In the palette of the food world, diners are normally attracted to buns baked to a golden brown, cakes studded with colourful berries, meats jazzed up with leafy greens and sauces that add pops of colour to a dish.
But, sometimes, black has its allure.
Chefs and bakers are rolling out black food, ranging from buns to macarons to sushi, with the colour derived mainly from charcoal powder or squid ink. It is the black sheen that chefs have taken a shine to.
Snack chain Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks, with outlets at nex, The Clementi Mall and Tampines Mall, has introduced squid ink seafood tempura, with squid ink in the batter.
Japanese restaurant Oceans of Seafood at Pasarbella is introducing kuro goma tamago sushi today. Black sesame (goma) paste is used to colour the Japanese omelette and it may well be used to colour the rice in future.
Burger King's BK Black burger, a bamboo charcoal bun with turkey bacon and a choice of beef patty or chicken thigh that was introduced last year for a limited period, is back again until early next month, while stocks last.
Most of the time, restaurants offering black food do it because the colour makes the food look dramatic.
Master chef Chan Hwan Kee of Min Jiang at the Goodwood Park Hotel, who created a mini black charcoal egg custard bun for the restaurant's dim sum menu that launched on May 1, says: "We wanted to add a glamorous twist to the humble dim sum item.
The contrast between the bright yellow centre and glistening black bun makes the otherwise simple salted egg yolk custard bun very eye-catching."
Tiong Bahru Bakery introduced squid ink buns in 2012 when the first shop in the chain opened. A spokesman says: "The black tone makes food look very rich and unctuous, with intense flavours mostly associated with smokiness."
It sells about 100 squid ink bread sandwiches every week.
However, looks alone are not the reason.
At Dolcetto deli at the Regent Singapore, squid ink panino and squid ink macarons quickly became signature items when they were introduced in 2012.
Regent Singapore's executive sous chef Angelo Ciccone, 34, says: "Squid ink is a common ingredient in Italian cooking and has a very distinct flavour that makes each dish special."
Squid ink is also used in other dishes at the hotel's Italian restaurant Basilico.
There are claims that squid ink has cancer-curbing properties, but Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre in Raffles Hospital, says the "potential health benefits of squid ink require further studies".
As for charcoal, its activated forms are commonly used as medication for food poisoning. The ingredient has "little nutritive value", she says and recommends eating both ingredients in small portions and "very occasionally".
While the novelty of black food has attracted the attention of diners, taste still matters most.
Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Gabriel Isaac Goh, 22, has tried Burger King's BK Black burger and says: "It was appealing to me aesthetically, plus it was a convenient option. I noticed an added flavour to the bread, but I'm not sure if it is due to the nature of the charcoal bread or artificial flavouring. It's more of a novelty item for me."
National University of Singapore undergraduate Ong Lin Hui, 21, who has tried Fatcat Ice Cream Bar's charcoal waffles, says: "I thought it was different from other waffles, but the colour didn't affect the taste. There are probably better waffles out there.
"It's interesting to colour the food black and, with Instagram, the food can look appealing."
What: Popular items on Dolcetto deli's menu include the squid ink panino ($14+), as well as a savoury squid ink macaron ($2.25+, left) with a smoked salmon filling.
Where: Dolcetto, Lobby Level, Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Road, open: 7.30am to 9pm daily
Info: Call 6720-8000
What: The fast-food chain's BK Black (above) returns after a successful debut last year. The burger features a bamboo charcoal bun with toasted white sesame seeds, turkey bacon and a choice of either Whopper beef patty or spicy Tendercrisp chicken thigh.
The BK Black Value Meal ($8.35) comes with medium fries and a small Coke or Sprite. Available till early next month, while stocks last.
Where: All Burger King outlets including Jem, VivoCity and Plaza Singapura, various opening hours
Red House Seafood
What: The popular seafood restaurant serves mantou stuffed with chilli crab and the dim sum item is called Takesumi (bamboo charcoal) Chilli Crab Bun ($8 for three).
Where: 68 Prinsep Street, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5 to 11pm (weekday), 11am to 11pm (weekend)
Info: Call 6336-6080
London Fat Duck
What: Besides tucking into juicy roast duck at the four-day-old London Fat Duck, leave some space for its signature black pepper London duck bun ($4.80 for three).
