If you chomped into this mouth-watering meal, your taste buds would never trust you again. Why? You’d get a mouthful of paper towels, cotton balls, dish soap, plus other yucky surprises.
Food stylists and photographers use many tricks to make food look delicious for advertisements and cookbooks. For instance, milk on cereal might be replaced with white glue. That way the cereal doesn’t get soggy. Or lemon juice might be added to a banana to keep it from turning brown. “Food is basically like cut flowers,” says food stylist Lisa Cherkasky. “It’s amazing how fast it dries up and shrinks.”
National Geographic Kids takes you on the set to check out the secrets of food styling. Just make sure that it’s only your eyes that do the feasting!
To make milk look freshly poured, food stylists add dish soap bubbles to the surface just before the shoot. This trick works for coffee and other drinks, too.
Don’t crunch those ice cubes! They’re actually hand-carved plastic blocks that cost up to $50 each. The thirst-quenching cranberry juice is really red food coloring mixed with water.
This spud might look smoking hot. But the steam was created by heating a wet cotton ball in a microwave oven and hiding it behind the potato. Squeezable margarine instead of real melted butter adds to the ready-to-eat illusion.
Chicken with Paper Stuffing
This chicken is only partly cooked. Otherwise its skin would get wrinkly and burned. To give it that well-roasted look, the food stylist painted the bird with a special brown mixture. To keep it plump, the chicken is stuffed with paper towels.
Can’t you just smell the charcoal grill? In reality, the burn marks are seared into the veggies using a very hot electric coil. Some stylists apply eyeliner to make fake grill marks.
The bread is coated with a special spray that people normally use to protect car interiors from water and sun. Stylists use the spray to keep bread from drying out.
Icing Cream and Lipstick Berries
This scoop of vanilla is actually store-bought cake icing mixed with powdered sugar. That means it won’t melt under bright lights while the camera clicks. White areas on the strawberries have been touched up with lipstick.
Food stylists know all sorts of tricks to make food look yummy. But they also have tools that they never leave home without. Here are a few of them.
Jeweler's Torch: A jeweler uses this flaming tool to repair broken necklaces and secure gems in rings. A food stylist uses the torch to brown the edges of a steak or melt chocolate chips in a cookie.
Superglue: Great for patching skin on a chicken or holding together a pile of nuts.
Tweezers: The tiny prongs help rearrange sesame seeds on a bun or place rice on a plate.
Ice powder: Mixed with water and food coloring, this product creates tasty-looking but fake icy treats such as slushes.
Text by Sean McCollum
National Geographic Kids magazine