Imitation Foods

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Imitation Foods also referred to as pretend foods, surprise dishes, or (meat) impostors, are foodstuffs or dishes whose outward appearance disguises their true nature. The term imitation food is also used for visual representations of food made from inedible substances to serve as decorations, children’s toys, or restaurant displays. The simplest ways of producing edible imitation foods are through deceptive packaging (e.g. soft drinks in beer bottles), or through carving. Raw fruits or vegetables have long been carved into simulacra of anything from flowers (radishes) to human heads (Halloween pumpkin). Imitation foods proliferate in societies that frequently process ingredients into batters and pastes. These can easily be enhanced further through colouring, moulding, and cooking. As early as antiquity minced meat, bread dough, and the contents of eggs were used to prepare imitation foods. In late medieval and early modern Europe sugar and its corollary marzipan quickly became the favourite substances for imitation foods on the dining tables of the rich.