What are some food safe metals?
October 3, 2007 12:58 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I went to a craft fair and I was fairly surprised that I didn't see any JellyBean Bonzai (prototype here) trees there. Everything was giant squids and plushy monsters. Now I'm feeling crafty, but I don't want to kill anyone.

I had come up with the idea four years ago and it seemed fairly obvious. With my wife now itching to get our own booth next year, I want to try and make some of the things to sell, using various wires and jelly bean flavors to sell, but I don't want to use a metal that is dangerous and am limited to the types of metal that freely comes in "wire" form.

The prototype is made from standard jewelry wire, do you know if it contains lead or heavy metals? Obviously I couldn't use lead solder, but silver solder should work. Are there any brands/metal types/other that I should definitely avoid?

Are there other safety concerns with my prototype?

I'm not going to mount the final projects on CDs. I'm thinking river rocks or small inverted metal bowls. Suggestions?

Oh, and do I have to ask Jelly Belly permission to use their jelly beans, or is there some legalese I can use to say "used without permission"?
posted by JeremiahBritt to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why solder...?

You could upscale a bit and go with silver-plated wire, or go further and use sterling -- if the trees are nice enough to be kept sans beans? Rio Grande has a huge selection of jewellery-making wires.

But I'm not sure why you'd want it food-safe; I don't think anybody's going to want to take something like that apart. In the 80s I had a pair of jellybean earrings; they were real jellybeans, varnished. Making the beans inedible via varnish (and making that clear to your customers) seems more the way to go.

posted by kmennie at 1:12 PM on October 3, 2007

Solder's easy to bend.

And sorry about the spelling error. Bonzai is the name of my wife's sugar glider.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2007

Can you make that a reusable tree? I'd love to be able to stick Halloween candy on mine after I eat all the jelly beans. Or grapes. Or cute marzipan stuff.

Also, I'd totally love a mail-order kit! Or is it really hard to get those candies on those wires?

I like the idea of mounting it on river rocks. Lava rock might be lighter, though it would be more difficult to clean and might be more difficult to achieve adhesion. Wood -- either random bits of log, driftwood, or a polished stand -- might be a good alternative.

Relevant answer part: it seems that thicker, sturdier wires would be easier to make re-usable trees.

I think that since you're buying and selling the actual beans, you can sell them without asking permission. You might run into trouble if you start using their logo in your own advertising or signage. (my non-lawyer opinion)
posted by amtho at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2007

Can you please clarify, for the sake of your answers: do you intend the jellybeans to be edible?
posted by hermitosis at 1:51 PM on October 3, 2007

Nothing wrong with copper either.
posted by zeoslap at 1:52 PM on October 3, 2007


Yes, I intend them to be edible but not necessarily eaten.

Basically, I don't want some 5-year-old to get lead poisoning from a candy tree.

I suppose I could make two kinds: Edible/reusable and Inedible/varnished. I just worry about a kid or curious person popping one or two in their mouth (I know that wouldn't be enough for heavy metal poisoning, but I'd like to remove the possibility of accidental illness).
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:55 PM on October 3, 2007

Gumdrop trees have been around for a long time--since I was a kid (I remember eating the gumdrops from one when I was around 5/6) they were usually glass or plastic, but I've seen what looked like stainless steel ones. I've seen similar trees designed to hold seasonal ornaments (like these) as well. Your tree is very pretty and having it mounted on a natural surface would be appealing.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:16 PM on October 3, 2007

Stainless Steel? I think its a safe bet that if you can cook in it you can stick jelly beans on it ;)
posted by missmagenta at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2007

Any time you sell food, it puts you in precarious areas regarding crafts and the law, as far as I've heard. This is *probably* ok.
posted by agregoli at 3:12 PM on October 3, 2007

I think you probably need to make and sell just the trees, un-jellybeaned, with plenty of jellybeaned trees on display.

That way people can eat and reuse, or preserve them uneaten, and you don't have to wonder if it's legal for you to sell a food item or a licensed product.
posted by hermitosis at 3:15 PM on October 3, 2007

Stainless steel wire isn't really a very good choice for this kind of project, as it's not particularly malleable. I'd choose copper or sterling silver wire. A kid would be far more likely to poke his eye out, or injure his esophagus/intestine by eating the wire, than by poisoning himself.

