SENSATIONAL SEASONAL SPARKLES
The appeal of glitter dates back at least 40,000 years, when prehistoric man used malachite and mica crystals to bring life and light to cave paintings. Still today, notwithstanding children’s fairy wands, glam rockers, sparkling cosmetics and nail art, glitter brings much of the magic to Christmas. It covers our cards, our festive decorations, our Christmas crackers… and our food. Recent years have seen a growing trend for edible glitter, and Christmas is surely the best time of year to eat it!
Despite the magic and excitement that it incites, glitter in general has been revealed to have a ‘dark side’ in recent years. Essentially, like many things in the 20th century, since the 1930s the majority of the world’s glitter has been plastic-based. Today, most glitter is still made from a combination of aluminium and plastic, and it is classified as a ‘microplastic’.
You could say that glitter in general has been tarnished by these issues because, as everyone knows, microplastics are a now major problem for the environment. Last year, researchers from Australia’s National Science Agency calculated that up to 15.87 million tons of microplastics may be embedded in the seafloor. These tiny particles have been found in samples of Arctic ice and, thanks to their integration into the food chain, we are estimated to ingest about 5 g of the stuff ourselves, every week.
However, this is most emphatically not the sort of glitter you want to be eating!
You could say that glitter
has been tarnished by these issues...
ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD
SARAH J. HARDING
Specialist in scientific communications | United Kingdom
Sarah Harding, PhD, is a specialist in scientific communications, with 25 years of experience in the speciality chemicals and pharmaceutical sectors.
FASCICOLO SPONSORIZZATO DA
The past decade has seen several start-ups manufacturing environmentally friendly alternatives. Such sparkling innovations include a return to minerals such as mica particles, which give a more subtle pearlescent shimmer favoured by higher-end cosmetic manufacturers, or by replacing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic with cellulose from tree or plant matter. So-called ‘bioglitter’ has been shown to biodegrade into harmless particles – usually within 4 weeks – once in contact with the natural environment.
However, you aren’t supposed to eat this type of glitter either.
It is very important to realise that “biodegradable” does not necessarily mean “edible”. Truly edible glitter is usually made of sugars, colourings and preservatives – in other words, it is made of edible ingredients, to produce an edible end-product. Confusion over this issue drove the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lead with the headline “Non-toxic does not mean edible” in December 2018, as they struggled to caution holiday consumers that some glitters and dusts promoted for use on foods may, in fact, contain materials that should not be eaten.
As the trend for edible glitter emerged, the FDA released a statement warning people to only use glitter that is marked edible on the package with a list of clearly stated ingredients. “FDA is advising home and commercial bakers to avoid using glitter and dust products to decorate cakes and other food items unless the products are specifically manufactured to be edible,” the statement read. “The agency has become aware that some non-edible decorative glitters and dusts are promoted for use on foods. Home and commercial bakers need to be aware that these types of glitters and dusts are not intended to be used directly on foods and may contain materials that should not be eaten.”
Ingredients of edible glitter most commonly include sugar, gum arabic (acacia), maltodextrin, corn starch and colourings – all of which are edible. As with any product, manufacturers need to use clear and approved labelling on their edible glitters, lustres and dusts. If glitter is safe to eat, the labelling must clearly state the product is edible, or that it contains certain ingredients that are edible and safe to eat.
For example, Paul Parkinson, Head of B2B & Sugarcraft at Cake Décor, spoke to us about the company’s work to source alternatives for E171 (titanium dioxide), which used to be widely used as a food colouring but is now being phased out by regulators.
“Cake Décor supplies the UK’s largest retailers, as well as large blue chip food manufacturers, plant and chain bakeries, so ensuring that our products comply with regulatory requirements is a major requirement for business,” he advised. “In direct relation to edible glitters and lustre sprays, we are well underway in sourcing titanium dioxide replacements where possible, or removing them from our products, to cater for the upcoming legislation passed by the FSA… We take great responsibility and care in our product development and aim to make sure all specific products are updated in alignment to any legislation.”
