“The procedure, it is said, is simple: The body part is slightly moistened (if nature has not already seen to that!), then the tissue paper bearing the metal leaf is gently placed onto the body part, metal-down (“growers” and “show-ers” calculating accordingly). The tissue paper is then carefully lifted away, leaving the gold- or silver-adorned body part in all its glittering glory….”
Gold Leaf (23 karat edible gold—96% gold, 4% silver) and Silver Leaf (99.9% edible silver)
It is oftentimes said, especially in the fashion industry, that crows and humans are a lot alike: They are attracted to “bling.” But despite mankind’s alleged innate penchant for objects resplendent, there is something revoltingly decadent, and, arguably, ungentlemanly, about eating precious metals: It somehow smacks of tales of monarchs of yore pulverizing pearls and imbibing them with nectar, the mythological drink of the gods, or of “Let them eat cake,” the infamous declaration commonly misattributed to Queen Marie Antoinette. After all, there must be at least a million and one other things on which a gentleman could spend his hard-earned money in order to delight himself…. But even so, there is no denying that for thousands of years—despite the fact that neither gold nor silver has any taste or smell discernible by humans [Well, until the Manetti company, at Expo Milano 2015, introduced edible gold crumbs in four of life’s greatest flavors and aromas: vanilla, lemon, white truffles, and olive oil], and that neither metal has any nutritional value—mankind, from Africa to Asia to Europe and now the rest of the world, has eaten gold and silver, some cultures citing aphrodisiacal justifications. All the gold ever mined—since the beginning of human history—would fit into a 100-cubic-feet container. And much of that gold has been used to make jewelry, jewelry-making remaining the single largest use for gold. But from over 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians would eat gold for medicinal and healing purposes; the Chinese, as far back as 2000 B.C.E., were known to eat gold during certain sacred ceremonies; and the Indians and Japanese have long used gold and silver to decorate food. But it was upon the tables of the great houses of Renaissance Italy that gold-adorned food and drink became, and remains, a part of Western tradition.
Traditionally, when gold or silver is consumed, it is not—for obvious reasons—ingested in the form of nuggets or jewelry or coins. Instead, it is eaten as leaf, flakes (the size of Kellogg’s corn flakes), crumbs, or dust. But not all gold and silver leaf, for example, is manufactured for human consumption. Gold leaf to be used for gilding furniture or picture frames oftentimes contains a percentage of copper, which, in high concentrations, is toxic to humans. So a gentleman who wishes to consume gold and silver must be certain to obtain edible varieties. Edible silver is 99.9% silver, and edible gold is typically 96% gold and 4% silver since pure gold is somewhat soft and somewhat sticky, making it difficult to manipulate for food-decoration purposes. The small percentage of silver is added, therefore, to give the gold more workability.
“Vark” (also spelled “varak” or “varakh”) is the Sanskrit word for any foil comprised of pure metal, typically of silver, but also of gold, used for garnishing food. In South Asian cuisine, vark (referred to as “edible gold leaf” and “edible silver leaf” in the Western World) is used to decorate sweets. In the European Union, gold and silver are approved for food foils (When created as decorative food additives, gold is assigned the E-number E175 and silver, E174 [“E” standing for “Europe”]). In the United States, edible gold and silver are regarded as food additives, and like in the EU, may be used to decorate food and drink. And both edible gold and silver are certified as kosher. In addition, because gold and silver are inert metals, they pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed into the body. (Besides, the quantities utilized in normal consumption are miniscule: One ounce of pure gold [28.3 grams/31.1 grams per troy ounce] can be hammered into a 10.7-square-yard [nine square-meters] sheet of gold leaf, which can produce approximately 80 twenty-five-sheet booklets of 3” X 3” gold leaf sheets; and the total metal intake for sweets decorated with gold or silver is less than one milligram per kilogram [2.2 pounds] of sweets. The typical circa-3-inch-square sheet of gold leaf or silver leaf has a thickness of 0.2 – 0.4 microns. Yes, inappropriate consumption of silver can cause argyria, a symptom of which is the human skin taking on a bluish or bluish-gray color. But which gentleman in his right mind would eat bowlfuls of silver, day in, day out, for years?)
But as with all products which are to be ingested, the highest level of due diligence should be exercised. And when it comes to edible precious metals, the company Giusto Manetti Battiloro of Florence, Italy sets the “gold standard.” From its earliest recorded beginnings in the 16th century, to its affiliation with the great Renaissance era Medici family, to its presumed unintended destruction at the hands of Allied Forces bombing during World War II, to its present status—four hundred years after its earliest days—as a multinational entity, the name Manetti and its various commercial manifestations have been linked to luxurious gold.
