Silver & Gold Foil

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Burfi with silver foil

A reader recently brought up the concern over edible silver foil (as shown on our Burfi recipe), and the issue of the foil being vegetarian.

Silver and gold foil (vark or varakh) is actually silver or gold, hammered very thin into a microscopic layer of leaf. It is traditionally used to decorate sweets or other food in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

These days, the most common way to hammer silver into leaf is to press it between animal fat or hide while hammering it. This of course would make it non-vegetarian and not an item for a Vaishnava kitchen. On the other hand, there are traditionalists in India, and a growing awareness of the issue, so it is quite possible, with some research, to find suppliers for vegetarian vark. It is usually more expensive than vark from an unknown source, but it is usually supported with a certification of authenticity.

Another major issue to keep in mind when shopping for vark is metal content. Independent testing shows that a disturbing number of ‘silver’ foil actually contains aluminum and even cadmium—both metals unsafe for consumption. So when choosing vark, it’s very important to purchase from a source that can verify the actual silver content being equal to or greater than 99.9%. Or in the case of gold foil, the gold content must be as pure as possible, sometimes mixed with silver.

Small quantities of gold and silver are safe to eat, but aluminum is not good at all, and cadmium is toxic.

So please consider your source for leaf/vark, and proceed with caution. It is a very elegant garnish for sweets when used properly.

Comments

vark or varakh

Very interesting! I'm trying to find the origin of mid-18th-century silver leaves thrown in India (Surat, Gujarat) to the spectators when the local nawab proceeded in state procession and his treasurer did the throwing. I can only suppose or guess that silversmiths could then produce vark and trim it into the shape of leaves. Should be most grateful for y o u r comments on this.
Best wishes
Jeremy Franks

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