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Luminescent Food Techniques

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Egullet folks,

I've been trying to track down recipes and techniques for making luminescent (glowing) dishes and drinks. Google searches and even egullet searches haven't turned up much. Obviously there are plenty of substances and materials that are luminscent or can be made luminescent, but almost none of them are edible.

I'm not necessarily looking for a way to make a dish that is luminescent in normal lighting conditions (which may not be possible at all), it will probably be reduced light or completely dark (glow-in-the-dark).

The only thing I've managed to find so far is the glow-under-blacklight (ultraviolet) method of using quinine in drinks. I also recall Heston Blumenthal making a glow-in-the-dark jelly tower, but that, too, may have used a blacklight. If so then these would both be florescent techniques.

Everything that is phosphorescent seems to involve chemicals that aren't safe to consume (zinc sulfide, strontium aluminate), but I can't find solid sources to confirm this. The same goes for chemiluminescent materials (like the stuff in glow sticks).

The most promising approach might be to find a bioluminescent bacteria or algae that is safe to consume. As a matter of fact, you might even be able to cook and kill the bacteria/algae and have it retain its bioluminescence for some time afterward.

Has anyone experimented with any of these approaches? Any thoughts?

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Photobacterium phosphoreum would probably grow nicely in a gel base (such as an aspic), but rather a lot of vibrio strains cause unpleasant diseases (e.g. cholera), and I have no idea of whether this one is a pathogen, too.

The Bioluminescence Web Page may offer one or two usful starting points, and some oyster mushrooms are bioluminescent. I'm not certain that you'd be able to get substances extracted from living organisms to glow in food; I think a lot of them rely on cell activity for that.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums

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Someone is trying to commercialize it.

BioLume®, Inc. is a privately-held biotechnology company located in Research Triangle Park, NC. Our mission is to develop and commercialize a portfolio of proprietary bioluminescent (light producing) proteins with many first-in-class applications in the food, beverage, cosmetic, and diagnostic imaging markets.
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Since the compound (at least that used in edible items) is harvested from marine organisms, I wonder what sort of impact that's going to have on the ecosystem in question.

I believe they clone the genes from the organisms and then probably use bacteria to create the protein. Their LinkedIn page says

The product, Lumoness™ exists today and can be synthetically manufactured in large quantities, licensed and sold commercially.

So there would be little impact on the populations from which these compounds originate.

ETA: Here's a kit that basically does the same thing except with the gene from a firefly. What this company does is probably similar, except with a jellyfish gene. Then they just grind up the bacteria and separate out the glowing protein and stick it in your ice cream.

Edited by emannths (log)
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It'd be interesting to see how they replicate the enzyme-substrate activity of the organism, and how (or whether) they control for temperature and pH effects. Looks like an interesting field, anyway (although you just know that it's the sort of thing that would also be insanely popular at a certain type of wedding :wink: )

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums

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A while back Martin of the wonderful Khymos posted this story about glowing lollipops. Don't think it's going to help you much, but they're certainly pretty.

Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
Host, eG Forumslcraven@egstaff.org

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives ~ Oscar Wilde

My eG Foodblog

eGullet Ethics Code signatory

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Hi, I'm a pastry chef from Italy, this is my first post on the forum.

About a year ago some colleagues and I made something on these lines for the dinner buffet for the opening of a new art business. It was a flat and thin piece of sugarpaste, with the logo of the business on it made with sprayed cocoa butter (made with the help of a mold). The idea was this: give these white things to the guests in a room with normal lights (where they could see the logo only if they payed quite a bit of attention looking at it), ask them to move to another room with only a couple of black lights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_light), so they could see the logo, and we would tell them that those white things were edible. The trick was getting something that had the same appearance with normal lights (white), but difference appearance with black lights. So we had to play with the roughness of the surface. Sugar paste is white and lucid, sprayed cocoa butter is white but rough and opaque, so the two materials have two different appereances with the black lights (sugarpaste is fluorescent, sprayed cocoa butter is not much).

I can't give more precise details on how these were realized, because I gave this idea at the creative meeting for setting up the "menu" for this buffet, but I was not the one who practically realized them, I had other duties.

Sorry for my bad English, I hope I've been able to explain what we did.



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  • 5 months later...

The Spanish manufacturer, Sosa, used to make a 'glow-in-the-dark' powder additive. Not sure if they still make the stuff.

With black light, it is pretty cool. I made the Fat Duck liquid nitrogen macha tea/lime meringue dragon's breath thing and with a black light the 'glowing breath' was fun.

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  • 1 year later...

I checked the current Sosa catalogue. Apparently their fluorescent additive is discontinued. It looks like it was a riboflavin-based fluorescence (maltodextrin being the only other ingredient listed, probably just a bulking agent). You can see the product here, it appears to have glowed a yellowish color:


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  • 1 year later...
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