Metals that are made into metal leaf need to be highly malleable. They can be pounded into sheets well below a micrometre in thickness without breaking or tearing. The typical thickness of gold leaf is about 100 nanometres or 0.0001 mm. When made by hand, small pieces of metal are placed between sheets of parchment and pounded repeatedly with wooden mallets. As the metal thins out, it forms large sheets. These sheets are divided and the process repeated. The final sheets of metal are trimmed, cut to various sizes, and sandwiched between sheets of paper to protect them. At a thickness of 100 nm, one square metre of gold leaf corresponds to 0.1 cubic centimetre or just 2 grams of gold. In Imperial measurements, one ounce (28.34 g) of gold corresponds to about 200 square feet (about 20 m2) of gold leaf.
In Asian countries, gold is sometimes used in various foodstuffs. It was also used in coffee, especially during Japan's Bubble economy.
Gold leaf is gold that is beaten into extremely thin sheets. The thin gold sheets are commonly used for gilding. Gold leaf is available in a wide variety of karats and shades. 23-karat gold is the most commonly used.
Gold leaf is sometimes confused with metal leaf but they are different products. The term metal leaf is normally used for thin sheets of metal of any color that do not contain any real Karat gold. 24 Karats is pure gold. Real yellow gold leaf is about 92% pure gold. Silver colored white gold is approximately 50% pure gold.
Layering gold leaf over a surface is sometimes called gold leafing, and is a very common form of gilding.
In Asian countries, gold in particular is sometimes used in fruit jelly snacks. It was also used in coffee, especially during Japan's "bubble economy". In Kanazawa, where Japan's gold leaf production was centred, gold leaf shops and workshops sell green tea and hard candy with gold leaf within.
A recent trend in the US has seen the inclusion of floating bits of gold leaf in liquors such as Goldschläger. However, in Continental Europe liquors with such bits of gold leaf are known since the late 16th century. A well-known example is Danziger Goldwasser, originally from Gdańsk, Poland, which has been produced since at least 1598.