The bun's sweet crust, blackened with charcoal, encases a black pepper duck filling.
Where: B1-16/17 Scotts Square, 6 Scotts Road, open: 11am to 10pm (weekday), 10am to 10pm (weekend)
Info: Call 6443-7866 (no reservations accepted)
What: This bakery chain has a range of black chocolate buns.
Items include Chocolate Cheese ($7.40) with coffee and cocoa powder; and Guste ($4) with chocolate chips.
Where: All Duke Bakery outlets including 313@Somerset, United Square and Bedok Point, various opening hours
What: Introduced two weeks ago to the menu at Harry's is baked charcoal and onion ciabatta ($14) with Imam Bayildi, a Middle-Eastern dish of eggplant with tomatoes, raisins and onions.
Where: All Harry's outlets including Chijmes, Holland Village and Boat Quay, various opening hours
What: Chipirones fritos en su tinta ($16) is crispy baby squid cooked in squid ink and served with garlic mayonnaise.
Where: 02-10/11 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, open: noon to 3pm (lunch daily), 6.30 to 10.30pm (Sunday to Wednesday dinner), 6.30pm to 1am (Thursday to Saturday and public holiday dinner)
Info: Call 6737-8336
Fatcat Ice Cream Bar
What: Charcoal waffles ($6, above) drizzled with the other "It" ingredient, a sauce made with salted egg yolk.
Where: 01-25, Block 416 Bedok North Avenue 2, open: 1 to 10pm (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), 1 to 11pm (Friday), noon to 11pm (Saturday), noon to 10pm (Sunday), closed on Tuesday
Info: Call 6241-0830
Capri Trattoria & Pizzeria
What: Not the usual squid ink pasta or risotto, Capri serves a ravioli al nero di seppia ($25++, above) which is house-made squid ink ravioli filled with seafood and cheese.
It comes with a squid ink seafood sauce as well as clams, squid, mussels and prawns.
Where: 3 Binjai Park, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
Info: Call 6468-4886
Min Jiang at Goodwood Park Hotel
What: For an eye-catching twist to the usual salted egg yolk custard bun, the restaurant's chef Chan Hwan Kee created the mini black charcoal egg custard bun (above). The buns are available on Min Jiang's a la carte dim sum lunch menu ($4.20++ for three), and on the Local High Tea Buffet (rotating menu) at Coffee Lounge ($39++ an adult, $19.50++ a child).
Where: Min Jiang and Coffee Lounge, Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road,
Open: At Min Jiang, 11.30am to 2.30pm (Monday to Saturday), 11am to 2.30pm (Sunday); at Coffee Lounge, 3 to 5.30pm (Friday to Sunday, eve of public holiday and public holiday)
Info: Call 6730-1704 (Min Jiang) or 6730-1746 (Coffee Lounge)
Oceans Of Seafood
What: Black sesame is used in many forms, so how about having it in Japanese omelette? Launched today, the kuro goma tamago sushi ($2.50 a piece, right) uses black sesame paste from Japan.
Where: 02-06 (02-K2 to 02-K11) PasarBella @ The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road
Open: 11.30am to 9.30pm daily
Info: Call 6466-1005 or go to www.oceansofseafood.com.sg
What: Tippling Club's signature amuse bouche for its dinner menu is charred peppers (above) served with a soya and wasabi dip, and eaten with a pair of tweezers. It is also available on the bar snacks menu for $17++.
Where: 38 Tanjong Pagar Road
Open: noon to 3pm (weekday lunch), 6pm till late (Monday to Saturday dinner); at the bar: noon to midnight (weekday), 6pm to midnight (weekend)
Info: Call 6475-2217
Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks
What: The latest item on the Taiwan snack chain's menu is squid ink seafood tempura (from $3.90). Give the tempura, which is sprinkled with parsley, a good shake in the matte black papper bags. Shout the official hashtag "HeiHeiHey" upon ordering to get a 30-cent discount.
Where: All Shihlin outlets including Jurong Point, Far East Plaza and AMK Hub, various opening hours
This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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