have to be kept close to the charcoal while grilling, which means there are lesser chances for the food to be affected by the unwanted smoke.
How is Binchotan made?
The charcoal is made from ubame oak trees. They mainly grow on coastal slopes and are very firm and dense.
The wood is cut into logs and heated in the kiln to be dried, then “baked” at a temperature over 1,000 degrees C until totally carbonized.
What is special about Binchotan charcoal is that after being taken out of the kiln, it is smothered with soil-mixed wet ash to put out the fire. This process gives a light-gray color to the surface of the charcoal, hence its alternative name, “white charcoal.”
This is what the inside of the Binchotan looks like:
The cut edge is so dense and shiny. When hit against each other, the charcoal pieces make almost metallic sound. And because it is so dense and firm, it can be used in a variety of ways, some of which can be quite surprising!