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Posted on Oct 29, 2008 | 10 comments

Edible glue: How to anchor food decorations

Edible glue: How to anchor food decorations

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitsa_sakurako/2822873946/

If you’ve ever spent time making cute food art for bento lunches, you may also be familiar with the sinking feeling of opening the lunch after it’s been swung around in transit, only to find a jumble of food that doesn’t resemble what you created. “But it looked so nice in the kitchen when I packed it!” you say. Short of gingerly carrying the lunch level like old nitroglycerin on the verge of exploding, how can you put together a decorative lunch that will survive a commute?

There’s definitely technique in keeping decorations in place. I’ve come across anchoring tips in Japanese-language bento books, with suggestions that include using different condiments as edible glue. First, though, I decided to ask well-known oekaki (picture) bento food artist Amorette (Sakurako Kitsa) what she uses to keep her beautiful creations intact. Amorette recently ran a series of guest posts on decorative food art here on Lunch in a Box. Here’s some of our IM chat, reposted here with Amorette’s permission.

Biggie: Do you stabilize your oekakiben decorations with spreads like mayo, etc. to keep them in place?

Amorette Kitsa: Ehh, it depends. For example, with the garden bento (shown above), it looks like that should be a veritable snowglobe of blossoms after transport, but it isn’t because each is strategically anchored by a peapod-leaf pushed in at about a 45 degree angle. If I’m using hard-boiled eggs to make something, I also make the yolk into a thick paste with a little bit of mayo, like a super-thick devilled egg filling, and use that as adhesive.

If I just use plain mayo and it gets a bit of moisture in it from refrigeration, or gets warm (bad anyway) and becomes a little melty, it doesn’t do anything for sticking stuff together. If there’s an item where a tiny touch of sweetness doesn’t matter, I stick it on with a toothpick-applied smear of corn syrup. I’d prefer to use honey, but I’m allergic.

Biggie: I’ve used cream cheese or peanut butter before, but I’m not a big decorative bento chick, of course.

Amorette Kitsa: But you’ve got us beat on speed

I came up with a list of edible glue ideas; what do you use? Let us know in comments!

  • Savory: Mayonnaise, softened cream cheese, ketchup, mustard, seaweed paste (like Gohan Desu Yo), yeast extract (like Vegemite or Marmite), chutneys, salad dressings, oyster sauce, teriyaki sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, or even a rice paste.
  • Sweet: Honey, corn syrup, jam, Nutella, peanut butter, other nut butters (including soy butter), or even a dab of thick Greek yogurt.

A few additional observations:
Train rice ball bento lunch for preschooler

  • Japanese bento books often use clear plastic wrap to securely showcase decorated sandwiches and onigiri rice balls, like I did in the lunch on the right and an early rolled sandwich lunch.
  • Short-grain rice is usually sticky enough that it can hold onto light, dry decorations like nori (seaweed) cut-outs without using edible glue. Nori also sticks well to anything slightly moist, like lunchmeats or sliced cheese.
  • Remember that a stable lunch is less likely to shift in transit, so be sure to plug any gaps with edible gap-fillers like cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, or even condiment containers. See my post on How to pack a bento lunch and fill gaps.

FURTHER READING:

10 Comments

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  1. My first thought was perhaps hummus could be used.

    This is my first comment on here, but I am really enjoying your blog.

  2. There’s also edible glue (as such) available in cake decorating shops. It is tasteless. A mildly stirred cornstarch can also be used.

  3. Amorette mentions in the IM that she’s allergic to honey. Has she tried agave nectar? I’ve found it in most health food stores and some big chain stores. The only draw back as a glue is that it’s a tad more runny than honey.

  4. I usually rely on butter as glue because it’s handy and works with both savory and sweet flavors. We keep our butter on the counter in a “butter bell” so it’s softened. I also sometimes use plastic wrap over the bottom layer because cheese decorations have a nasty tendency to stick to the lid.

  5. no need for glue here… I make cute speed bentos. A lot is how you anchor things too. I use picks and angling things a lot.

  6. The “glue” I use most often is agave nectar, followed by maple syrup, tofu cream cheese, or brown rice syrup.

  7. @3 from Jessika: Interesting. Would you happen to know what the edible glue in cake decorating shops is made of? Have you used it before?

  8. @4 from quirk: Agave nectar? How intriguing! Sounds like I need to make a trip to the health food store, as I’ve never tried agave nectar before. Thanks for the tip!

  9. @5 from snappiness: Butter bells are terrific, aren’t they? We’ve had one for the past six-seven years or so, and I’ve got to say that it’s changed our butter experience. No more scratching at hard butter straight from the fridge — it’s always at optimum spreading consistency. Just have to change out the water in the bell from time to time and we’re golden. :-)