How Are Food Commercials Made?


Leslie Chen, News Editor

In the world of advertising, appearance is key. Food in television commercials often looks mouthwatering, but the truth is, most of the culinary concoctions you see in advertisements would be anything but edible if they were put on your plate. Using a variety of tactics and substitute materials, here are some ways food stylists make fake food look real in commercials.


Ever wonder where the condensation from a soda bottle comes from? During shoots, stylists use glycerin: a colorless natural compound, to enhance the sheen and glistening of food. Filming under the hot lights on a film set can quickly make the food warm, but glycerin helps form shiny bubbles that look like condensation. Coating vegetable leaves or the outside of a bottle with glycerin gives the appearance of coldness or moisture.

Undercooked Food

Sometimes, the food in the photos is barely cooked. According to food stylist Janine Kalesis, cooking food for long shooting periods causes it to change appearance. For example, once cooked, meat tends to shrink and vegetables begin to wilt. 

“Mainly the reason why we’re not cooking things all the way through is because it’s sitting on set,” Kalesis explained. “It can sit on set for up to an hour before we have the final shot.”

Instead, stylists use blowtorches to strategically sear meat products like burgers. To create individual grill marks, they use branding iron, a heated metal object usually used for branding livestock. Shoe polish and dye are applied afterward to provide appropriate coloring.

Cotton Balls

It’s important for hot food to look the part. However, food lying around on a commercial set won’t always have steam billowing off of it. To mimic this effect, food photographers will often take a cotton ball, or other absorbent material, and soak it in water. They’ll then microwave it and skillfully hide it in the shot so that stimulated steam appears.


Leaving cereal in milk makes it soggy, so how do advertisers make cereal look appetizing after a long time? The answer: glue. Glue has a similar appearance, and because of its thickness, the cereal won’t sink out of visibility under the glue. Shampoo and yogurt are also known to do the trick!


Food photography requires meticulous attention to detail. Food photographers often use tweezers to methodically position everything in place, from every sesame seed on a hamburger bun to individual grains of rice. Individual components are arranged and styled in a way that makes the food look like a better, more appealing version of something you would be served in real life. 

“It’s crazy to think of the extent advertisers go to to make the food look appealing,” said Arcadia High School senior Doris Ma. “At the end of the day, I don’t really care what my food looks like, I just care about how good it tastes.” 

While the food in commercials may seem perfect and appetizing, it wouldn’t be a good idea to try it at home when making food you plan on actually eating!


Photo courtesy of Heather Ford