Gold is Not Worth Its Weight as a Food Ingredient

To curb unscrupulous business practices that endanger food safety, China is cracking down on the use of illegal food additives in the forms of gold or silver foil and powder.

Late last month, the State Administration for Market Regulation, the National Health Commission and General Administration of Customs issued a joint notice to reaffirm that gold or silver foil and powder cannot be used as food additives.

The recent use of such illegal additives by some businesses is nothing but an old marketing stunt playing on certain customers’ curiosity or misplaced belief that gold or silver may give one “a long life.”

As a foodie brave enough to eat almost everything served on a dining table, I confess that I’ve tried gold-foil food such as cakes, ice creams and chocolates.

Gold is not worth its weight as a food ingredient

Gold-foil food such as cakes, ice creams and chocolates

To my disappointment, they tasted nothing special.

As a matter of fact, it’s been a centuries-old tradition and even a fashion in some parts of China to put gold in food. Ancient Chinese people once believed that gold could help one live longer.

For example, in “Yan Tie Lun” (“Discussions on Salt and Iron”), a book of political debates dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it was noted that people who ate gold and drank morning dew could reach immortality.

On the other hand, gold has long been regarded as an emblem of nobility and privilege, so to eat something mingled with gold powder somehow allowed a person to show off his or her wealth or high social status.

For most people like me, however, curiosity is the biggest reason. How does gold taste? Isn’t it cool to consume something golden-glittered?

Gold is not worth its weight as a food ingredient

Technically speaking, clean, pure gold is edible. In some European countries, gold is an approved food additive. As one of the most stable elements in nature, gold rarely has chemical reactions with other substances.

Therefore, it has no effect, positive or negative, on human health. If eaten, it can be smoothly discharged from the body. And, as a colorant and decoration, gold has no nutritional value.

This seemingly new gold-eating trend is thus sort of a replay of a marketing stunt that already existed hundreds of years ago. It takes advantage of people’s ignorance, vanity or curiosity.

In the 1990s, a great variety of gold-added food emerged such as cheese, beef and wine. With gold as their biggest selling point, the prices were as staggeringly high as those of luxury products. In 2001, gold was banned as a food additive.

In recent years, however, thanks to the Internet, gold in food has sometimes made a comeback on various social network platforms to grab attention and attract clicks. It’s actually a replay of the gold chaos 30 years ago. Fortunately, the government has once again acted quickly to nip it in the bud.

If gold is approved as a food additive, it would also be very difficult to supervise its purity. Impure gold that enters the human body will do harm to health. In fact, to swallow gold was once recorded in ancient China as a way to commit suicide.

Modern science explains that gold could not be purified in old times, thus people who swallowed a large amount of it probably died of a mixture of certain other heavy metals that were hard to be separated from the consumed gold. (Source: