Ever wondered why people, especially athletes or Olympians, bite on gold? In this article, we explore this rather elusive habit to understand exactly why they do it – is it something they do purely out of habit, or is there a deep, hidden meaning behind it?
So, keep reading to find answers to this and other related questions.
Why do you bite gold to see if it’s real?
The primary reason why people bite on gold medals, gold coins, and gold jewelry is that biting on gold is one of the more effective strategies for testing and determining the authenticity of gold.
Like any interested human, you should be wondering why this is possible and even an option in testing the authenticity of gold.
Well, the reason for testing gold by biting the piece has something to do with the physical properties of gold, and the fact that pure gold has specific characteristics.
Pure gold coins or medals will pass the bite test because biting on pure gold leaves the bite mark/ impression on the gold. It is, as a result, the easiest, most rudimentary ways of telling whether the coin you have is real or not.
The reason why pure gold leaves the bite mark on the gold piece is that pure/ 24k gold is a very soft metal, and it the softness of this precious metal that results in the indented bite marks when it’s bit.
Despite this being a rudimentary and largely an effective test for 24k gold, there are more advanced tools and technologies for determining the authenticity of gold, which is why biting gold shouldn’t be an option, especially not in this day and age.
Beyond the gold testing technological advancements, the other reason why you might want to skip the bite test is that the lead-plated gold coins will also leave the tooth marks in the same way the pure gold does. With this in mind, biting gold cannot be your sure-fire test for gold’s authenticity. Note that only the historical gold coins made with metal alloys are hard, and such gold pieces wouldn’t leave any tooth marks.
So, why do Olympians bite on their gold medals? Well, while the medals given to Olympians are plated, biting appears to be something athletes do out of habit, and since they’ve done this for a long time, it’s now a tradition.
When it comes to jewelry, biting to test for counterfeit jewelry might not be the best strategy; first, because there isn’t any jewelry on the market made of real gold thanks to the extreme softness of pure gold, a factor that leaves jewelers with one option – to add metals and create alloys, hence tough pieces of jewelry (which cannot leave tooth marks when bit on).
Why do athletes bite their medals?
No matter the sport or the country of origin, athletes from all over the world have one thing in common – they all bite down on their medals upon winning. But why exactly do they do that?
While their habits could be interpreted in different ways, the main reason why athletes and Olympic champions bite down on their gold medals is that the photographers ask them to, and it appears that this habit has become their main obsession. It’s something of an iconic shot in the world of photographers.
This iconic move doesn’t mean that there is nothing more to medal biting. In the traditional sense, metal-biting is important, and people would bite down on gold and other precious metals as a test of the precious metal’s authenticity.
With the softness of pure gold, biting down on it will leave a noticeable mark, meaning that the medal is made of pure gold if it’s easy to bite down on.
Speaking of the softness of gold, 24k or pure gold scores a 2.5 on the mineral hardness MoH scale. This scale measures the hardness of metals/ materials depending on their hardness and whether they will scratch themselves or not. For reference, your dental enamel is two times harder than gold, and it’s rated a 5 on the MoH scale.
But there’s one catch; contrary to popular opinion, the gold medals that are worn by the leading global athletes aren’t made of pure gold; they are gold alloys.
In fact, pure gold medals haven’t been given out since the Olympics held in 1912. The percentage of real gold in the gold alloys will vary from year to year, with some years having the gold medals made of just 1.34% gold, and the rest of the medal made of up to 93% silver and 6% copper.
Given the hardness of silver (in comparison with gold) and the additional copper, the gold medals awarded do not dent when the athletes bite down on them.
Who started the tradition of biting the gold medal?
According to the reports by the Olympic Channel, the origin of biting into medals dates back to a merchant’s regular habit of biting down into (gold) coins to confirm that the coins were not indeed forgeries.
But it’s been shown that historically, gold was alloyed with other metals (harder) to harden the pure, soft gold so, if the coin felt soft and left teeth marks when a bit on, the merchants would consider that piece a fake.
Why do people bite jewelry?
People bite on jewelry because of the age-old practice for testing the jewelry’s authenticity. People would bite on jewelry to ascertain whether the piece was made of solid gold or not.
Gold is rather soft, and with a score of 2.5 on the MoH scale, it should dent or leave bite marks when bit. So, to determine the authenticity of the piece, biting seems to be the most effective test.
Biting jewelry is also used to determine gold-plated pieces. Plating means that the jewelry has a core made of hard metal, and the plated outer layer would scrape off by your teeth, especially if the gold layer is too thin.
Gold medals, for example, are made of very thin gold, and you wouldn’t have to bite too hard to discover its properties and whether it’s made of pure gold or not.
What happens when you eat gold?
There the risk of eating gold when you bite down on it. But what happens when you bite and swallow some specks of gold?
24K gold is 100% edible, but it isn’t absorbed by your body, and it will pass through without causing any effects (positive or negative). Edible gold, for example, only carries high aesthetic qualities, and it symbolizes wealth.
According to studies by the European Food Safety Authority in 1975 and 2016, consumption of gold in small quantities is harmless, and though gold is digestible, it isn’t absorbed by the body, and you only end up passing it in the toilet some hours after ingestion.
As a result, gold consumption is legal in Europe and the US, as long as it’s pure 24k gold or with 90% gold. Gold tastes like nothing, it is non-toxic, and it doesn’t have any health benefits.
Pure gold is soft, and it will form bite/ teeth marks when you bite on it, which is the primary reason why people bite on gold – as a test of authenticity.
But this is not the only reason for biting on gold. Athletes and Olympians, for example, bite on gold because it is something that other people have been seeing doing for decades, and also because photographers advocate for it.