Gold in food and medicine

Figure of the month: 666 US Dollars

Triple six: “The number of the beast” was once played loudly by heavy metalheads Iron Maiden and made it to number 7 of the best metal songs of all time on VH1. 666 was also the dollar price of one of the most expensive hamburgers in the world, the “Douche Burger”. Creator of this luxury burger, reportedly sold just once, was 666 Burger Food Truck owner Franz Aliquo in 2012, whose regular burgers cost US$6.66. The high price of the Douche Burger was probably meant to suggest a devilishly good taste, but it was entirely unjustified. Although the burger was made from the highest-quality ingredients and included a Kobe beef patty wrapped in gold leaf, Aliquo was not aiming for particularly good taste. On the contrary, he intended his creation as an expression of bad taste, particularly that of people who have the constant urge to celebrate and demonstrate their wealth – as indicated by its name.

Gold in food and drinks has a long tradition

As a luxurious and enhancing ingredient in food, the coveted precious metal is more common than one might think. Headlines about it are scarce but leave a lasting impression – most will remember the media-effective occasion of a certain French footballer eating a gold-coated steak. The additive E 175 is edible gold, used especially in luxurious beverages, as in certain types of champagne or vodka and the popular “Danziger Goldwasser”, a strong German herbal liqueur. Special chocolates and many other foods, such as sushi, are sometimes visually refined by gold leaf of a 0.00015 to 0.0003 millimetre thickness. Gold is tasteless, at least if it is pure gold; only with a purity of 999/1,000, the precious metal is completely tasteless and harmless to the human organism. The use of gold alloys, on the other hand, can quickly lead to considerable indisposition, because added metals such as lead are highly toxic.

Medical use of gold dates back 4,500 years

Traditional Chinese medicine relying on fine gold as a remedy can be traced back to around 2,500 years B.C.. Even then, people were convinced that gold could cure numerous ailments. Its remedial powers were researched in detail by Robert Koch in the late 19th century. Over the centuries, the precious metal was first used to treat tuberculosis and venereal diseases, and later on, to treat rheumatic complaints. Medical treatments employing gold are successfully carried out to this day.

In modern medicine, gold is primarily used in the smallest doses. Colloidal gold – brines or gels made of tiny gold particles with a diameter of 2 to 100 nanometres – are a component of most rapid antigen tests for viral diseases, such as Covid-19.

In Switzerland, gold nanoparticles have also been used in research for several years to modify viruses in the human organism and thus neutralise their potential for damage.

Arnulf Hinkel
Financial journalist

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