Inspector of Gadgets is our series that investigates, critiques, and experiments with some of the most idiosyncratic single-use kitchen utensils on the market (or found on eBay). The goal is to figure out why on earth these items are, or were ever, “a thing.”
If you’ve been to a fancy restaurant in the past, oh say, 20 years, you’ve probably seen at least one item that’s been decorated with edible gold flakes. Edible gold is, in fact, actual gold that chefs are putting on your food. It’s edible insofar as you can ingest it and it does no harm to your body, but eventually, just like anything you eat, you’ll be flushing it down the toilet.
So why use it? Quickest answer: it’s pretty. I wanted to see if decorating my food with gold would make me feel pretty too. Pretty rich, that is. Plus, it’s there to make you feel like you’re eating straight up cash, which is so wasteful it’s amazing. I wanted to see if eating an exorbitant amount of gold would in fact, make me feel rich from the inside out.
Remember those horrible-looking gilded chicken wings, no thanks to that Foodgod guy? The act of covering food in gold also exists to allow restaurateurs like Salt Bae to jack up the price of ribeyes, up to the tune of over $1,000. (For the record, you can get really dramatic-looking tomahawk steaks for $37 a pound from Costco.) There’s no point in spending $1,000 at a Salt Bae restaurant, but you can buy sheets of gold leaf to use at home for a fraction of the price. So, can using gold leaf at home make you feel like a million bucks?
I decided to take some humble homemade food and plate it with gold leaf to see if it made me feel significantly better about my puny existence. I may not be Jeff Bezos, who can launch his own ass into space and install soft-serve ice cream machines in his home kitchen, but at least I can try eating gold to my heart’s content.
Edible gold leaf is readily available online, and it’s pretty affordable. Most packs of edible gold leaf will run you between $10-$20. A little goes a long way for edible decorating purposes, so you probably won’t need to spend more than that to feel rich.
I got a bigger pack than is typical; this variety comes in a 12-pack of gold sheets, and the sheets are 10 cm square (3.93 inches), which is pretty big. This package was $36.99, but will last me a very long time, in case I want to gild some Big Mac sushi later.
I’ve had gold leaf on a few things at fancy dinners before. It was typically on chocolate desserts or the occasional sushi roll, but in such small quantities, there was no way I could ever taste it. So I decided to just eat an entire sheet, all at once, for... science.
I am here to report to you that gold leaf in a large quantity still has zero flavor. But it does have texture. If you’ve ever had really thin rice paper, like the kind covering Botan Rice Candy, you’ll find it has a similar texture that wilts away in your mouth. I wouldn’t say the gold exactly melted away, but it almost felt like it did. Later, when I flossed my teeth, I found that some had gotten stuck between them and I felt rich all over again. Is that what gold mining is like?
If Salt Bae is covering steaks in gold for no reason, I could do the same thing, only this time, with a tube steak, aka a hot dog.
I steamed a Vienna Beef hot dog, the preferred hot dog of most Chicagoans (though there are very good competitors), and broke out the rest of the gold leaf.
Using tweezers, I draped the gold leaf over the wiener, which is a combination of words I’ve never typed before. I wasn’t trying to be precious by using the tweezers; gold leaf is extraordinarily delicate. If you look at it the wrong way, it’ll tear. If you breathe on it, it’ll also tear. This is why whenever you see it as a garnish on anything, it’s usually in little flakes or shreds, never in entire sheets. After a few painstaking minutes and four sheets later, I found success.
Measuring success is a different yardstick for everyone, I guess. Mine involves a gold-leaf-wrapped hot dog in a poppy seed bun.
A golden hot dog is quite a sight to behold. I couldn’t stop staring at it. It was vulgar, yet it had the light of a thousand suns, and I was going to eat it.
But this is Chicago, after all, so I decided it was a good idea to dress the whole thing up by “dragging it through the garden,” as we say here, which means adorning it with all of our traditional toppings. (Actually, if you want to know the truth, almost nobody actually says that phrase, except for journalists. We just ask for our hot dogs “with everything” and they come magically topped with stuff.)
A fully loaded Chicago-style hot dog includes yellow mustard, diced onions, fresh tomato slices, a pickle spear, hyper-neon green sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. For the uninitiated, sure, that is a lot to experience on a hot dog, but all that stuff on top makes for one of the freshest-tasting hot dogs all around.
Look at this fucking gold-leaf-covered hot dog. That is so much color. You’ve probably never seen a Chicago-style hot dog covered in gold, and you may never see one again, so take it all in. Tattoo it on your leg, even. This was like gazing upon the true face of god. My version of heaven is, in fact, a land of golden hot dogs. I almost didn’t want to eat it. Almost.
My fiancée Davida and I split the thing and ate it in silence.
“What did you think of it?” I asked her, once we were finished with lunch.
“It did nothing for me,” she said flatly.
I looked deep within myself to see how I felt. Chicago-style hot dogs make me feel rich no matter what, because they’re awesome, so I had to dig past that. Then I asked myself: Would I have spent $20 at a restaurant to eat an otherwise $3 hot dog, just to say I did it?
Hell yeah, I would. Secretly, I loved it. There’s just something so hilariously dumb about eating a gold-covered wiener, and a restaurant would get to make a shitload of profit from a humble hot dog. I guess it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Afterwards, I wanted something sweet, so I turned to my favorite baker, Small Deborah, aka, Little Debbie, for a treat. A cosmic treat, so to speak. I whipped out a Cosmic Brownie, the dense, vaguely chocolaty snack cake that only mostly tastes like a brownie. Drunk with the power of King Midas, I enrobed the thing in yet more gold leaf.
The gold did nothing to improve the taste of the brownie, because unfortunately, Cosmic Brownies are not very good to begin with. Sorry, Debbie. But like the hot dog, it was entertaining as shit. It was like eating a whole bar of gold. I have an idea: Little Debbie, maybe you can sell gold-plated Cosmic Brownies, make a lot of money, then use the profits to send yourself to pastry school.
So, was using gold leaf on cheap food at home worth the money I shelled for it? In a weird way, totally.
I thought about the volume of gold I had eaten within a single hour. Between the straight-up gold tasting, hot dog, and brownie, I must have eaten three or four sheets. If I had to guess, I’m probably in the 99th percentile of people who have eaten gold today in the entire world. Will that fact improve my life in any way? I’m guessing not.
In fact, eating large amounts of precious metals is probably actually not great for you. But the strange joy I got from eating gold at least made my day. It’s like when writer Drew Magary busted through $400 of caviar for humanity in one day by putting it on shit like, coincidentally, hot dogs. Except my hot dogs were covered in sheer vibes, not salty fish eggs.
In the end, it’s all about how using edible gold makes you feel. You don’t have to spend $1,000 on a steak at Salt Bae’s overpriced restaurant. You can drop $10 on a small package of gold leaf, decorate a Hot Pocket, and continue to live your best life affordably, yet in extreme luxury.