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The Silver Leaf on Your Food – Is it safe for consumption?

You see these in sweets shops, these thin silver foils peppered on the various delicacies. Also known as chandi ka vark, various mouth fresheners, dry fruits and spices, and some culinary preparations, too, are frequently garnished with these silver leaves. Why are these used in the first place? Are there safety concerns associated with consumption of such silver?

Here are some reasons why silver leaf has found such extensive usage:  

  • It provides a rich, appealing look to foods.
  • Silver has antimicrobial properties and so prevents growth of bacteria.  
  • It prevents spoilage from contaminants.
  • It increases shelf life of foods.

Silver is an excellent antibacterial agent even in low concentrations. In fact, it is also used in antiseptic creams and in dressing materials. Recent studies have claimed that silver consumption may be helpful for diabetic patients too.

Silver foils have traditionally been used in Indian culinary preparations. Their use is also common in South Asian, Middle Eastern and Japanese cuisines. Gold and silver foils were used extensively in some European nations for medicinal purposes. Ayurveda has also prescribed the use of gold and silver foils for various medicinal properties.
 

So, Is It Okay to Eat that Silver?

None of the beneficial aspects mentioned above implies that one should start having foods with silver regularly. While having it once in a while in sweets, mouth fresheners and other culinary preparations is fine, it is important to note that silver is not an essential mineral and there is no dietary recommendation for silver.

Excessive consumption of biologically active silver can cause irreversible damage to human beings. Edible silver foil/vark is not considered harmful to the body, as they are biologically not active in nature.

Unscrupulous manufacturers are known to use aluminium instead of silver. Some food samples containing silver foils have been found to have traces of nickel, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium and manganese. Their consumption can be harmful for human consumption.

There are also concerns regarding poor quality of silver and unhygienic preparation methods.

In European nations, foils made up of gold and silver have been recognized as approved food foils. The European Union classifies these as food additives and has assigned them E numbers (numbers assigned to food additives for universal identification) – E175 for gold foils and E174 for silver foils.
 
 

Making It Vegetarian

Silver leaf was traditionally manufactured by placing silver between the intestines of animals obtained from slaughterhouses and hammering it thin. That way, it was easier to remove the thin silver sheets from an animal tissue. However, keeping in mind the concerns of vegetarians, this activity was banned in 2016 by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

An alternative manufacturing process involves beating the silver using specially treated paper and polyester coated with food-grade calcium powder.

The following clauses are as per Regulation 2.11.4 of Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives), Regulations, 2011, with regard to silver foil or chandi ka vark:

  • It should be in the form of a sheet of uniform thickness, free from creases and folds. The weight of the silver leaf should be up to 2.8g/sq. m, and silver content should be of minimum 999/1,000 fineness.
  • It should not be manufactured using any material of animal origin at any stage, and be in accordance with the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011, and the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011.

– Compiled by Richa Pande

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