As time goes on the number of different materials that biochar is being used as a substitute for is definitely on the increase. This is absolutely necessary if we are to build a healthier, more sustainable bio-based economy. Originally the focus for biochar was on soils where it can be used as a substitute for lime, vermiculite, perlite and other soil amendments (e.g. coir, peat moss, etc.). The next big thing was activated charcoal (AC), also called activated carbon. Since biochar is basically in the same carbon family and generally less expensive to produce than AC, focusing on the many uses of activated charcoal, from remediation to water filtration, seemed a logical market to target for biochar.
More recently biochar has been tested in livestock feed where it could possibly replace relatively harmless materials such as diatomaceous earth (DE) which acts as a binding agent for toxins, or it could replace environmentally harmful materials such as anti-biotics which are used to boost feed conversion ratios and prevent illness (see more on that here). Reading up on other uses for DE, I learned that it can be found in tooth paste, anti-caking agents in feed, cat litter, and paint. It can also help reduce food intolerances. Biochar can, and in some cases is already utilized for all of those. However as the price of food grade DE is pretty much on a par with biochar, the price advantage argument isn’t necessarily going to propel biochar forward in these markets just yet. As organic as DE is purported to be though, it is still a mined product which brings with it all the unavoidable negative environmental impacts that mining operations imply, not to mention the carbon footprint of shipping it to the manufacturer, then consumer, then landfill. Biochar has definite advantages over DE when it comes to environmental benefits and impacts.
Let’s go back to food for a moment though and see where else biochar just might be used as a substitute. Recently I was reading up on recipes for homemade play dough (like many of you I’m sure!) and found a salt dough recipe. [I promptly made some which looks well, horrible…more work needed on that.] Anyway this got me curious as to the role of the salt in dough, something which wasn’t all that easy to discover I will tell you. However I did find one bread blog which described salt’s impact on bread:
- Salt affects dough texture, making it stronger and less sticky.
- Salt reduces oxidation of the dough during mixing. Oxidation causes the degradation of carotenoid pigments in the flour that contribute to flavor and crumb color.
- Salt regulates yeast activity, causing fermentation to progress at a more consistent rate.
- Salt affects shelf life. Because it attracts water, it can help keep bread from staling too quickly in a dry environment.
The blogger goes on to say that the most noticeable impact is on taste (color me not surprised on that one). Based on my small experiments with tasting biochar, I seriously doubt it will be able to compete with salt in the taste arena. However I think biochar could give salt a run for its money on some of the other functions. And if it could also help with reducing food intolerances, perhaps it could alleviate some of the issues an increasing number of people have with wheat or other grains. Heck people add all sorts of ingredients to breads and brownies, both legal and illegal, so why not try adding biochar – it could very well be better for your body than salt. [If you do try this, keep well hydrated as charcoal can adsorb a lot of water and cause unintended stoppages…]
How many of these other 46 uses of salt could biochar be used for?