WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

I can see how to get most of these, but mummy dust?

They might be the colour of your hair. Or they might be all of your memories before you were three.
Slave Girl Princess Una describing how much her wares cost, Stardust

When someone describes the constitution of an item as including things which are not actually things. Not just fictional things, like "hen teeth"[1], but abstract concepts like "exuberance" or intangible ones like "the sound of a cat's footsteps". Expect these items to be kept in jars or bottles and take the form of liquids or luminous gases.

As Applied Phlebotinum, they serve to highlight the magical skill of the one who utilizes it (face it, you have to be pretty Badass to be able to capture a bear's fury in a jug, not to mention use it as alloy when forging a blade), and the inherent power and uniqueness of the end result. It also makes the recipe much harder for the viewer or reader to attempt to recreate.

Insubstantial ingredients are usually standard payment in deals with otherworldly creatures, usually the less demonic but equally devious kind who have no need for your soul. If you're looking to buy the first laugh of a child, your best bet is a Bazaar of the Bizarre, though they most probably won't take cash, so be ready to trade one day's worth of luck for it. Or just go to Neverland and start raiding fairies (Made from REAL baby first laughs!) right out of Pixie Hollow.

Be especially careful with anything Made of Evil.

A subtrope of Eye of Newt. See also Made From Real Girl Scouts.

Note that this relates only to the actual not-things going into the mix. Physical items with impossible flavors Taste Like Feet or Taste Like Purple.

Examples of Insubstantial Ingredients include:

Anime & Manga

  • In Trigun, when Milly is asked why the cross Wolfwood carried is so heavy, he explains it's because "it's so full of mercy". Subverted; it's actually full of More Dakka than you can shake a boomstick at.

Comic Books

  • Shown in one issue of Green Lantern: when Ganthet personally forges his own Green Lantern Ring, massive amounts of willpower must be channeled in the process of creation.
    • It could be said that in one way or another, every Lantern Corps ring is made out of their respective emotion.
  • The ritual used to bind Morpheus in The Sandman has a lot of these, such as "I give you a song that I stole from the earth" or "I give you a name, and the name is lost."
  • In The Smurfs book "The Smurfette", the eponymous character was a clay statue that was given life by being dipped in a formula made from a pinch of coquetry, a good layer of bias, three crocodile tears, a lizard brain, viper tongue powder, one carat of simpathy, a handful of wrath, one finger of lies, a thimble of gluttony, a pint of bad faith, a pinch of inconscience, a bit of sentimentality, a measure of silliness and a measure of cunning, much ingenuity and stubbornness, and a candle that has burned at both ends. Misogynist much?


  • Ghostbusters II had emotions like hate and anger coalesce into a pink slime that flowed like a river underneath New York City. Our heroes later find out how to make slime with "good vibes".
  • A theoretical example in Mean Girls:

  I wish I could bake a cake made of rainbows and smiles, and we could eat it and be happy!


 Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it in dew

Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two?

The candyman, the candyman can

The candyman can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

  • Time Burton's Alice in Wonderland has the White Queen putting a spoonful of "wishful thinking" into her potion.


  • A variation is found in in The Dresden Files. A lot of the potions have ingredients that are meant to invoke these sorts of things. Played straighter when Dresden folds sunshine into a handkerchief for later use, and played totally straight in that he has to be totally happy in order to collect that sunshine. A later book explains that he's been unable to pull it off since the love of his life was turned into a vampire and left him.
    • He also has a few others, like a jar full of mouse scampers for use as potion ingredients.
  • In The Infernal City, The Elder Scrolls Novels first book, the lords of Umbriel eat souls, and can "taste" the states of life, death and ethereat.
  • In Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, women discuss whether a box's color is lavender or blue, not knowing that it is, in fact, heartache.
    • Distilled from the tears of spinsters who must live virtuous lives without knowing a day's happiness. It's very rare, not through lack of tears but through skill to mix to color.
  • The Wine of the Gods in John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory. Includes such things as starlight and autumn.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 novel Blood Angels Deus Sanguinius]], the Mallafax's sword is made from dead men's bones and solid delusion.
    • Pretty common in Warhammer, actually. Chaos Sorcery tends to require both physical ingredients and insubstantial ones (such as certain emotions present in the area where the ritual is performed), and since Daemons are essentially mankind's hates, fears etc. given form, it's not uncommon for them to carry swords forged out of pure hate and such.
  • In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Grendel wants to bring Amelia to his mother to get her blessing -- which, he tells Amelia, she keeps in a jar.
  • In Valiant, the troll alchemist Ravus keeps these for his potions. However, they are often found in seemingly mundane items. For example, 'A dying man's breath' can be found in the stub of a cigarette and 'summer sunlight' can be found in dried grass.
    • Well, the sunlight could be because the grass likely dried out in the summer, and the dying man's breath is pretty obvious. Guess what killed him? Smoking. And Knowing Is Half the Battle.
  • Death of Discworld has a scythe, naturally - but this one is made of pure sharpness. Makes sense, since the things it's designed to reap are pretty insubstantial themselves.
    • Also in Discworld, Quirmian (i.e. French) cuisine is characterised by containing "far too much avec".
  • In Pyramid Power, a novel by Eric Flint and Dave Freer, insubstantial things are typically used to bind things. For example, Loki is bound with iron chains that were transmuted from the intestines of his beloved son. It isn't that he's bound by iron chains that he is unable to escape, but the fact that he is bound by the link between father and son, which is contained within those chains. For him and his lover, the chains are unbreakable. For anyone unrelated to them, however, they're just strong iron chains that, with sufficient skill and knowledge, can be broken. More than once, gods are bluffed into believing that they have been immobilized, being told that they've been held in a spell reinforced with various insubstantial ingredients, the least immaterial being "the dust from an old king's tomb". Even Loki is occasionally impressed by this subterfuge, as the idea of making up stuff like that never really occurred to him.
  • In The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the god Thor expresses a need for various herbs for his injuries, as well as vengeance. The person who provides the herbs doesn't have any vengeance to hand but offers him a bottle of a perfume named Obsession.
  • In Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, Miss Franny tells the girls that the Littmus Lozenge's secret ingredient is sorrow.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, played with. Alun Maddox talks of spoons made of moonlight -- and Cedar says his gun is made with pain.

