Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I don't cook myself, but I watch a fair few cooking shows. Recently the theme of gold and silver leaf has been quite recurring. My first thought was "Well it can't be actual gold. Who would eat gold?" But it looked very shiny and metallic; like it was actually made out of metal. I thought maybe it was made of chocolate, since I'd seen it in a lot of desserts, and the closest thing I could come up with was "chocolate coins are covered in gold foil -> the gold leaf is in a dessert -> you'd think it has to be something edible -> maybe it's chocolate?"

Well, finally I just looked it up. I found this website which goes into a good bit of detail about what gold leaf is. And...it's gold! I was definitely surprised. So my research uncovered that it was indeed made of gold, but now I'm left with another question which I did not find the answer to:

Why do chefs use gold and silver leaf?

I mean...you're eating metal. I'm sure it doesn't taste bad, or else professional chefs wouldn't use it. But I can't imagine it tastes good either, it's metal! I've tasted tinfoil before (not swallowed it, but come into contact with it enough to notice the taste) and it certainly isn't pleasant.

So all I can think is that they add it because it looks pretty. And okay...sure, I'll give you that. It does look pretty. But you're eating metal, expensive precious metals at that! The world's gold is going down our digestive tracts? Curiouser and curiouser.

So I suppose I'm looking for an objective reason why chefs would use this item. I see a lot of new and interesting and odd things on these food shows, but this is a real strange one for me. Is there an aspect I'm missing that makes the use of gold leaf make more sense? Or is it really just as simple as "it's pretty so we're putting it on there"?

share|improve this question
2  
Aluminum foil is substantially thicker than even the thickest gold leaf product, so it's not exactly pleasant to bite into. The gold leaf that I have in my pantry wilts so dramatically when it comes in contact with, say, fingers, that it seems almost like it melted. You almost won't notice you're biting into it. –  JasonTrue Aug 22 '13 at 4:40
1  
You would be surprised how many metals (and other elements) have E numbers. Gold is listed as a colouring additive at E-175. –  Peter Taylor Aug 22 '13 at 8:28
7  
I tend to think the real reason is mostly to make fun of poor people who don't have enough to eat. "Oh, your kids went hungry tonight? Excuse me while I take a bite of gold. Yes, I'm just going to chew it up, swallow it, then crap it out tomorrow and flush it. Because I can." –  MGOwen Aug 22 '13 at 11:42
    
It may be worth noting that gold and silver are non-toxic in low doses. –  Paddy Landau Aug 22 '13 at 12:44
    
I know a guy who demonstrates medieval book arts, and one of his most dramatic bits is when he takes a gold leaf sheet, rubs it between his palms, and then shows his hands: the gold leaf completely disappears. That stuff is thin. Ain't no way you're tasting it in your food. –  Marti Aug 23 '13 at 13:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's just decorative, in a bit of an extravagant way. The leaf is so thin that you can't really tell it's there when you eat it; you're not really eating much metal. That's also why it's not that expensive - for example I see 25 sheets for $49 on Amazon. Not cheap, but if someone uses one $2 sheet for a few dozen truffles sold for a dollar each, it doesn't seem quite as crazy anymore.

It's also not actually that new an idea. For example, kaju barfi, a traditional Indian dessert, is commonly decorated with silver leaf. See Google image search for pictures - it does actually look pretty cool.

share|improve this answer

You already have stated the major reason: because it looks attractive. It really is nearly that simple.

Someone cynical would note that sociologically, consuming prestige and expensive items can be a way to establish rank and dominance, so chefs serving that audience may accommodate that need. It is an example of conspicuous consumption — in this case, literally.

share|improve this answer

It is purely for decorative reasons. The gold is so thin (therefore "leaf") that you cannot taste it, and it is relatively cheap.

Gold is used in many foods and drinks, there are a few alcoholic beverages that make use of gold leaf as a gimmick. For example Goldschläger.

share|improve this answer
    
In college, I used to comment that Goldschläger was like drinking Big Red (an american cinnamon-flavored chewing gum) ... with the foil still on. –  Joe Aug 22 '13 at 17:06

The reason why chefs use gold leaf for any entrée is profit. It is also a memorable and conversational piece to attract new customers. We recently added a gold leaf to our desserts and have a new stream of customers. Gold appeal has been with us for years. Here is a list of gold leaf uses in the restaurant industry.

share|improve this answer
    
If it attracts customers, and people even do it at home sometimes, I'm not sure if the reason is profit. (And people do tend to think that food that looks better also tastes better.) But fair enough! –  Jefromi Aug 23 '13 at 3:23

It's fun and decorative. It looks great on wedding cakes or for special effects when you're wanting to mimic gold coins.

share|improve this answer

We have ingested metals medicinally for centuries. Silver was the only cure for syphylis before penicillin and gold was used to modify the course of rheumatoid arthritis until a decade or so ago. Of course metals such as lithium have psychotropic effects and is still used as a mood stabiliser. So none of these metals are inert and all have potential to damage the kidneys if ingested daily over a long period but a tiny bit in gold leaf as an occasional indulgence will do nothing. I will however strongly recommend against a mercury enema.

share|improve this answer
    
-1: Chefs are not using this as a syphilis or arthritis cure, and the comments about other metals are irrelevant. –  Jefromi Aug 27 '13 at 19:11

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.