When I was little my mom and I used to always decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” When my mother was little her mother used to decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” Little silver balls became a Christmas cookie tradition. But then suddenly Kroger, and every other store around us, just stopped selling them. Many years went by with me just decorating cookies with icing, elaborate designs I saw on Pinterest, and good old-fashioned … ahem, jimmies. (I really hate that word for some reason. One could say it … rustles my jimmies).
Anyway… today I found myself in Poundland as one of my many stops on my Monday grocery shopping adventure. As what always seems to happen when one wanders into a dollar store or pound shop, I went in looking for one thing — a turkey baster — which they did not have, so I ended up leaving with three unrelated items: the perfect birthday card for my friend, pumpkin seeds so I can make this recipe tomorrow, and little silver balls.
Yes, the famous little silver balls of my childhood are alive and well in the UK. Naturally I had to buy them to bring with me to the US next month. When I got home I got to googling — I was curious about what happened to the little silver balls in the US, and whether or not customs was going to stop me from importing them.
For starters, their proper name is “silver dragees,” but we all know “little silver balls” is much better. They are actually for sale on Amazon with this disclaimer: “Dragees are classified as non-edible and for decoration only by the FDA in the United States because they contain minute quantities of heavy metals. However, they are non-toxic and safe for use on food and are considered edible in many countries outside of the U.S. where they are consumed on a variety of confections.” According to Wikipedia, early in the 20th century, the silver finish may have contained mercury, but it no longer does. Is the FDA just too lazy to change its stance on little silver balls then?
A 2003 lawsuit in California made everybody freak out (good going, California), so most distributors agreed to stop selling them there. Perhaps other distributors, such as Kroger in northern Kentucky, decided to follow suit just to be safe? I would like to quote a baker from a SFGate article:
“Oh my god, people have been eating them for a hundred years. I will always buy them. I love dragees!”
In short: everyone stop getting your panties in a bunch, eating little silver balls on your cookies a couple times a year is not going to kill you (unless maybe you shotgun the entire container at once and choke, as I always want to do with sprinkles. I love sprinkles (just not when they’re called “jimmies”)). The baker quoted above says she buys her dragees in France. And now I buy mine in the UK. And if the US customs official asks, I do not plan to eat them, I will use them for decoration only.