Because baptismal records of the region date only as far back as 1580, nothing is known of the parentage of Matteo Manetti, the family’s patriarch, who lived in the village of Quinto, a few kilometers from “La Patraia,” a Medici villa, some time between the late 1400s and the early 1500s. What is known, though, is that his grandson, also named Matteo Manetti, began distinguishing the family’s name in the gold business when he moved to Rome to work alongside Battino Bologna on the gilding of the golden ball atop Michelangelo’s dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica project established the young Manetti’s reputation so much so that in 1602, when lightening destroyed the golden ball of Florence’s Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, young Manetti was summoned to the city to restore the ball. On September 18, 1602, one month after receiving the commission, the work was completed to much acclaim, resulting in Matteo being appointed Cathedral Goldsmith, the appointment regarded as the Manetti family’s first major public recognition. And it is that same Matteo Manetti who would shortly thereafter establish the first Manetti workshop, employing gilders, decorators, and “battilori,” (Italian for “goldbeaters”), craftsmen who transform gold and silver into thin sheets or “leaf” for gilding, silvering, and/or eating. Matteo further solidified the Manetti family’s ties with the powerful Medici family when in 1633 his son Lorenzo Manetti was baptized godson of Don Lorenzo de’ Medici (1599-1648), thereby buttressing a relationship with the Medici family which is believed to have officially begun by the infant Lorenzo’s grandfather, Antonio Manetti, who is reputed to have worked on the restoration of “La Patraia” for Don Lorenzo de’ Medici.
The 1700s saw the Manetti family’s sustained distinction when in 1732 Nicolò Manetti was appointed Consul of the Academy of Drawing, an appointment which remains to this day a great source of family pride. But perhaps the turning point of the family’s fortune occurs in 1811 when Luigi Manetti (1791-1855), son of Domenico Manetti (1753-1816), embarked, at his father’s suggestion, upon a tour of Europe—Italy, Spain, France, and Prussia—in the throes of the Industrial Revolution to witness, firsthand, a transforming Europe. In 1816, the year his forward-thinking father died, Luigi returned to Italy, poised to give new life to his family’s business. In 1820 he purchased a shop in the heart of Florence, the focus of the business being the production of gold leaf. And in honor of his first-born son, Giusto Manetti (1818-1890), Luigi named the business Giusto Manetti Battiloro, the name which remains with the enterprise to this day. With the knowledge of industrialization gained during his five-year sojourn, Luigi began modernizing the company. And following in the footsteps of his father, Giusto further modernized the company and oversaw its emerging national reputation.
But it was Giusto’s son Adolfo Manetti (1855-1926), who besides further mechanizing gold leaf production through the use of automatic hammers, began exporting the company’s products to other European countries: Giusto Manetti Battiloro, after 300 years, had emerged as a company known outside the borders of Italy. And today, with subdivisions Manetti East and Manetti Iberia, the company is a bona-fide multinational, headquartered at Campi Bisenzio, Florence.
Besides rising from the ashes of World War II under the leadership of the family’s war hero Giusto Manetti (1891-1961), named in honor of his grandfather, the company’s crowning glory occurred, prophetically, in 2002 when the Manetti family financed the restoration of the golden ball of Brunelleschi’s dome at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, exactly 400 years after their ancestor Matteo Manetti, namesake and grandson of the family’s patriarch Matteo Manetti, had answered the call to restore the city’s lightening-destroyed symbol in 1602. So the moral of the story is: When it comes to Manetti gold and silver (www.manetti.it ), a gentleman can put his money where his mouth is! And what is even more appetizing is that gold leaf and silver leaf, because so little precious metal is used to form each sheet, is relatively inexpensive: A packet of twenty-five 3” X 3” sheets of gold leaf typically retails for around $70.00 on www.Amazon.com . So edible leaf packs a lot of “bling” without too much “cha-ching!”
Some of life’s greatest moments—anniversaries, weddings, and births, for example—are celebrated with food and drink, and with gold and silver. So when food, drink, and those two precious metals are combined, the result is usually a tour de force of over-the-top proportions. Many people know about Goldschläger, the liqueur with flakes of floating gold. And long-stemmed gourmet strawberries are beautiful and delicious in their own right. But when they are wrapped in gold leaf, the element of glamor is added, making the decorated whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. Likewise, there are few things in life more delicious than dark, bitter-sweet chocolate. But when it is presented, gift-like, covered in edible silver or gold, it is elevated to the mythical food of Aztec gods. And it is said that some sexy, 21st -century gentlemen dress (or permit to be dressed) certain body parts with edible gold and silver, offering those parts to their lovers to be savored. The procedure, it is said, is simple: The body part is slightly moistened (if nature has not already seen to that!), then the tissue paper bearing the metal leaf is gently placed onto the body part, metal-down (“growers” and “show-ers” calculating accordingly). The tissue paper is then carefully lifted away, leaving the gold- or silver-adorned body part in all its glittering glory….