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Silver Bells, er, Balls

Topping or toxin? A controversial confection

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If you want to put sweet little silver dragées- pronounced dra-zhay - on your baked goods this year, you may be out of luck. Calls to local stores haven't turned up a single source for the shiny orbs. This may be due to the efforts of Mark Pollock, an environmental lawyer who's been on an anti-dragée crusade since the 1990s.

So far he's successfully sued almost all the purveyors of dragées in California. Now, it seems, the sparklers are hard to come by. What is Pollock's beef with the balls? They contain small quantities of silver, which is not an approved food additive.

According to the FDA website - http://www.fda.gov - "When . . . 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 a food or confectionery."

Translation: Manufacturers can sell dragées as long as the package indicates they're not safe to consume and are meant as decoration only.

But Pollock doesn't believe anybody reads the package. He's concerned that children who eat the dragées will end up with a toxic amount of the metal in their systems, and he argues that a product not meant for human consumption shouldn't consist primarily of sugar, cornstarch and gelatin. However, the consumption of dragées is allowed in some other countries, which is likely why they're made "edible."

It's odd that the FDA doesn't prohibit dragées outright but does come down hard on silver-coated almonds. The agency sees "no compelling information that the articles are to be used for decorative purposes only." What does this mean? The FDA recommends that shipments of the offending nuts be seized or detained.

Are silver dragées really gone for good? Jennifer Malroux, manager of Burlington's Kiss the Cook, says she tried to find a supplier this year because so many customers asked for them. She came up empty-handed. Got a hankering for heavy metal? Grab a bottle of Goldschläger - apparently the government considers the 87-proof schnapps with flakes of 24-karat gold to be perfectly safe.

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