Silver tongue

Tags: Knowledge

Sweets are quintessential part of Diwali festivities, but the silver foil or varakh that comes with them may not be as healthy as one would think

Silver tongue
Sweetmeats wrapped in silver foil or varakh occupy a special place in temples, households and religious ceremonies. Almost every Indian sweet has a covering of varakh on it. This silver foil adds to the charm of the sweet, making it look more appetising. Today, even some fruits are sold with a layer of varakh on it, especially apples. At times fennel seeds (saunf) are sold with silver foil covering. Even paan (betel leaves) come coated with varakh.

People who shun anything from an animal source should think twice before popping that sweet in their mouths. While we know the source of the normal ingredients that are used to make the mithai like a sweetening agent, milk or its derivatives and besan, the source of the silver or gold foil may not be that well known.

According to Maneka Gandhi, varakh is made by placing thin metal sheets of silver between several layers of bullock flesh bound together, and pounding them. The resulting product has residue of the intestines pounded into it.

Although varakh is not derived directly from an animal source, ox gut is used in its manufacture. This is obtained from slaughterhouses. According to Beauty Without Cruelty, an animal welfare organisation, in the bylanes of the villages of Ahmedabad and other cities like Hyderabad, amidst filthy surroundings, small thin strips of silver are placed between layers of ox gut and then hammered to produce the glittering foil.

Fresh ox gut, which is smeared with blood and mucus, is roughly cleaned by immersing into water and cut into strips. These strips are then bound together to make a book. Next, small thin strips of silver are placed between these sheets and the book then slipped into a leather pouch. Artisans then hammer these bundles for a day to make silver foils.

Leather and ox gut are supple, and can withstand the intense manual hammering for up to eight hours a day till the time the desired thickness is achieved. Usually, four foils are used per kg of sweets and the ox gut of one cow is used to produce foil for approximately 4,000 kg of sweets.

An investigation by Hinduism Today showed some Mumbai varakh manufacturers even beat the silver foil directly in leather sheets from animal sources.

Silver varakh is used because of the health benefits of silver. According to manufacturers of varakh, it helps to tone up the body, improves immunity, generates a feeling of wellbeing, promotes healthy bones and joints, fights allergies, reduces the toxic effects of pollution in our bodies, speeds up the healing process for wounds and even assists killing up to 650 germs.

Manufacturers of gold varakh claim that it has many health benefits, including eliminating skin ulcers, shoring up body immunity, improving vitality and longevity and stimulating nerves. It also works as an antibiotic besides helping in scarless healing.

Some manufacturers of silver varakh actually che­at consumers by using other metals instead of silver. One study found that about 10 per cent of the foils found in the Indian market were made of aluminium. In another investigation, of the foils that were tested, 54 per cent of the varakh was not made using pure silver. They were found to contain the toxic metal cadmium. Cadmium and its compounds are kno­wn to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.

After receiving letters from Bea­uty Without Crue­lty, a few of years ago, Indian Air­lines issued instructions to its food suppliers to supply sweets without this silver foil.

A few companies like Kanishka Platinum Gold and Silver Products have begun to manufacture ‘vegetarian’ silver and gold varakh for the various uses. They claim they produce a paper in house which is supple enough to withstand the pounding by their machines. This varakh is untouched by human hand while being produced.

Unfortunately, the majority of the varakh used in India today is still made in the traditional manner. And the sellers of mithai, paan and saunf who sell products using varakh, do not state the source of the varakh.

(The writer is the owner of

wellness centre Back to the Basics)


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