The first time I had ever really thought about edible gold was at my baby shower. My friend had put on the most amazing, perfect spread and had included cupcakes decorated with gold leaf. They looked gorgeous and added a sumptuous extra special touch to it all. I remember thinking something along the lines of "gold leaf on cupcakes....really?". But when I came to think of it, why not have edible gold?
Gold is biologically inert and one of the least reactive chemical elements (that is solid under standard conditions). In other words, you can eat pure gold and it won't do you harm. In small quantities, your body will not absorb it and it will pass through your digestive system easily. There are many metals out there that you wouldn't want to eat, but gold is not one of them - as long as it is pure gold at least 22 carats (otherwise you take the chance of ingesting impurities that are potentially harmful). Gold even has its own additive E number - E175. Pure silver too is sold in flake and dust form for the same purpose.
Gold has been used for centuries in food and drink - part medicinal, part aesthetic. Centuries ago it was believed that gold improved the health of the consumer, which is very understandable. Today we know that ingesting gold in this form does not improve your health, but we admire the aesthetic value just as much.
On reflection, the one problem I can see with edible gold is that it cannot be recycled! As a rare special treat, to add a bit of glitz to a special event in your life, it's great. But collectively, we should also be aware that all of these tiny flakes and gold leaf sheets add up. One report suggests that a single hotel in Abu Dhabi served 5 kg of gold in 2008. This doesn't sound like much but it's estimated that 75% of the gold ever mined has been extracted since 1910, and that if all the gold that exists today was put together it would form a cube only 20 metres each side. As a non-renewable resource, can we justify all this gourmet extravagance? Gold has many wonderful uses, from medical implants to the solar visors in spacesuits. Like copper, most of the gold ever mined is still in circulation, which is the way it should be. I doubt we're in danger of eating the gold away, but it's something to bear in mind when considering how to use edible gold.
Here are some examples - some normal, some bizarre - of how gold in its different forms are found in products that we ingest.
In the time of COVID-19, when our lives have been turned upside down, it can help to reflect on what has gone before, in order to find hope for what may come.
One of the most important minerals in human history, copper was as important for medicine and early technology as it is for us today. This blog discusses the use of copper, from ancient times down to the present.