Want to drop $1,000 on a cupcake adorned in gold leaf? Well now you can, at Bloomsbury's Cupcakes, where ... wait ... PLEASE DON'T STOP READING!
We know you don't want to read yet another stunt food story, as every week seems to bring a new "world's most expensive" novelty. Compounded with the cupcake "trend," this is some maximum strength cultural Ambien. But, as a food phenomenon, gilding is an interesting one at least, because, unlike truffles or foie or Waygu beef, gold flake and leaf are costly ingredients that literally lack taste.
While prohibitively expensive frosting has not yet crept its way into a Kanye West lyric, gold leaf is still a reliable way to add a little pizzazz or a lot of pretension to your publicity-baiting dish.
Story: $25,000 sundae? 12 expensive eats
So much so that New York's 666 Burger food truck is offering what they call the "Douche Burger," a $666 edible statement against consumerist culture and stunt food. While it's certainly generated some publicity, 666 co-owner Franz Aliqo told Business Week that the idea is more to express "deep-seated disgust and hatred of all the other douche burgers out there."
While many sparklefood proceeds go to charity (like Serendipity's infamous $295 sandwich, which benefits the Bowery Misson), most are indeed for publicity or the simple sake of being expensive. One only need to look to menus in citadels of excess Las Vegas (gilded burger) and Dubai (aforementioned cupcake) to see that there still exist several dishes that use gold elements solely so the few those with the means can demonstrate their largesse.
As a technique for impressing your friends or a date, it seems a little iffy, as many of the restaurants offering gold foods require 24-hours notice by phone, which feels like something you wouldn't do if your goal is to inspire awe via obnoxious YOLO spending.
Can we even eat gold?
Flavorless and odorless, it's difficult to see gold as a luxury from a sensory indulgence standpoint. Yes, we eat with the eyes first, but not everything that's eaten with the eyes should be eaten with a mouth. We usually don't bedazzle food for a reason -- even if your culinary knowledge is limited to reality cooking competitions, you know that adorning food with inedible garnish is frowned upon. Conventional wisdom is if you can't eat it, don't plate it.
But, as a Salon.com article recently wondered, can we eat stuff that isn't food? Well, yes and no.
If you ask the fine retailers at Edible Gold.com, "According to the European Regulations, there is no limit to the quantity of Edible Gold that can be ingested." No limit? Whee. Off to eat a ring. But wait! They add that, "The idea is to impress ones eyes and not fill your stomach with edible gold leaf." But if you eat too much, health experts say, you might end up with a stomach ache.
"The FDA hasn't evaluated and approved gold for human consumption," said registered dietitian and food health expert Cynthia Sass. "Gold is not an essential nutrient, so rather than being digested and absorbed it will likely pass through the digestive tract and be eliminated from the body -- imagine if you swallowed a penny -– but there are no published studies that I can find about the overall safety of consuming it."
The fact that gold leaf can be easily ordered online and is still affordable enough (at $120 to $160 per gram) to be an addition to chintzy wedding desserts may keep it from ever being a legit luxe food. In the end, the most impressive things to order are not the most expensive, but the most rare.
As food historian Sandra Oliver explained, "Gold covered food is not new -- [it was used by] elites in the past, especially for confections." Europeans have used it since the Renaissance, and various Asian cultures have long used gold to accent their eats.
But, she noted, eating costly foods has always been a way for the wealthy to show off. Although, unlike actual gold, the extravagant snacks of the past may have been prized according to availability and seasonality. "Any food eaten out of season would have been expensive and status conveying to eat -- that might include fruits and ice."
You hear that, rich folk? Ice. Or, like, like your mother has been saying for years: just have some fruit instead.
Tell us, what do you think of pricey gold-covered food? Would it be cool or crazy if a date or friend ordered it?
Julieanne Smolinski is a TODAY.com contributor. She has a sign up in her office indicating how many days she's gone without swallowing a penny.
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