Is Glow-in-the-Dark Pie the Next Internet Phenomenon?

March 29, 2018

When’s the last time you ate something that glowed in the dark? For me, it’s most definitely a hard never. I’m pretty sure I’ve never ever ingested something that had the unique ability to emit a soft blue or green light in an unlit room. What am I, an alien?

Well, it appears that glow-in-the-dark food is a lot more accessible than I thought. Like, make-it-in-your-own-kitchen accessible. And it’s all thanks to Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin, the genius behind the Vancouver-based Pies Are Awesome, a YouTube channel that puts together some of the more fantastic pies on the internet. Hers are towering, twirling creations. They reference pop culture and iconic characters and sometimes look so much like sculptures they don’t even seem edible. But, she assures us, they are.

I came across her most recent fluorescent piece on Instagram—it’s a stunner. The pie is an ode to two things: Easter and a newly announced line of phosphorescent Tron-inspired Legos. In the center is an egg, a nod to the spring holiday, orbited by an edible gel that, once exposed to a UV light, glows a deep blue. It’s truly a marvel to behold.

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Clark-Bojin achieved the effect with a clever combination. Her recipe reads as follows: “The blue glow is tonic water, lemon juice, sugar, and agar-agar powder. Bring the tonic water to a rolling boil then add the sugar and lemon juice. Once dissolved, add the agar powder and stir constantly until fully dissolved, then remove from heat. Set in the fridge for half an hour and you’re ready to use.”

Hmmm, I was intrigued and had a few more questions, so I reached out to her. Here is the conversation that followed, edited for clarity:

Valerio: How did you develop the glow-in-the-dark component?

Jessica: I’ve been fascinated by UV light artwork since I was a kid and went on my first ride at Disneyland. There is something so magical about the idea of a secret world of electric color that comes to life only under these special lamps. As a teen, I filled my room with black-light posters, and I had tons of fun walking around with my light and checking out what glowed. Recently, I’ve been doing research into edible elements that are UV reactive, and how to isolate the effect and create flavor combinations that work with them. Quinine, which is an ingredient in tonic water, glows a particularly vibrant blue under UV light, even when diluted with other ingredients. That formed the basis of my concoction. The rest was getting the consistency and flavors correct for use in my pie.

How many tries did you go through before it was perfect?

There was a bit of trial and error getting the consistency of the gel correct—it needs to be not so runny that it leaks everywhere, but not so thick that it can’t be piped. The other challenge is that quinine has quite a bitter flavor. I’ve found the only way to make it palatable is to pair it with citrus flavors (and a lot of sugar!). In the end you have a sort of “grapefruit Jell-O,” and you can use it with any other flavors that go with grapefruit—raspberry and lemon work pretty nicely.

I’m currently working on creating yellow and red glow, but they require a bit more chemistry to get the same vibrancy (with natural ingredients, anyway). Curcumin, which you can derive from turmeric, glows a bright yellow, and chlorophyll, which you can isolate from spinach, has a fainter red glow. You can buy over-the-counter food-safe glow colors, but they’re chemically derived and don’t taste that great.

What are some other ways you envision the glow being used?

Aside from Tron pies? What other uses do you need? Just kidding...I’m actually working on a stained-glass pie right now that has a secret message piped onto it that can only be seen under black light. But you’ll have to check out my Instagram account @thePieous to see that one next week!

Does it shine only in a certain light or any type of dark room?

Quinine is fluorescent, not phosphorescent, so you need the UV or black light to get it to do its thing.

What has the reception been like?

The reception to the Tron Easter Egg pie has been interesting! A few people were offended by the sci-fi intrusion into what they consider to be a serious holiday, and a few others who aren’t familiar with Tron just think I made a weird blue egg for some reason. But the lion’s share of the reactions have been great! I gave the recipe away in the post, and people are excited by the possibility of making their own glowing food. And I’m excited to see what they make with it!

Would you give the glow-in-the-dark dessert a go? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.