Binchō-tan, also called white charcoal or binchō-zumi, is a traditional charcoal of Japan. It dates to the Edo period, when during the Genroku era, a craftsman named Bichū-ya Chōzaemon began to produce it inTanabe, Wakayama. The raw material is oak, specifically ubame oak (Quercus phillyraeoides), now the official tree of Wakayama Prefecture. Wakayama continues to be a major producer of high-quality charcoal, with the town of Minabe, Wakayama producing more binchō-tan than any other town in Japan. Binchōtan is a type of lump charcoal or hardwood charcoal.
The fineness and high quality of binchō-tan are attributed to steaming at high temperatures (about 1000 degrees Celsius). Although it is often thought that binchō-tan burns hot, it actually burns at a lower temperature than ordinary charcoal but for a longer period, making it preferable to a number of Japanese chefs. Because it does not release unpleasant odours, it is a favorite of unagi (freshwater eel) and yakitori (skewered chicken) cooks. Due to difficulties in identifying the producing region, the name binchō-tan has come into broader use to designate white charcoal generally, and even products from outside Japan, as well as those made of other species, have come to use the name.
To differentiate the aforementioned “non-pure” products, there is a movement to call binchō-tan produced in Wakayama Kishū binchō-tan, Kishū being the old name of Wakayama.
Binchō-tan is harder than black charcoal, and rings with a metallic sound when struck. Wind chimes and a musical instrument, the tankin (“charcoal-xylophone“) have been made from it.