Understanding the history, consumption trends, and health impact of edible gold

Gold! Gold! Gold!” exclaims Chef Sanjeev Kapoor as he talks to indianexpress.com about people’s love and curiosity for the metal, not just as jewellery but even as food. It is well-known that gold occupies an important place in our society and culture, and is used to make a variety of significant and prized possessions including jewelry for special occasions, medals, cosmetics and other artefacts. And as if wearing it in clothes and jewelry wasn’t enough, many love the shiny metal in their foods and drinks, too!

Akshaya Tritiya, a significant day for the Hindu and Jain communities, is a testimonial to people’s reverence and love for gold. According to Indian mythological and social beliefs, buying gold on Akshaya Tritiya is said to bring good fortune and prosperity to the buyer. As we celebrate this auspicious day today, let’s look at gold beyond jewellery – as a famous ingredient in food items.

What is edible gold?

As the name suggests, edible gold is a particular variety of gold that is approved for consumption. Some of the most commonly used types of edible gold include gold foil, gold dust and gold flake, Chef Sanjeev said, adding that it has been authorised by the United States and European Union as a food additive under the code E 175.

Explaining the production of edible gold, the celebrity chef explained that “gold is hammered or pounded and made into leaf, powder or foil”. “It is also believed that gold is beaten inside leather pads to produce powder or foil,” Chef Kunal Kapur added.

Gold is hammered or pounded and made into leaf, powder or leaf (Source: Pixabay)

Use of edible gold

While a lot of contemporary chefs employ the use of edible gold to add a touch of royalty and grandeur to their dishes, the concept of adding the metal to food items isn’t new. “In ancient times, swarna bhasma or very fine gold dust was used in chyawanprash,” Chef Sanjeev shared. He added that while Ayurveda believes in the medicinal qualities of swarna bhasammodern science doesn’t say much about the same.

“From as early as 2500 BC, the therapeutic benefits of gold preparations have been reported in Indian, Arabic and Chinese literature. Swarna (gold) bhasma has been utilised as a therapeutic agent in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for several clinical disorders including bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, and nervous system diseases. Swarna bhasma is usually given orally mixed with honey, ghee or milk,” a study titled Blood compatibility studies of Swarna bhasma (gold bhasma), an Ayurvedic drug noted.

Chef Kunal added that while edible gold has been traditionally used to decorate Indian sweets, a lot of international chefs are now using it, too. “Lot of restaurants now use it to make the dish look glamorous and price it higher. In different ages, edible gold has been used, all over the world, in different ways.”

Famous dishes with edible gold

Over the years, people have moved beyond the traditional uses of edible gold to include them in a variety of dishes, the culinary experts shared.

“Chocolates, pastries, cakes, pizzas, cake pops – you name it. Edible gold is now everywhere,” Chef Kunal said. Highlighting the significance of the metal in the Middle East, he said, “If you go to the Middle East, the trend of gold on food is very rampant. You’ll find expensive sushi or a drink with a thin layer of edible gold. A lot of burgers have a layer of edible gold on the top bun.”

edible gold Edible gold is safe for consumption. (Source: Pexels)

In fact, a dish with edible gold has been served to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well. “A few years ago, I had cooked the meal for our Prime Minister and had made gold-plated moti pulao. The pearls were coated with gold foil and they looked as if they were made of pure gold. We had served this dish in a banquet in Abu Dhabi a few years ago,” Chef Sanjeev shared.

From desserts to main courses, edible gold has now found a place in almost every type of meal. “It’s becoming more and more common. Recently, I saw a paan being coated with gold foil,” he added, stressing the growing use.

Can edible gold be adulterated?

While many chefs add a layer of edible gold to their dishes to increase the artistic value and make them ‘look’ luxurious, Chef Konal warns of possible adulteration. “There are high chances that the edible gold you are purchasing from the market isn’t 100 per cent pure and is adulterated with other metals like tin, aluminum,” he said.

The chef added that he avoids the use of edible gold as more often than not, he is unaware of its source. “I am somebody who tries to avoid gold and silver leaves because I am not of where it is coming aware from.”

It it used to make the dish look extravagant. (Source: Pexels)

Further, he explained that edible gold has no taste and serves no purpose other than making the dish look extravagant. “Also, consuming that much metal at a go, without verifying where it is coming from, is something that won’t give you any benefits as well,” he told indianexpress.com.

Is edible gold safe for consumption?

Edible gold, which is 99.9 per cent pure 24-carat gold, is perfectly safe to eat, according to Dr Parinita Kaur, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka. However, she further explained that even though the digestive system is “incapable of supporting noble metals such as gold”, consuming it is “not harmful, as long as the size or shape of the piece does not have large and sharp edges.”

“It’s similar to swallowing a piece of jewellery. But fortunately, the size of edible gold particles is so small that it can only be measured on the nanoscale. Hence, it is not harmful to the body,” she said.

Does edible gold have any health benefits?

No. While many believe in the therapeutic properties of edible gold, Dr Kaur said, “Your body will not benefit from the gold in terms of health or nutrition.”

“Gold is a metal that is chemically and biologically inert. Your body cannot break it down as long as it is pure. In other words, when you eat gold food, the metal will pass through your unabsorbed body. It treats it as a waste product and pushes it down your digestive tract,” she explained.

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