You'll have some trouble silver-soldering without tarnishing either of those metals, though. Your usual propane torch has too much oxidizing area in the flame. Oxyacetylene would be better.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:33 PM on October 3, 2007

Solder is flexible but it is a BAD IDEA. Most solder contains LEAD. Lead-free solders contain other stuff you shouldn't eat.

PRECARIOUS interactions with law are the least of your worries. If you're in the states you may need to be doing this in a clean and licensed environment inspected by your local health inspector.

What you DEFINITELY want to find is wire that is FOOD-SAFE and is sold as such by a reputable company. This is commonly used for things like decorating wedding cakes, and can come in a variety of thicknesses, some can even be coated (like the floral taped wire you can buy for arranging flowers). Places I would look for this would include wilton.com.

Please be really really careful with what is required in your local area. Being on the wrong side of these regulations can open you to a lot of liability, whether it's because the inspectors find you out or someone gets sick from something.
posted by whatzit at 3:33 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

They are gorgeous! You could have a demo model on your table, and sell the naked trees for people to decorate themselves (and maybe packets of candy). I wouldn't buy a decorated one because it looks too handled and breathed on. This way you wouldn't have issues with your trees going stale or anything like that.
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:33 PM on October 3, 2007

It's a cute idea. Why not wholly bypass the jellybean edible or not issue and make faux jellybelly jelly beans from polymer clay? That way you can call them any permutation of the jelly bean name you wish without worrying about anything except coming up with new color combos. And you wouldn't have to worry about future disintegration or ingestion of real jellybeans should you use them.

to go further with the idea you could also make cupcakes and sushi and donuts (tutorial) (mold) out of polymer clay and make cupcake trees and sushi trees and donut trees. i would rather buy a cupcake tree than a jellybean tree any day.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:08 PM on October 3, 2007

There's an artist in St. Louis who makes these out of copper wire, shellacked to river rocks and other odd stones people give him. St. Louis Magazine ran a brief writeup on him within the last few months, but I can't freakin' find it for the life of me.
posted by limeonaire at 6:25 PM on October 3, 2007

(That doesn't answer your question, but to say that there is a guy out there doing trees a lot like this. I thought they were one of the most gorgeous, original art forms I'd seen in a while.

To actually answer your question, copper wire would be food-safe.)
posted by limeonaire at 6:29 PM on October 3, 2007

Don't use solder. Get the idea of making 2 versions edible and non out of your head. Make one version edible and don't worry about it ever again!
posted by zackola at 6:31 PM on October 3, 2007

Thanks everyone. I don't feel too bad that someone else makes similar trees; I've made trees like this since I was a kid, just not with jelly beans and I think the medium to subject is pretty obvious (see gumdrop trees above). I'll probably go the sculpy/clay route and make a variety of fantasy food trees (donuts, sushi, jelly bean, milk and cookies, thanksgiving trees, etc) or offer a "make your own" kit with a bare tree and a packet of sweets.

For the latter I'll probably crimp or blunt the ends so that there isn't as much of a danger, and soft sweets don't need needles to pierce them.

I will still use "safe" metals, just because making anything with lead seems like a bad idea.

Maybe I'll post my fantasy forest to projects when I finish it.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 7:06 PM on October 3, 2007

Please do!
posted by agregoli at 7:10 AM on October 4, 2007

I'd avoid aluminum. (I personaly am alergic, I get a rash on my arms when I drink and eat from cans...mostly its cooked food. Yes I can drink from kegs and yes I can touch the metal itself.) I would also avoid any metal that has been painted so they don't injest whatever could be in that.
posted by thetenthstory at 2:33 PM on October 4, 2007

Also, maybe you could mold plastic or wax? I don't know. That's just for the white board.
posted by thetenthstory at 2:36 PM on October 4, 2007

Ahh, found the guy: Omer Huremovic. He was written up in the Sept./Oct. issue of At Home magazine, St. Louis Magazine's home/garden/lifestyle sister publication. (Article unfortunately not yet online, though.)
posted by limeonaire at 6:20 AM on October 9, 2007

Could you not just have little "pods" at the ends of the branches where one could rest a jellybean (or gumdrop, etc) without impaling it? Then it wouldn't really have to be more foodsafe than say, a metal candy dish...I think it would be a neat variation of a candy dish someone has on their desk or something. I like the idea of being able to eat the beans and refill. PS that tree looks amazing.
posted by SassHat at 4:25 PM on November 6, 2007

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