Dont let their pretty metallic good looks fool you...

Don't let their pretty metallic good looks fool you...

It’s been slow in coming this year, but the first glimmer of the itch to begin my Christmas baking has finally hit. I’d gone to Williams-Sonoma several days ago and purchased a set of very pretty snowflake cookie cutters. In my mind I saw them iced with pure white icing and glistening with a combination of clear dusting sugar and metallic dragees.

Some of you may well be wondering, “What in the world is a dragee?” While the name might ring any bells you’re sure to remember them – those hard, silver balls so popular in Christmas cookie decoration, be they for the buttons of snowmen or the ringers of bells, or simply glistening tips on snowflakes and stars. I was confounded when I tried to find them, having opted not to purchase them at Williams-Sonoma. I found a single brand at my local grocery store and the jar was on the very top shelf, nestled between the boxes of specialty extracts and colored dusting sugars. The price alone nearly blew me out of the water at $10.99 a jar, but I was determined that I was going to make beautiful, magazine-picture worthy cookies and coupled with how hard we’d looked for them I just went ahead and bought them.

One can certainly imagine my confusion when I got home and turned the jar around to find a label warning “FOR DECORATION ONLY.” Of course they’re for decoration! What else is one going to do? Snort them? Shoot them out of pellet guns? The other side read “India Tree Silver Dragees add an elegant touch to cakes and cookies.” Well, duh. That’s why I bought them!

In a moment of naughty, nostalgic self-indulgence I cracked the jar open and pried out one of the precious metal balls (at this price, they’ve got to be made with real silver, right?!) and slid it between my teeth. A quiet crack, that first blush of sugary bliss and then…

Unlike a Tootsie pop, not a chewy, chocolate center...

Unlike a Tootsie pop, not a chewy, chocolate center...

. . .

. . . PLASTIC?

That’s right, folks. These “FOR DECORATION ONLY” dragees, the only I’ve been able to find on the shelf, which were stuck right-smack in the middle of the other edible decorations and ingredients are, literally, for decoration ONLY. While I’d assume that consuming one or two wouldn’t kill someone, I can’t imagine that they’ll do wonders for anyone’s teeth and the texture of hard plastic pellets does leave something to be desired. What in the world is one really to do with these things – decorate their cookies and then warn the recipients to remove them? Should my cookies be given wrapped in a brass spittoon? It is a general rule, last I checked, that anything non-edible on a plate should be clearly unmistakable as such. It’s why chefs go to such great pains to make sure that they don’t serve whole chunks of cinnamon bark, bay leaves, or star anise in their food!

Thankfully the local grocery manager was just as shocked as I was to learn that these things aren’t edible. She said she was going to look at some as soon as she hung up with me, and I have a feeling that they will be moved over with the candles and other inedible baking decor. She also stated that despite having opened my jar, I am free to return them for a full refund. While I may be out of pretty-as-a-magazine sparkle, at least I won’t be out $11.

2 Comments on “Decoration Only” Dragees Dragging Me Down

  1. SulaBlue says:

    Apparently, these little gems are serious bizness. This post has received more hits than almost anything else on the blog. As usual, it was also submitted to a foodie LJ community that I am part of and there it has received dozens of comments. It would seem that I am not the only one who has a sense of nostalgia when it comes to these little silvery delights.

    One person was kind enough to supply the following links to show just how utterly serious this is (and just how crazy the nanny-state has gotten in California).

    The L.A. Times article is even better (and longer – 4 screens on Dragees… with tales of lawsuits and smuggling, oh my! Just proof that if you make something illegal, there WILL be a black market for it, even if it’s just cake decoration!).

  2. India Tree says:

    India Tree Gourmet Spices and Specialties:

    Dragées are a very old European tradition and have been used in Europe and the United States for years to decorate wedding cakes and other fine pastries.

    The FDA in its Compliance Policy Guide 7117-03 classifies silver dragées in the following way:

    “When small silver balls known as ‘silver dragées’ are sold exclusively for decorating cakes and are used under conditions which preclude their consumption as confectionery, they are not considered to be in the category of food or confectionery.”

    Silver dragées containing the phrase “For Decoration Only” on the label and customarily sold in the decorating, not the food or the candy section of a store, comply with this policy statement.

    Because they are not categorized as food or confectionery, the FDA does not want the manufacturer to list the ingredients. However, it may be helpful to know that they are made mostly of sugar. They may also contain minute amounts of gum arabic, wheat flour, artificial coloring, and/or a very thin coating of silver.

    The European Union recognizes silver as a legitimate color additive and states that “small amounts of it consumed on special occasions are not harmful.”

    Silver appears in medicines, cough drops and tooth fillings as well as in our water supply in controlled amounts. It is used to purify city drinking and swimming pool water. It occurs naturally in the soil in which produce is grown, and thus finds its way into the vegetables that we eat.

    You may wish to access the FDA ruling cited above on the web. You may also wish to visit the website of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR CAS #7440-22-4) for more information on the effect of small amounts of silver on health.

Leave a Reply