LOS ANGELES — It's the holiday season, and so for the festive table, hosts in the know are considering the noble metals this year. The latest food trend: edible gold and silver.
You can eat your bling. With gold selling for more than $500 an ounce, that's conspicuous consumption.
Understandably, you have questions. Though well documented in the chronicles of medieval feasting ritual, eating precious metals is a new concept for many a modern merrymaker.
Here are some answers.
Q: Can I eat my wedding ring?
Sold through Internet catalogs, high-end culinary outfitters and select gift stores, edible gold and silver come in sprinkles, petals and leaves. The silver is allegedly pure. The gold is 23 karats (almost pure and very soft and malleable; jewelry and wedding rings are typically made of 14 to 18 karats; the gold is mixed with other metals to give it strength).
Q: Does edible silver taste like Reynolds Wrap?
Edible gold and silver are tasteless. The shavings are served in and on chocolates, cocktails, coffees, pastries, soups, salads and even entrees, like riso oro e zafferano, a gold and saffron risotto. Some chefs like to swaddle a whole chicken with gold leaf — and eat with relish both foil and fowl. Silver is also big on finger foods. When one thinks of sushi, one can now think metallic shavings on raw mackerel. There is a gourmet who enjoys gilding lobsters, and why not? The celebrity chef Jeffrey Jake, of the Lodge at Pebble Beach, has created entire menus using gold and silver flecked on the high-end items like abalone, foie gras and truffles for those posh jet-setters who have seen all, done all.
"Diners," Jake says, "are expecting more wow now than ever."
At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the bartender may rim a moistened glass lip with pure silver flake. At Spago in Beverly Hills, they'll gold-dust a flute of sparkling wine. At Libation, a hip new bar on New York's Lower East Side, owner Dennis Keane serves up goblets of "The Ultimate Libation," with 10 Cane rum, Grand Marnier liqueur, Veuve Clicquot champagne, passion fruit nectar and 23-karat gold powder. The drink costs $16.
Q. Will it make me fat?
Lynn Neuberg, whose family company, Easy Leaf Products, began selling edible metals to the retail consumer market last year, assures us that gold and silver may be rich but that in their pure form are flavorless, odorless and calorie-free.
At her home in the hills of Los Angeles, Neuberg laid out samples of her wares in her spacious kitchen. There were precious metals dusted on cappuccinos and parfaits — and a whole gold leaf floating on the top of a martini. In fact, it was such a gilded martini that gave Neuberg the idea of selling edible gold to ordinary consumers. She and her husband were partying in Santa Fe, N.M., a few years back and throwing gold leaf on their drinks at a bar (her husband inherited the family business that imports and sells gold leaf for architectural and artistic use). "Everybody was just amazed and wanted to try it," she recalls. Professional pastry chefs and confectioners have been using gold petals for some time, but Neuberg quickly realized that foodies might want the flecks and petals for home use.
When one nibbles a bit of Neuberg's edible gold or silver, for an instant, the mind preps the body for the shock of biting down on metal. But instead, the silver and gold melt in the mouth. It is not at all crunchy. It is undetectable on the palate. According to Neuberg, who imports her edible gold and silver from a facility in Italy, the metals are "totally inert."
"They just disappear."
"They just pass though."
We construct, briefly, a mental image. Gold passing through the stomach, intestine, colon, to its ultimate, final … output. Would it then be visible?
"You'd have to eat a box," Neuberg says. "Boxes and boxes."
Neuberg points to a seal in Italian on one of the boxes. "It's tested by the Italian FDA," she assures. "It's approved for use in Europe and for importation to America."
When The Washington Post calls the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, spokesman Michael Herndon puts us on the phone with a staff expert who says that edible gold and silver "has not gone through pre-market safety evaluations" at the FDA. "We haven't evaluated its use," the expert says. Why? Because no one has sought pre-market approval.
So consumers should or shouldn't eat the stuff? The FDA expert is not saying. It is not a priority, and the FDA is very busy.
"I expect it to go right through the body," agrees the expert, who will speak only on the condition of anonymity because the agency has not taken a position on edible metals. He adds, though, "It is an expensive way to throw away gold."
"It seems to me the ultimate act of arrogance," says Dave Wampler, founder of the Simple Living Network, a Web community that helps people shed stuff. "I've never heard of such a thing. It is just the height of stupidity, what a waste — and this show of incredible lack of respect for the planet and the species who share it."
Bonnie Brooling, an associate food buyer for Sur La Table, the nationwide culinary and kitchen outlet, which sells Neuberg's wares, says, "We've done very well with it in both stores and through our catalog." She concedes that eating gold "for some people may be a little over the top," and in that case, "silver may be more approachable."
Another consumable metal purveyor, Tobias Freccia, founder of EdibleGold.com, says the price points for these products are rather down-market. "Our strategy is to bring it into the home-use market," he says. He envisions not $75 gold martinis but a sprinkle of silver at Starbucks. A book of 500 gold leaves may cost $495, but a 100 mg shaker of the precious metals sells for $19.95. "The idea is this is a product that the wealthy can have," he says, "but you can have it, too."
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