This Halloween, what better way to one-up your friends than mixing up some batter, swapping out your light bulbs for ultraviolet replacements, and showing off some glowing baked goods?
And, if you follow the advice of Steven Johnson and Martina Zupanic, these treats won’t leave you feeling regretful the next day about your eating choices.
Zupanic, the chef in their relationship, lives in Croatia. She likes to avoid processed and sugary foods, cooking most of her dishes from scratch, whether it’s chips or pasta. Her recipes reflect those interests.
“Croatians eat very healthy. We use a lot of oils; we use a lot of natural stuff,” says Zupanic. (Minnesota-based Johnson handles the business side of things.)
A few years ago, the two food entrepreneurs say, the idea to create homemade, glow-in-the-dark recipes dropped in their laps, literally.
“We were watching a movie,” says Zupanic, eating chips on the couch. When she dropped them in the dark, she thought, “It would be great if we could have chips that glow in the dark.”
The idea grew from there, and what started out as fun for the couple evolved into a business partnership, called Luma Bites.
The most popular trick to make your treats glow, they found, uses tonic water instead of normal water in Jell-O. The tonic water naturally glows under an ultraviolet light, and using it in Jell-O gives the wobbling delight an eerie sheen. But Zupanic didn’t want to follow that trend.
She wanted to make food from scratch, unprocessed and without artificial ingredients, that would achieve the same glow. So she turned to her cupboard and began mixing oils, using trial and error.
To get the effect, the pair says, you have to make food with the right chemistry. Tonic water, as they’d seen, glows because it contains quinine, which fluoresces under ultraviolet rays. Fluorescent molecules — those that absorb ultraviolet light and then re-emit it to create a glow — are also found in white paper, bodily fluids like blood or urine and tooth whitener. Common food products that can glow include vitamin B2, honey and even mustard.
Zupanic had a black light from her daughter’s birthday party and used it to gauge how well her food glowed. Most of it didn’t. “Ninety-eight percent of the food” in her early experiments “went to waste,” she says. “I had to repeat it so many times.”
Finally, after years of trial and error, Zupanic has devised several dishes that glow. Her menu ranges from ice cream to crepes to meatballs to mashed potatoes to cevap rolls, her specialty. They all sound like normal food, but Zupanic and Johnson say people are still wary. After all, the link between radiation and things that glow in the dark is pretty well embedded in pop culture.
“We need to make people familiar with this,” says Zupanic. “They don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Luma Bites launched a Kickstarter, now defunct, to spread awareness about its glow-in-the-dark food recipes. The couple are currently looking for investors to open a restaurant in the U.S. that uses their proprietary techniques.
So while they didn’t want to give away all their secrets, they did create a new recipe for The Salt to try and share with you, dear readers.
Spoiler: it’s delicious.
Alison’s Glowing Pearl Pudding
by Luma Bites “glow expert” chef Martina Zupanic
2 tablespoons tapioca pearls
1/8 cup milk
2 cups water
1/8 cup honey*
1/4 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1/8 teaspoon lemon peel zest
Place tapioca pearls into one cup of cold water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain. Place one cup of water to boil and add honey. After the honey has melted, add vanilla sugar. When dissolved, add tapioca and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, add milk and lemon peel zest, and continue to cook on low for an additional 10 minutes. Place pudding into a mold or bowl to let cool down. Serve with chocolate drizzle or chocolate “spider” decorations. For gluten-free pudding, make sure to use a brand that guarantees gluten-free products. Create a totally dark space and — using black lights — enjoy your glowing dessert!
*Tip from Steve: The dessert will glow white if you use black locust flower honey. Yellow honey will make it glow yellow, and different brands will glow differently. Creamed honey won’t glow as much.