11 (Mostly) Inedible Ingredients Photographers Use to Get Food Ready for Its Close-Up
Looking at the cover of your favorite cookbook or food magazine, it's hard for your mouth not to water. Unless, of course, you know what sort of decidedly non-tasty "ingredients" go into making your favorite foods camera-ready. Here are 11 of them.
Milk makes cereal soggy, but those corn flakes will stay crunchy when bathed in white glue. Yogurt or shampoo will also do the trick.
2. COTTON BALLS
A piping hot dish looks tasty when steam is billowing, but it’s hard to maintain. As a fix, photographers will soak a cotton ball or tampon in water, microwave it, and then hide it in the frame to create that smoky effect.
3. SHOE POLISH
Most meat products aren’t cooked because they shrivel. Instead, steaks and burgers are seared with a blowtorch. Grill marks are added with a branding iron, and shoe polish or varnish creates a succulent sheen.
4. AND 5. CARDBOARD AND TOOTHPICKS
Prop burgers are supported with layers of cardboard, while toothpicks or pins keep the garnishes in place.
If a product looks cold or icy, it’s likely covered in glycerin. A sugar alcohol, glycerin subs in for condensation on shoots, making the sweat on beer bottles and the moisture on salads.
7. DISH SOAP
Soda needs lots of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning, while dish soap creates larger surface bubbles.
That delicious bunch of grapes has a matte look because it’s coated in hairspray.
9. MOTOR OIL
Pancakes absorb syrup like a sponge. To prevent this, food stylists will coat a stack of flapjacks with aerosol fabric protector. And since maple syrup isn’t as appetizing under bright lights, some photographers prefer motor oil.
10. PAPER TOWELS
Ice cream syrup tends to droop, so photographers cut out pieces of paper towel, lay them onto the ice cream, and then cover the patches with syrup, which stays in place.
11. MASHED POTATOES
Speaking of ice cream, which melts under hot lights: mashed potatoes are dyed different colors and then shaped into scoops to look like they came from a creamery. Taters are also injected to plump up roasts and baked into pies to prevent slices from falling apart.
A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.