It is important to draw the distinction
between edible glitter
and glitter that is simply biodegradable
"Ensuring our products
comply with regulatory requirements
is a major requirement for business"
Head of B2B Sugarcraft, Cake Décor, UK
Perhaps especially because the past couple of years have been so difficult, with COVID restrictions and limited opportunities to get together with friends and family, many consumers are going all out this year to mark the return of a ‘proper’ Christmas. Christmas sales in 2021 are expected to grow at least 7% compared with last year, according to forecasts from Bain, Deloitte and Mastercard.
While many analysts continue to focus on the rise of functional foods, and solutions for mental and emotional wellbeing, an uptake in edible glitter ties in with a person’s need to feel unique and special, and to give them a much-needed emotional return on two years of social upheaval and isolation. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, as well as spending on gifts for loved ones, there are early indications that consumers will have a big appetite for Christmas decorations and, to many, that means glitter!
Edible glitter continues to trend across the food and drink sector – in beer and gin, on cakes and swirled into bagels. There is a vast range of festive delights on offer this year. Bearing in mind the cautionary notes above about using only edible glitter for these purposes, these products are widely available from retailers, from Amazon to Hobbycraft, or direct from a number of manufacturers and distributors.
As one example, Vanilla Valley, one of the UK’s most respected cake decorating suppliers, is offering packaged edible glitter in ‘Holly Green’ and a range of other Christmas colours. Manufactured by Rainbow Dust, this sugar-based edible glitter can be sprinkled on anything that needs a little sparkle. The company also supplies Culpitt’s shimmery glitter icing in a range of pearlescent shades, for adding a touch of elegance to your Christmas cakes and desserts.
Cake Décor’s edible glitter sands are ideal for adding the finishing touches, with a brilliant sparkle. Red, blue, gold and silver sands are all made from natural ingredients, with no artificial colours, no artificial flavours and no hydrogenated fats. A similar natural-ingredient promise is made for the company’s lustre sprays, and also for their range of glitter sugars – probably the delightfully crunchy golden product I’ll be looking to buy, myself, this Christmas.
Meanwhile, Bakell, a US-based online leader for edible glitter (and other decorating supplies) is providing a special Christmas Beverage Glitter Set, including dark green, red, gold and silver Brew Glitter, for the creation of fun and festive Christmas cocktails. Brew Glitter is mineral-based (as well as being FDA compliant and 100% edible) so it doesn’t dissolve, allowing your Christmas beverage to dance before your eyes!
Alongside a vast range of these edible glitters that could (and should – it’s Christmas, after all) be sprinkled on anything from Christmas puddings to pizza, numerous beverage providers are cashing in on the trend for [literally] sparkling drinks to celebrate the season. To name just a few, Corky’s Schnapps is offering five mouth-watering flavours of glitter and sour schnapps, while Marks & Spencer’s returns with its festive light-up snow globe liqueurs: the iconic clementine gin liqueur with 23-carat edible gold leaf, or a new spiced sugar plum gin liqueur, which has a mince pie-like flavour and contains silver leaf. Bottle Bling is another company with four flavoured gins containing 22 carat gold edible gold leaf.
There are early indications that
consumers will have a big appetite
for Christmas decorations and,
to many, that means glitter!
Forty millenia after cavemen used the first ‘glitter’, its appeal continues to hold true. Perhaps one day this appeal will fade but, to my mind, at least, this seems unlikely. Our love of shimmers and sparkles is innate within us – perhaps reflecting our fascination with the stars, or the oceans. This is a connection that lifts our spirits, and brings joy to our lives.
As we celebrate the end of 2021, and look forward to a New Year with all of its aspirations and opportunities, I hope that your Christmas has all the glitter and glamour that you deserve. Just please remember to use biodegradable alternatives and, if you’re eating the stuff, remember to check the label first!
Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay