Come Diwali and you cannot miss the lovely display of mithai and dry fruit decorated with silver leaf or chandi-ka-warq.
"Passers-by look at their rich glitter and are tempted to enter the shop and buy these food products. However, they are probably unaware that the eye-catching silvery glitter might not be silver at all but some other toxic metal," says Dr.Saurabh Arora, Founder of Food Safety Helpline.com.
Silver leaf has been a part of Ayurveda medicine since centuries and was adopted into culinary art for garnishing. It was a particular favourite ingredient in Mughlai and Awadhi cuisine like shahi tukra, biryani, korma and kebabs and continues to be used today on paan, dry fruit, supari and elachi and other foods because of the following reasons:
• provides a rich opulent look to foods
• Silver has antimicrobial properties and so prevents growth of bacteria
• prevents spoilage from contaminants
• increases shelf life of foods where no other preservatives are used
-Adulteration of Silver Leaf is Hazardous to Health
Adulteration often raises its head during the festive season and the unwary consumer can fall prey to it. Adulteration in silver leaf or chandi-ka-warq has been often detected by food regulators which include:
• substitution of silver with aluminium
• poor quality of silver used which may not be of 999 purity
• unhygienic preparation methods
• unsanitary conditions in workshops can cause contamination which poses a risk of foodborne diseases
• traces of heavy metal contamination like nickel, lead, cadmium have been detected
The Food Business Operators (FBOs) are themselves consumers so they must ensure full compliance of regulations and carry out self- inspection to ensure there is no adulteration of silver leaf in anyway.
-Manufacturing Process of Silver Leaf
What is causing distress to some consumers are certain methods used for making silver leaf. Various regions of India use different methods like
• hammering a leather pouch containing silver strips on a granite stone
• placing silver inside the guts of oxen and buffalo and hammering them to required thinness
• beating silver between sheets of black specially treated paper and polyester sheets coated with food grade calcium powder
• processing in modern machines
Though manufacturers say that intestines are treated with herbs which prevent them from leaving any part of the intestines on the silver leaf it is still not accepted by some communities in India so some manufacturers have switched to modern methods of manufacturing Silver Leaf.
Delhi High Court Stay
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has amended the regulations and has stated that silver leaf will not be manufactured using any material of animal origin at any stage of the manufacturing process. The Delhi High Court has stayed the implementation of this regulation on a PIL filed by traditional manufacturers of Silver Leaf that use animal intestines for preparing the chandi-ka-warq as this would lead to job losses for hundreds of workers. These manufacturers state that:
• the hundreds of years old secret manufacturing method does not contaminate the silver leaf nor change the quality of silver
• if some consumers have objections, the silver leaf can be labelled as vegetarian or non-vegetarian
One will have to wait for the decision of the Delhi High Court for this.
Simple Test to Check Adulteration in Silver Leaf
• Wipe the silver leaf on top of sweets of foods. If the residue sticks to the fingers it is adulterated with aluminium.
• Ignite a piece of silver leaf. If it is silver, it will turn into a ball of silver whereas aluminium will burn and leave behind ashes that are greyish black.
• Place silver leaves in a test tube and add diluted hydrochloric acid. If it becomes turbid with a white precipitate it is silver because aluminium can neither become turbid nor can it precipitate
• Rub some silver leaf between the palms of the hand; if it is silver it will disappear, if it is aluminium it will become a small ball.