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Monday, October 5, 2015

The White Charcoal Of Japan - And Your Teeth

I was reading a magazine article earlier Sunday that proposes that we might only need to use one toothbrush for the rest of our life.

No... it's not as gross as it sounds, because the idea proposes we simply swap out the toothbrush head containing the bristles, while keeping the handle.

It's not new... I have a battery-operated toothbrush where I swap out the head of bristles every once in a while...

What's new, however is that the magazine proposed using a bristle head made out of Binchō-tan... a which charcoal from Japan, that would therefore be biodegradable... ergo... no wasteful plastic going into the landfill.

Binchō-tan also known as binchō-zumi (備長炭) is real charcoal.

During the Genroku-jidai (the period between the ninth month of 1688 through the third month of 1704), a Japanese craftsman named Chōzaemon Bitchū-ya (備中屋 長左衛門) began to utilize the charcoal produced through oak as its raw material in Tanabe, Wakayama-ken.

Ubame oak (Quercus phillyraeoides), is now the official tree of Wakayama-ken, with the town of Minabe-machi producing more of this white charcoal than anywhere else in Japan.

The binchō-tan burns at a lower temperature than ordinary charcoal, but it does burn for a longer period of time, which is why it has become a favorite many Japanese chefs, especially those cooking unagi (eel) and yakitori (skewered chicken) - and perhaps because it also does not release much smoke or any unpleasant odors.

Another interesting feature of binchō-tan--which is harder than black charcoal, is that it has excellent filtration properties - more so than regular charcoal.

If small chunks of the white charcoal are added to rice during cooking, it can remove the chlorinated tap water taste - which leads me to believe that some people have tastebuds far superior to my own. Maybe I should just drink out of a toilet.

Japanese also use a few chunks to remove shoe odors in closest and use it as an air-freshener. I'm pretty sure that over the years, I've used Dr. Schools foot insoles to remove foot odor in some of my shoes that have gotten wet. Charcoal in the insoles is what removes and/or stifles the odors.

I've also been using charcoal in my aquariums as a means of filtering impurities in the water... and if you've ever had a water filtration system in your tap or for your water, you know that charcoal is the key.

I'm guessing that the Japanese believe this binchō-tan is better at all of that than the traditional black charcoal.

Does it make your food taste better? Maybe. Does it make your shoes smell better? Probably. Will we all have one tooth brush for the rest of our life? You tell me. I like the option of a removable bristle head... of course, my batteries have to go somewhere.... so I'm not all that green, but my teeth have never been better.
Binchō-tan toothbrush bristles.
You can read about the toothbrushes and their black bristles HERE. I wonder why they aren't as white as the binchō-tan pictured at the top.

Andrew Joseph


  1. this is a great idea. we should move increasingly into products that are good for environment

    1. I agree with you. The biggest stumbling block right now is the pricing aspect. In my day job I come across a lot of green packaging materials, but the manufacturers say that THEIR customers aren't interested in them because consumers don't care to pay the higher price. Until things are mass-marketed, prices will remain high. Still... I agree that greener items are better... but I still am unsure about the fluorocarbons being emitted by the white charcoal. Is it dirtying the air - even if we don't see or smell it?
      But... a biodegradeable product like the toothbrush is a great idea.
      Thanks for writing!