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Varak, which is also sometimes spelled "vark" and "varakh," is a product that is used in Indian cuisine to garnish sweets and pastries. It is an incredibly thin foil made from very pure silver. The use of varak is entirely decorative. Although the silver that is used to make the garnish is edible, it is mostly flavorless. Ingesting large quantities of silver can cause argyria, which is a cosmetic disorder in which the skin becomes discolored, having a gray or bluish hue. It would take huge amounts of varak, however, to create this disorder and because such a small amount is used in pastries, it is generally considered to be safe in normal quantities.
The product is created by pounding silver into very thin foil sheets that are backed by paper. It must be handled delicately as even a light touch can cause it to break and crumble. Although it is supposed to be made with at least 99.9 percent silver, which is even more pure than sterling silver, a number of kinds of varak have been found to be far less pure, mixed with other types of metals such as aluminum or even cadmium. Many vegetarians believe that varak is not suitable for their diets because there is speculation that the process of making the silver foil includes the use of animal products.
In order to apply varak to food, it must be placed on top of the pastries or sweets while it is still connected to the paper that backs it. Then, the paper can be removed. This process allows the varak to properly top the food without having to be touched by hand which, as described above, can render the product unusable. Even this process must be done with care in order to make sure that the incredibly thin topping of silver is transferred properly onto the sweets.
Because it is made of metal, varak can be stored for an indefinite period of time. Of course, it is important to store the sheets in a cool, dry place to make sure that the silver does not tarnish and that the sheets of paper between which it is held do not crinkle with moisture or develop mold. Varak, which can be found in Indian markets, is not easy to come by in Eastern markets. Outside of India, it may have to be special ordered or even made by hand.