|Alternative names||Varq, vark, varak, varakh, varakha etc.|
|Place of origin||India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal|
|Region or state||South Asia|
|Main ingredients||Silver, Gold|
|Cookbook: Varaq (वरक़),varaqa(ورق) Media: Varaq (वरक़),varaqa(ورق)|
Vark, varak (Sanskrit: वरक), (Arabic: ورق) or varaka is any foil composed of a pure metal, typically silver, sometimes gold, used for garnishing sweets in South Asian cuisine. The silver is edible, though flavorless. Varak is made by pounding silver into a sheet a few micrometres thick, and backed with paper for support; this paper is peeled away before use. It is extremely brittle and breaks into smaller pieces if touched. Vark sheets are laid or rolled over some South Asian sweets. Edible silver and gold foils on sweets, confectionery and desserts is not unique to the Indian subcontinent; other regions such as Japan and Europe have long used precious metal foils as food cover and additive, including specialty drinks such as Danziger Goldwasser.
Concerns have been raised about the safety and ethical acceptability of vark, as not all of it is pure silver, nor hygienically prepared, and the foil nowadays commonly is beaten between layers of ox-gut because it is easier to separate the silver leaf from animal tissue than to separate it from paper.
Gold and silver are approved food foils in the European Union, as E175 and E174 additives respectively. The independent European food-safety certification agency, TÜV Rheinland, has deemed gold leaf safe for consumption. Gold and silver leaf are also certified as kosher. These inert precious metal foils are not considered toxic to human beings nor to broader ecosystems.
One study has found that about 10% of 178 foils studied from the Lucknow (India) market were made of aluminium. Of the tested foils, 46% of the samples were found to have the desired purity requirement of 99.9% silver, whereas the rest had less than 99.9% silver. All the tested Indian foils contained on average trace levels of nickel (487 ppm), lead (301 ppm), copper (324 ppm), chromium (83 ppm), cadmium (97 ppm) and manganese (43 ppm). All of these are lower than natural anthropogenic exposures of these metals; the authors suggest there is a need to address a lack of purity standards in European Union and Indian food additive grade silver. The total silver metal intake per kilogram of sweets eaten, from vark, is less than one milligram.
Large quantities of ingested bioactive silver can cause argyria, but the use of edible silver or gold as vark is not considered harmful to the body, since the metal is in inert form (not ionic bioactive form), and the quantities involved in normal use are minuscule.
However, while silver leaf may be safe to ingest, there is a risk of disease, due to the fact that the silver is initially hammered under rather unsanitary conditions.
Etymology and origins
Varaka is mentioned in several ancient Sanskrit documents, particularly in Ayurvedic and medical literature. Varaka means cloth, cloak or a thing that covers something else. The word varaka is mentioned with swarna (gold), tara (silver) or rupera (silver) in these documents; the discussion is in three forms of these precious metals: patra (leaf), varaka (thin foil) and bhasma (ash). Ayurvedic documents consider silver as an antimicrobial astringent, while gold is claimed to be an aphrodisiac. This is not unique to Indian subcontinent; in Europe, edible gold (Aureum potabile) and silver were also claimed to have medicinal properties; later studies found that they can indeed be antibacterial owing to Oligodynamic effect.
- Gold in Gastronomy deLafee, Switzerland (2008)
- Conspicuous Consumption L.V. Anderson, Slate (July 16, 2012)
- Public Health Statement for Silver ATSDR-CDC, US Government (December 1990)
- Edible gold and silver
- Das, Mukul; Dixit, S.; Khanna, S. K. (2005). "Justifying the need to prescribe limits for toxic metal contaminants in food-grade silver foils". Food Additives & Contaminants 22 (12): 1219. doi:10.1080/02652030500215235.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, See toxicity, food and exposure papers on nickel, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium and manganese.
- Sarvate, Sarita (4 April 2005). "Silver Coating". India Currents. Retrieved 2009-07-05.
- See Varaka Sanskrit dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany (2009)
- Varaka Sanskrit-English Dictionary] see वरक
- Rustomjee Naserwanjee Khory, Nanabhai Navrosji Katrak (1903), Materia Medica of India and Their Therapeutics, page 233-234
- Khedekar et al., Standard manufacturing process of Makaradhwaja prepared by Swarna Patra – Varkha and Bhasma, Ayu., 2011 Jan-Mar; 32(1): pp 109–115; doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.85741
- Cordial waters Historic food (2007), see Lady Fletcher Vane's manuscript receipt book c.1770