What is Edible Gold?
Edible gold is exactly what it says on the tin – it's gold that you can eat. Gold is actually considered an inert material, meaning that it can pass through the digestive tract without causing any harm. Obviously this applies to the purest forms of gold, 22-24 carats, as anything less than this will have more impurities and will be less safe to eat. Although gold can pass through your digestive system, you don't actually digest any of it, so there is no nutritional value from eating gold.
The History of Edible Gold
Edible gold has been used to decorate food and show off wealth for thousands of years, the earliest recorded instance being the second millenium BC in Ancient Egypt. Egyptian pharoah tombs, their skin, and paintings were decorated using gold and it is believed that they added gold to their food in order to be closer to the Gods.
Far Eastern cultures are also believed to have added gold to their food in order to draw attention from the Gods. The earliest form of edible gold being used as decoration rather than for sacred purposes, can be seen in Japanese culture where bottles of Saké contained gold flakes and and certain dishes were covered in fold leaf. This is thought to date back as far as the ancient tradition of the tea ceremony, which is so integral to Japanese history and culture.
In Europe during the Middle Ages, gold leaf was introduced purely for decoration. It was a signature of wealth and was used a lot by the upper classes in feasts and wedding ceremonies. It became so common that in Padua, in the 16th century, the city council passed a law stating that a maximum of two courses of a wedding feast were allowed to be decorated with gold.
Edible gold was later used in alchemy and for medicinal purposes, so often thought of as a cure for all diseases. While this is not true, gold was found to have theraputic properties in the centuries to come and was a common ingredient in medicines.
How Edible Gold is Used Today
Not all that much has changed in the centuries, and gold is still seen as a signifier of wealth. Though much easier to procure these days, many high end restaurants use gold leaf to decorate desserts and chocolates. Some chefs also use gold for savory recipes, like golden saffron risotto or consommé But almost anyone can easily buy gold leaf in sheets or flakes for decorative purposes. There is a even a well know Smirnoff Gold Leaf vodka that is peppered with golden flakes. It can be used to decorate cakes, add a little glitter to Christmas dinner, or spice up a cocktail.
You can buy gold leaf from craft supply stores, though this may not be the level of purity needed to add to food. The price range for flakes or sheets can be as low as $20-$30. So decorating your dinner like a 12th century wedding reception is much easier and less expensive than one may have imagined.