Fake-out foods are fun at Halloween, but if you’re not in the mood for peeled grape “eyeballs” or cookie “fingers” with strawberry jam “blood” this year, get a little scientific with black lights and foods that glow.
A short overview of how those eerie black lights work: The bulbs have a filter that blocks most of the kind of light that the human eye can see, but allows ultraviolet light through. Although we can’t see UV light, when those rays hit phosphors, or a substance that can absorb energy and re-emit it as visible light, that item appears to glow.
The trippy effect has become easy (and inexpensive) to bring into your home, especially this time of year that celebrates all things weird, wacky and unexpected, and it’s surprisingly easy to bring that fun into your kitchen.
An easy to find fluorescent ingredient is tonic water.
Originally used as a treatment for malaria, tonic water contains quinine, which is what gives the drink its characteristic bitter flavor, and it’s also a natural phosphor that turns a bright blue under a high-quality black light. (Some inexpensive black lights don’t provide such a pop of color. Also, the better quality tonic water you buy, the more real quinine it will contain.)
Tonic water doesn’t suit many young palates, so if you mix the drink with pineapple juice, mint leaves and sliced citrus fruit, it will make the spritzer more appealing.
You can take advantage of tonic water’s fluorescent properties by using it instead of water to make Jell-O or, if you can get your hands on some of that tonic concentrate that stores sell for at-home soda machines, in frosting for cakes or cupcakes.
You can freeze tonic water in silicon trays to create floating, glowing ice cubes. Or take the tried-and-true route by freezing tonic water in latex gloves, then peeling the latex off before dropping the hand into a punch for adults. (Stick with clear gloves for a kids’ punch and don’t remove them, as children won’t care for the flavor of the tonic as the hand melts.)
Another magic ingredient is B-complex vitamins, which glow only when they are dry; crush them up and sprinkle them on top of berry muffins (though keep the addition of the vitamins to a minimum, because they are not safe in large doses).
Plenty of other foods are naturally fluorescent, including blueberries, milk, boiled eggs, ketchup, mustard, honey, lettuce, bananas and olive oil, but none glow under black light quite as much as the tonic water and B-complex vitamins.
For a certain segment of little scientists, experimenting with black lights and phosphors will be far more exciting than baking 100 tiny tombstone cookies that will be devoured in less than a minute.
If you’re a true Halloween guru, maybe you’ll find a way to make foods that both glow and gross out guests at your next spooky soiree.