Food that Fools You

If you chomped into this mouthwatering 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.”

We take you on the set of a photo shoot to check out the secrets of food styling. Just make sure that it’s only your eyes that do the feasting!

(AD) Cook up fun!

Get the book.


Photograph by Renee Comet, food styling by Lisa Cherkasky


Photograph by Renee Comet, Lisa Cherkasky

(food styling)

Soapy Milk

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.

Nice Ice
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.

Hot Potato?

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.


Photograph by Renee Comet, Lisa Cherkasky
(food styling)

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.

Waterproof Bread

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.

Indoor Grill

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.

Stylin' Toolbox
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

Lemon lion cupcakes

Get the recipe!

Poached pears!

Get the recipe.

Edible Science

Make Ice Cream!

Tasty Bites

Check out these amazing dishes.