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Have Your Gold and Eat It Too (August 30, 2007)

A gold message floating on coffee
Tiny letters float on your cup of coffee, reading "Happy Birthday." Bright and shiny, they almost seem to be made of gold. In fact, they are! A new form of ultra-fine pure gold that floats on drinks is now being used to enliven refreshments at parties and other events. The sparkling appearance of the gold leaf is luxuriously romantic, and the gold is, of course, completely edible. The product is the result of technology developed by Japan's "hi-tech goldsmiths," who are part of a centuries-old tradition of metalworking in Japan.
Desserts decorated with gold

A Unique Printing Method
The first company to develop a method of freely manipulating edible pure gold was Tsukioka Co., Ltd., based in Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture. The traditional method employed to create gold leaf involves pounding and stretching the gold into thin sheets. Tsukioka instead joins molecules of gold together inside a vacuum pan, creating extremely thin gold leaf that is 99.99% pure and just 0.08 microns thick. To get an idea of how thin this is, it should be noted that 1,000 microns are equal to just one millimeter. So, perhaps gold "film" or "membrane" would be a more apt description. Impurities normally render gold inedible, but with such a high degree of purity, this gold is safe for human consumption.

A piece of angel-shaped gold leaf

Once created, this pure gold leaf cannot simply be dropped onto a cup of coffee. The gold leaf is so thin that it crumples easily, making it difficult to work with. However, coupling it with an edible film that dissolves in water makes it easy to handle. Tsukioka devised the idea of printing gold leaf onto this edible and water-soluble film, created with technology the company developed on its own. When placed in a liquid, the film dissolves, leaving a "Happy Birthday" message, angel, star, or other shape floating by itself.

Spray-can gold powder

There are currently 42 messages and designs available. The film is wound into a roll, and pieces are peeled off one at a time. With the smallest-sized packages at just ¥525 ($4.38 at ¥120 to the dollar), it is not at all expensive for a product made of pure gold. Messages and designs can also be custom made, although only for large-volume orders of ¥65,000 ($542) or more. Also on sale are a gold-leaf powder that can be used to decorate cakes and other confections, available in spray-can form, and a sprinkle-on flake type.

A Golden Tradition
Marco Polo introduced Japan to European readers as "Zipang, the country of gold" in The Travels of Marco Polo more than 700 years ago, and the Japanese have long utilized gold and silver in a wide variety of ways. In addition to fashioning these precious metals into jewelry, Japanese craftspeople have used gold flakes and powder to decorate lacquerware, byobu (decorative folding screens), and other handicrafts, in addition to sprinkling it on special dishes or placing it inside bottles of sake. Given this history, the idea of consuming gold with food or drink is not at all foreign to the Japanese.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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