As edible gold history is concerned there is no doubt according to recent studies that the first evidence of gold used as a food dates back to the second millennium BC in ancient Egypt.
The colour of the skin was gold in the frescoes, and the tombs and sarcophagi of the pharaohs were decorated in gold, therefore it was eaten because it was considered to be a sacred food by the Egyptians, for currying favour and being closer to the gods.
Although it is not possible to have the exact dates of edible gold history, it is believed that since ancient times, far Eastern cultures and civilizations also commonly combined food and gold to draw the deity’s attention toward them. There is reasonable certainty that this is not just a legend but a real and widespread practice witnessed by Marco Polo a few centuries later and recorded in his manuscript Il Milione.
An exception to the practice of using edible gold as an ingredient for sacred purposes can be found in Japanese culture and civilization. In fact, in ancient times, edible gold was used in the sense in which we understand its use today, for decorating food and drink: bottles of saké with gold flakes inside and special dishes covered with gold leaf. It is highly probable that this custom was born out of the tea ceremony, one of Japan’s most ancient traditions.
In Europe, edible gold history dates back to the Middle Ages, where it was used exclusively for decorating dishes. In the courts of the Italian nobles, such wide use was made of it that traces of its use were recorded in the books of the era.
Galeazzo II Visconti, in 1368, on the occasion of the wedding of his daughter Violante, delighted his guests by offering them sturgeon, carp, duck, quail, and partridge, all covered in a very thin gold leaf.
In Venice in 1561, on the occasion of a festival in honour of the Prince of Bisignano, bread and oysters were served covered with gold leaf. In that same city, the nuns of the Convent of Santa Maria Celeste mixed edible gold into the batter of their “bussolai”, traditional Venetian biscuits. Finally, in sixteenth century Padua, edible gold was used so widely that the city council decided to limit its use, declaring that at wedding receptions, no more than two courses could be served using gold leaf as a garnish.
However, not only in Italy was edible gold used to enrich the banquets of the noble classes. In fact in England, at the court of Elizabeth I, oranges, pomegranates, dates, figs and even wine grapes were covered with gold dust. In America, on the other hand, native peoples made great use of it because it was considered to be an otherworldly means for raising people.
Although the discovery that gold had therapeutic properties was made a few centuries later, in the fifteenth century, alchemists were already preparing medicines using edible gold, considering it a cure for every disease. In Europe in the the sixteenth century, and especially in Italy, the practice of finishing a meal by eating a sweet covered in gold leaf was supposed to prevent any type of heart disease. During that same period in Milan, apothecaries added gold to medicinal products, in an attempt to sweeten their flavour. Thus the proverb “sweeten the pill” was born.