Hollywood’s Reese Witherspoon is whipping up a storm on social media with her new winter dessert.
She has sparked a debate with even health experts wading in after she shared a video of herself making a “Snow Salt Chococinno” on TikTok. It went so far that the Hollywood star had to make another three videos on the video-sharing platform to address worries.
As the controversy continues to snowball (no pun intended), we take a closer look at what exactly happened and more importantly, is it safe to eat snow.
What’s the deal with Reese Witherspoon and eating snow?
Last Friday (19 January), the Legally Blonde star shared a video of herself consuming snow after she fashioned it into a chocolate drink, calling it a ‘snow salt chococinno’.
The video, which she shared on TikTok and has amassed over 4.5 million views since posting, shows Witherspoon gathering snow outside her house in large cups. After that, she added salted caramel sauce and chocolate syrup over the snowflakes and mixed it with cold-brewed coffee.
She says, “OK, so we got a tonne of snow over the past few days so we decided to make a recipe. It is so good!”
She also captioned her post, “Snow days were made for Chococinnos.”
After being bombarded with comments on the safety of eating snow, Reese Witherspoon released three videos. In one of them she said that her ‘snow salt chococinno’ was “delicious”. File image/Reuters
However, her winter delicacy prompted quite a few people to react, some raising objections. One user responded, writing, “No no no.. snow is not made to eat.. u can get seriously sick.”
Another wrote, “I love you Reese, personal anecdote: As someone who grew up in Minnesota, our teachers would always melt snow to show up how dirty it was and not to eat it! Be careful out there.” Soon many more commented, raising concerns about the safety of the dish.
This prompted the Oscar-winning actor to react and address their concerns in not one, but three videos. In one of them, she is seen saying, “There are so many people on here saying that snow is dirty. So we went and took snow from the backyard and microwaved it and it’s clear – is this bad? Am I not supposed to eat snow?”
In another she said, “So, we’re kind of in the category of, ‘you only live once,’ and it snows maybe once a year here.
“I don’t know. Also, I want to say something — it was delicious.”
So, is snow safe to eat?
Witherspoon’s video has undoubtedly opened up the debate on whether snow is actually safe to eat or no. But for those thinking it’s a simple yes or no answer, think again. As with most things, the answer is nuanced.
Doctors and scientists suggest the first snowfall is not safest to taste. This is because snow can soak up pollutants on the way down to the ground. In fact, many observe that snowfall acts like a scrub brush for the air.
And notably, scientists have found that new snow can contain particles as well as dangerous pesticides, soot, and even mercury and formaldehyde.
So, this means that the first snowfall while beautiful to watch is likely the least safe to eat.
There’s nothing wrong with a bite or two of snow, but experts say that we should be cautious while eating snow, as it tends to have particulates and other pollutants stuck it. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters
That’s not all. A study conducted in 2016 had revealed that snow in urban areas could absorb the same toxic and carcinogenic pollutants that come from the car exhaust. And Dr Parisa Ariya, professor of chemistry and atmospheric sciences at McGill University in Canada, who led the research then had told Huffington Post, “Snow flakes are ice particles with various types of surfaces, including several active sites, that can absorb various gaseous or particulate pollutants. As a mother who is an atmospheric physical chemist, I definitely do not suggest my young kids to eat snow in urban areas in general.”
Some experts note that the best time to consume snow is later-fallen or falling snow on less windy days. However, there are caveats to this too. Snow plowed off the roads or pavements should not be consumed. This is because in most cases that snow might contain rock salt, which has chemicals that help melt ice to keep people from slipping. Unfortunately, those chemicals can also make you sick if you eat them, so you definitely don’t want to eat any snow that’s been shovelled or plowed.
Mark Williams of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado was quoted as telling NPR, “Snow that’s plowed is likely to contain sand and chemicals such as magnesium chloride. All this gets incorporated into the plowed snow and is bad for you.”
Experts also point out that any discoloured snow is also a complete no-no to consume. Fengjing Liu, a hydrologist and biogeochemist at Michigan Tech told Outside.com that any snow that has colour is a sign that it’s been contaminated by bacteria. For instance, watermelon snow (which has a pink tint to it), may sound delicious, but it’s actually caused due to the presence of 60 species of algae.
Experts also note that while eating snow in small quantities poses no risk, one shouldn’t make a meal of it. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters
Is there such a thing as eating too much snow?
Experts note that eating a snowflake here or there is really not a huge deal. But the amount of snow eaten does actually matter. Diane Calello, medical and executive director of New Jersey Poison Information and Education System and associate professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, was quoted as telling Prevention.com, “It is safe in small quantities. A small amount is non-toxic.”
However, “it’s not great to make a meal of it”. That’s primarily because depending on what’s in the snow, one could end up with an upset stomach or even an infection.
And for those who still want to indulge in a snow buffet, opt for clean snow — just fallen, white snow.
With inputs from agencies