Tuesday, July 23, 2024

FYI :Is the 24k bling ‘Magic’ in food all that good? 

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The inclusion of edible gold is an age-old tradition. The royals during the age of renaissance left no stone unturned to flaunt their status with a touch of gold. The legend goes, Cleopatra would cover her face with a golden mask at nights as part of her skin care ritual. Gold was everywhere and our ancestors managed to sprinkle it on food as well.

The tradition didn’t disappear at all. It’s very much prevalent in today’s world. From restaurants to patisseries to confectioneries, food grade gold finds its way on food items.  With the trend once again on the rise, The Pioneer’s Amartya Smaran digs deep into the edible goldmine for this week’s FYI.The peculiar gold-eating trend goes as far back as 2000 B.C.E. The ancient Chinese were the first to use gold as a food ingredient.

Historically, ancient Egyptians pounded the thick gold bars until they turned into a thin leaf. Even the Greeks used delicate gold leaves to adorn the idols of their favorite goddesses for aesthetic purposes. Fast forward to the 15th century, a tart recipe in an English cookbook’s manuscript entailed using a gold-leafed walnut as a garnish.
Therefore, using shiny-looking gold flakes on food items isn’t a new phenomenon.

The rise of social media has evidently brought the edible gold trend into the limelight yet again. Edible gold is no longer constricted to pastries, cakes, and burgers. It is now used in almost every other dish – golden nuggets, chicken wings covered in 23 karat gold, an ice cream sundae worth $25000 US, and gold steak which costs approximately $1000 dollars in a restaurant in Dubai. Not just that, people have started using edible gold in biryani too. But why would someone consume gold? In the culinary world, it is associated with luxury dining, and for some, it is a good old way to show off their social status.

The malleable metal can be stretched up to three kilometers. A gold alloy of 1 cm in thickness is gradually pounded, hammered, and rolled into a thin sheet. The final product is as sleek as 1/8000 of a millimeter in thickness. The glittery gold that goes into our mouth must be around 90 percent pure or 23-karat to 24-karat gold and it can only contain small amounts of other metals that are safe for consumption such as pure silver.

Why look elsewhere? ‘House of Dosas’ based in Hyderabad sells ‘916 KDM Dosa’, where the dish is decorated with a gold leaf. That’s just one example but several other restaurants are also catching up with the trend in the city. Sweet stores have always had it in their DNA to add a tiny touch of edible silver or gold to their products. Sounds preposterous? Well! Not really for the ones who have a knack for the bling.

“Gold is an inert metal and it’s not digested,” said Dr. Brijmohan Subhedar, who is a Consulting Physician and Diabetologist. “It’s mostly used to increase the food appeal. It’s not as if we eat the gold quoted food on daily basis. Because it is not absorbed, there are no health risks or benefits as such. It is in power, leave, and flaky forms just to enhance the appeal.”

Long exposure to silver causes Argyria which presents itself with blue or grey mucocutaneous discoloration. In other words, a person’s skin with this acquired condition turns blue. Although none of us are constantly in the presence of gold particles, we thought it’d be interesting to ask Dr. Brijmohan whether prolonged consumption of gold would lead to any acquired condition such as Argyria. “Argyria is basically seen in people with long-term exposure to silver products. We don’t get to eat or ingest it on a regular basis but people who work in the photography industry or silver industry fall prey to it.

Silver was earlier used in some eye drops. So, topical applications would cause some skin diseases because of the deposition of skin but not due to ingestion. In the case of gold, there’s no question of absorption. And European food safety experts have given standards for the purity of gold. Edible gold is about 23 to 24 karat which is more than 22 karat purity which we use in jewelry. Therefore, purity is important here and with respect to edible gold, there are hardly any effects on health,” commented the Consultant Physician.

Pastry Chef Urja Dalmia says the tradition has long existed since the time of her grandparents. “My grandparents used to tell me that they often made use of edible silver for weddings and things like that. My grandmother gave me these antique silver and gold leaves. So, the practice has been there for a long time.

Edible gold is mostly used for beautification. It adds richness to your food visually. These days people first want to eat their food visually. It doesn’t taste like anything. Even if you put a little bit of food-grade gold or silver, it enhances the look of the products. Again adding too much of it spoils the essence of the products. It is usually the last thing that we use to enhance our items,” told Urja.

Chef Padala Padma Rao, Lecturer, and Instructor at the Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition shared his thoughts with us, “In Indian cuisine, we have a term for edible silver. It is called ‘Warq’. In Hindi, it goes by the name ‘Chandi Ka Warq’. You see it on all kinds of sweets. Pure Warq is only made with pure silver but now, we find adulterated versions of it. To show the lavishness of the food people started using ‘Sone ki Warq’ which is nothing but edible gold. We have the ‘Chadi Ka Warq’ as well as ‘Sone Ki Warq’ manufacturers in Old City near Charminar. It’s difficult for chefs to test the purity of these products because we have a lot of adulterated versions. As far as I know, the usage of ‘Sone Ki Warq’ is not much. The pricing of these things depends on the clientele and it’s completely subjective.”

The chef further discussed the importance of doing basic research before purchasing edible gold from the marker, “Health risks are high involved any of the adulterated foods. That’s why most of them are moving towards organic food. People are giving more importance to healthy food. Paying more amount of money doesn’t guarantee the quality of the product. It is important as to whom we purchase these products from. If I have to use edible gold or silver in my food, I simply don’t walk into a supermarket and buy something. I go to two or three places, take expert advice on the matter, check the quality directly from the vendor and then go ahead. I urge people to do some research pertaining to the quality of the product. If one is getting around 10 gold leaves for a price of 150 rupees, then you need to think (haha).”

No health risks and health benefits! Could it get any better? One might have to watch for adulterated food as Chef Padma Rao rightly pointed out. With respect to what the experts said, the prime usage of edible gold is for decorative purposes.The visual appeal is certainly the most important aspect of food-grade gold. Shimmering sweets and food items make for great Instagram posts. However, keep in mind what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” All said, the eye-grabbing nature of 24-karat gold leaves is here to stay so long as our hunger for opulence persists. 

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