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The Gourmet & The Alchemist

The Gourmet & The Alchemist

By Joe Kissell
Curator of Interesting Things

I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, someone who is tolerant of those with different beliefs, however wacky they may seem to me. Every rule has its exceptions, though. A few years ago while travelling in England, I met a woman who claimed her diet consisted solely of durian - the smelly tropical fruit that looks like a medieval weapon. That was weird, but I was prepared to overlook it - I’ve heard of stranger things.

During the course of our discussion about food, however, the woman asked if I’d heard of edible gold. I cheerfully replied that I had, which was true - I’d seen a TV show years earlier about chefs using gold leaf as a decorative but edible garnish on dishes in extremely upscale restaurants. I assumed that’s what she was talking about.

"He became convinced that his white powder gold was the stuff of legend - well, many legends, in fact."
But she seemed very surprised that I should know about this, and in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, began excitedly talking about how the ancient Egyptians had discovered that by eating powdered gold, one could become immortal. Very clearly, she believed this too. O…K. Right then and there, all my good intentions of open-mindedness went out the window - that was just way too strange for me to get my brain around.

Later, when I consulted Google to see if I could learn any more about this seemingly outrageous claim, I was shocked and dismayed to find there are tens of thousands of webpages describing, with great seriousness and credulity, a miraculous substance usually referred to as white powder (or