Skip to Content

Food Art – Fruit and Vegetable Carving – Food Sculpting and More

Food art is the act of preparing, cooking and presenting food in creative ways.

It incorporates everything from elaborate plating that we see in fine dining establishments to both simple and intricate fruit and vegetable carvings that are meant to be decorative in nature.

It is hard to say exactly when food art, vegetable carving, food sculpting, and other artistic ways forms of vegetable art first started.  The history of vegetable carving is disputed but many people believe it to have begun in Thailand 700 years ago. 

Others believe that vegetable carving originated in the time of the Early Chinese Dynasties, notably the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906) and the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1279).

Thai Vegetable carving

Thai Vegetable carving – Photo credit Wikimedia commons

This post may contain affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.

What is Food Art?

Fruits and vegetables can be used to create items that are meant for a decorative purpose. You will often find examples of food carving at weddings, parties and receptions.

An interesting thing about these food carvings is that they are edible. Some food carvings are quite simple and can be easily done at home.

Others are quite elaborate and require a lot of skill and practice.

Fruit and vegetable carving is a very common practice, even today, in European and Asian countries, notably Thailand. It involves the art of carving into the skin of the item to reveal the fleshy center, where the color is different.

This allows for all sorts of interesting and artistic creations. Vegetable carving is called Mukimono in Japanese

Cucumber Carving

There are lots of videos on YouTube that show how to carve vegetables. One that I found interesting is this one showing how to make cucumber flowers and swans to use as garnishes for plates. You can watch the video here.

I wish I had the creativity and patience to accomplish this.

The Origins of Food Art

Some fans credit Japan, rather than China, as the root of the art of vegetable and fruit carving. 

According to Wikipedia,  “Mukimono’s origins began in ancient times when food was served on unglazed clay pottery. These rough platters were covered with a leaf before the food was plated.

Artistic chefs realized that the cutting or folding of the leaf in different ways created a more attractive presentation.”

Whatever way food art and vegetable carving originated, it is now known and practiced worldwide. Vegetable carving is practiced in many different Asian restaurants, cruises, hotels, and other various places.

Shrimp Food Art

And one only has to look at Instagram to see the popularity of food carving and food plating as an art form. 

Food Art and Vegetable Carving Today

As is the case with any creative practice, the results are often picked up by social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook.  If you have a look at your news feed on Facebook during any given month, you will likely find many interesting examples of food art. 

People seem to love to look at images of fruits and vegetables that have been carved into artistic shapes. 

From the simplest plate of food made for a child to encourage them to eat, to elaborate food sculpting structures that can be entered in food carving competitions and displayed at parties and gatherings. The ideas are endless.Food carving- baby carriage

And who can resist admiring the multitude of creative works of art that started out as mere pumpkins?  In the last part of the year, social media is full of examples of elaborate carved pumpkins.

Food Carving Subjects

All sorts of objects can be carved from fruit and vegetables. A simple example is a radish rose, or tomato flower.

Flowers are a common subject matter since they can be accomplished in smaller food items with just a few cuts of a sharp knife.

Vegetable carving of flowers

Vegetable carving in Bangkok Thailand – Photo credit Thomas Quine Flickr

More elaborate examples are swans carved from watermelons, scary faces from pumpkins, whole baskets, fish and much more.

Food Carving Tips

While there are some spectacular pieces of food art that can only reasonably be accomplished by experts, there are also opportunities for anyone with an artistic flair to give it a try.

If you want to have a go at vegetable carving or to try fruit carving, these tips will help:

Stay sharp

Be sure to start with very sharp knives. Use knives that have stainless steel blades. 

While these can be more expensive, ordinary steel blades in less expensive knives will cause the vegetables or fruits that you plan to carve to get discolored.

Wash Vegetables before carving

All vegetables have some bacteria on the outside of them.  Dragging a knife over the skins will transfer that bacteria to the flesh.Washing potatoes before vegetable carving

This tip is especially important for food art that you plan to eat later.

Be careful of bruising

Fruit that has been badly handled will bruise and this ends up with discolored areas on the flesh much like our own bruises. This is not the look we want on our vegetable art creations!

Good vegetable and fruit choices for food carving

Firm, fresh vegetables and fruits work best.  Those that resist wilting give great results. Smaller carvings made from small, firm vegetables will hold up better than a whole watermelon sculpture.Carved tomatoes made into flowers

Some good food choices for small vegetable carving projects are:

Yellow watermelon carving

Choices that make larger and more elaborate food carving projects include:

Prepare the vegetables for food carving

In addition to washing the vegetables and fruit before carving, there are some other things that should be done for best success.

Soak tomatoes in water and lime juice to prevent browning. Onions should also be soaked so that they won’t irritate the eyes as much when carved.

Soaking beets in salted water will help to reduce the loss of color. And wash potatoes both before and after carving to prevent browning.

Carve late

Start carving as close to exhibition time as possible and refrigerate your carvings to reduce spoilage. 

Once carved, fruit and vegetables will start to break down and the carvings will lose structure. The firmer your vegetable or fruit is before carving the best success you will have.Elaborate fruit carving

The elaborate fruit carving pictured above used whole watermelons and watermelon slices which are carved into a large scene worthy of any food carving competition.

More examples of food art

Is food carving and fruit sculpting an interest of yours?  Be sure to check out these other posts for more on this topic.

Have you ever tried food carving?  I once had a not so successful go at radish flowers. How did your efforts work out?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Pin this post on creative food art for later.

Would you like a reminder of these food carving ideas? Just pin this image to one of your food boards on Pinterest.Find out about food art and vegetable carving

Admin note: This post for food art first appeared on the blog in January of 2013. I have updated the post to add much more history on the art of food carving, more photos and a video for you to enjoy.

Share on Social Media

oladimeji oluwagbemiga isaac

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

This is amazing it is artistic, nice and creative works. having a curriculum for this in our education will go a long way to inspire creativity

Zachary Tomlinson

Wednesday 11th of March 2020

Thanks for helping me understand what food art is and how it works. My sister is interested in learning more about food art and since her degree is something related to culinary arts, I believe that this can help her boost up her career. What you said about how doing food art can encourage a child to eat or to compete is really interesting to learn. I should share this article with her so that she'd get motivated to learn food art more.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."