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edible vs non toxic blog header

Non-Toxic versus Edible: What's the Difference?

Written by: Sarah Mills



Time to read 3 min

Want to know the quickest way to start a fight? Venture into a Facebook cookie group and say that you used non-toxic luster dust on your cookies. Go ahead. I'll wait…


Oh, you're already back? See, I told you it would be fast. Glad to see you escaped the torches and pitchforks relatively unscathed. Now would you like to know what on Earth that was all about? Let's talk about the difference between products that are listed as non-toxic versus products that are listed as edible. 


Have you ever eaten a crayon? I mean, not recently. Like, when you were a kid. This is a rhetorical question, so don't bother denying it-- all kids do it at some point. 

The point is, you're still here! Go you! Is it because your body is that of a god or goddess, and you are immune to the effects of a good old fashioned poisoning? Unlikely. It has more to do with the fact that although that crayon wasn't intended to be eaten, it didn't contain any ingredients that would poison or kill you. Your body didn't digest it and instead simply kept it moving along in the Exit Only lane. This is what happens with non-toxic bakery decorations, too. They aren't generally going to make you sick, but they really just aren't meant to be ingested. 


Edible things, on the other hand, are intended to be eaten and digested by your body and won't cause harm. You may think back to the last time you had Taco Bell and take issue with this loose definition, but stay with me on this. 

“Edible” cookie and cake decorating products have been tested and approved by the appropriate government agencies and been found to meet the requirements to be labeled as such. These products will list ingredients, as required by law. (Also, please keep in mind that this post is specifically in reference to products in the US. Other countries have different laws as to what is safe for consumption, so check your country's regulations before making a purchase.)

Edible vs non toxic chart

"Life is better with sprinkles on top. Just make sure they're edible sprinkles. Wait, gold dragees? For the love of God, NOT THE GOLD DRAGEES!!!"

dragees definition

How to Know What You Have, and When to Use Them


Non-toxic decorations can be used on your cakes and cookies as long as they can be removed before eating (think decorative flowers or large decorative sprinkles). If your client wants their cake to be shining like a disco ball, you should make sure to purchase a sparkle dust that is clearly labeled “edible,” as once a cake is coated in sparkle dust, it's impossible to remove. If your product doesn't have an ingredients list, or if it says “for decoration only,” then it is likely firmly in the non-toxic camp, and you should look for an alternative. If, however, you are looking to paint a fondant topper that won't be eaten, a non-toxic product can be fine as long as everyone involved is aware that it should not be eaten; that being said, there are so many great “edible” products on the market nowadays that keeping your pantry free of “for decorative use only” products is relatively easy.

If you are in the baked goods business (or thinking about getting into it), your food license is on the line if you get caught using unregulated, unapproved ingredients in and on your products. This is a case where it is NOT better to ask forgiveness than permission. It can be hard to tell a customer waving a Pinterest photo of a golden birthday cake that their vision is essentially reliant on sparkles from the craft aisle at Michael's, but it's better to have a realistic chat than have someone getting sick because they just assumed everything on a cake should be edible.

It is also worth noting again that rules and regulations vary from country to country. Gold and silver dragees, for example, are fine to use in Canada and Europe, but the US Food and Drug Administration says they're a no-go. If you purchase from a sprinkle company based in Canada, their mixes are likely to have those little gold or silver balls in them, which is perfectly acceptable in the country where they are sold. But as soon as that bottle lands on your counter here in the US, you have to be aware that those dragees technically need to be removed from your cake, cookies, etc before the actual baked good is eaten.  


Now that you know the difference between non-toxic and edible products, you can make an educated decision when it comes to purchasing products and decorating your cakes and cookies. And if you truly miss the thrill that riling up an entire Facebook group of cookie people gave you, feel free to stop in there every now and again and take a firm stance on using baking powder in your cookie recipe. Happy baking!