Heavenly taste? The obsession with edible gold

If your dish isn't sprinkled with it, it's simply not extravagant enough. Edible gold is one ingredient that always seems to take the luxury cuisine world by storm.

Whether it's the world's most expensive grilled cheese, ice cream sundae, soufflé or sushi; for dishes to be bestowed with this kind of title, more often than not, edible gold is key.

Golden Opulence Sundae ready to be tasted on May 08, 2012 in New York City.
Laurentiu Garofeanu | Barcoft Media | Getty Images

"Scarcity is the ultimate, defining quality of true luxury. Consumable scarcity is therefore the apogee of indulgence – consuming something which is rare, prized and valuable – and likely to increase in value still – is an expression of luxury and wealth," Winston Chesterfield, director at Wealth-X, told CNBC over email.

"Many chefs now attempt to make their dishes works of visual art. Not only because the arena of fine cuisine is highly competitive and continually advancing, but because it is judged on that element by those awarding restaurants with coveted accolades."

Like edible flowers, glitter or other colorful décor, gold "adds another dimension" to a dish as a talking point, by creating a visual impact. In many cases, this golden addition generates further monetary value for a dish too.

Going for Gold

The gilded ingredient has provided a helping hand in elevating the status of one New York-based restaurant, Serendipity 3, after it received a number of Guinness World Records for its gold-infused dishes.

During its history, Serendipity 3 has been bestowed with creating the world's most expensive dessert: a $25,000 ice cream sundae containing edible 23-karat gold and 28 cocoas, called "Frrrozen Haute Chocolate". The sundae, created in 2007, overtook the restaurant's previous record for the "most expensive dessert": their "Golden Opulence Sundae" which they still sell for $1,000.

Serendipity 3: 'Frrrozen Haute Chocolate' (left) | 'Le Burger Extravagant' (middle) | 'Golden Opulence Sundae' (right)
Photographer Credit: Liz Steger

According to the restaurant's founder and owner, Stephen Bruce, "everything looks better covered in gold", with the restaurant beginning its relationship with the ingredient in 2004.

"Working with edible gold is like working with all the other fine ingredients we use to make these outrageous menu items, they are the finest ingredients in the world, and when put together, creates edible works of art" Bruce told CNBC via email.

"It says that people love extravagance and are willing to pay the price to indulge in such extravagant menu items," he added.

The restaurant was also awarded for crafting the most expensive sandwich ($214) called the "Quintessential Grilled Cheese"; and the most expensive hamburger "Le Burger Extravagant" ($295), which had a gold-dusted, truffle-buttered Campagna roll, on top of a fried quail egg, caviar and Wagyu beef.

Serendipity 3 has received "a tremendous amount of publicity" for its dishes, Bruce said, adding that it doesn't have any plans to create more "golden" dishes at present.

Appearance over flavor

While eating gold may sound unwise, edible gold is safe to consume, however "there are no nutritional or health benefits associated with indulging in this extravagant food", Deborah Orlick Levy, a nutrition expert said.

Sharing her thoughts with CNBC via email, Levy said that it always seems individuals get bored by the same old consumable goods, and are looking for something fresh and exciting.

"This new 'gold laced food' fad is no different. It seems there's something sexy about eating food covered in gold (not to mention pricey), so people are curious to find out more," Levy added.

While coating your food with gold may seem like a modern, innovative delicacy, the technique has been used for many centuries. According to gold leaf producer Manetti who cited recent studies, edible gold has dated back to ancient times, however in Europe the product was used for decorating dishes back in the Middle Ages.

"Gold-laced food is nothing new and simply another example of the effect of wealth on ordinary things," said Wealth-X's Chesterfield.

"History shows us that wealth has always lifted the mere sustenance of food into an art form. Roman nobles threw spectacular banquets with artistic displays and processions of food that were feasts for all the senses, particularly that of sight."

"It has always been the case that the basic is elevated to the extraordinary by those who possess the means."

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