Live Action TV

  • Dave Chappelle has described grape "drink" (not to be confused with grape juice) as consisting of "sugar, water, and, of course, purple."
    • Similarly, apple drink (not apple juice) is made of green.
  • In Dollhouse, while Adelle and Topher are doped up on memory drugs:

 Topher: You know what I like? Brown sauce. What's it made of? Science doesn't know!

Adelle: It's made of brown.

Topher: Brown. Mined from the earth by the hardscrabble brown miners of North Brownderton.

  • In one Everybody Loves Raymond episode, Marie teaches Debra how to make a certain type of food. Marie tells her that the most important ingredient is "love".
  • Just Shoot Me, "Lemon Wacky Hello": the titular concoction's ingredients are listed as "cornstarch, citrus taste and hello."
  • Twin Peaks has garmonbozia (pain and suffering) take the shape of creamed corn.
  • On Peep Show, Super Hans throws Mark's laptop across the room.

 "Oh, what, just because it's a computer you think it's made of spider's webs and magic? It's just a metal box, Jez, they're indestructible."


Mythology & Religion

  • Older Than Print: There is a Norse myth in which the dwarves made an unbreakable rope with ingredients such as the sound of a cat's footstep, fish breath and the beards of women.
    • Justified, because the myth also acts as a Just-So Story for why those things don't exist.
    • Norse Mythology is filled with examples of this. Insubstantial ingredients are often the main ingredients of powerful spells and objects, an oath being the most powerful. The most unique example may well be the binding of Loki. Loki is bound to a stone with chains, transmuted from the intestines of Loki's murdered son (who had been killed for the sole purpose of using his guts to bind Loki). No chain would actually have bound Loki, but what is actually binding Loki is not the chains, or the fact that they were made from the intestines of a god, but rather that the chains contain an insubstantial ingredient: the bond between father and son, something that not even a god can break. However, Ragnarok is fated to occur due to a simple oversight on the part of the gods: The chains binding Loki are unbreakable, but the stone that Loki is bound to is an ordinary rock, so his endless struggling against the stone slowly grinds it to dust.
  • In the tale of the Butterfly Lovers (Liang Shanbuo and Zhu Yingtai), the titular Yingtai fakes being ill, and then crossdresses as a doctor claiming to her family (who don't recognize her in disguise) that what it would take to cure her would be a collection of such impossible ingredients.

Tabletop Games

  • Changeling: The Lost has the Hobgoblins in the Goblin Markets use such things as currency, trading your first kiss for a handful of broken dreams. Changelings who are looking to craft their own items can also weave a secret or spite into their hedgespun dagger.
  • Intangibles are often used as ingredients for Artifacts in Exalted. For example, the Mantle of Brigid (an incredibly powerful sorcery-enhancer) was made from the moment of humanity's discovery of Sorcery.

Video Games

  • From Portal the inteligence sphere rambles on about the Cake recipe as follows. It starts wich perfectly natural ingredients, then doesn't let you forget garnishes such as the insubstantial.
  • Subverted in a skit in Tales of Vesperia which has Yuri claiming Love is the secret ingredient to his cooking. Yuri's only saying it so as not to reveal the real secret to his cooking.


Western Animation

  • From Futurama: "Mom's Robot Oil: Made with 10% More Love than the Next Leading Brand". In this case, "Love" is also a registered trademark.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar, "Misfortune Cookie":

 Julien: That is a misfortune cookie. It's just like a regular fortune cookie, only it's full of hate, and bile, and sugar, and evil!

Private: That doesn't sound very good, except for the sugar part.

Julien: You need the sugar. Otherwise, the bile will overwhelm the flavor.

  • The "Everything Nice" in the formula for The Powerpuff Girls, which apparently includes rabbits, unicorns and hearts.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer offers Lisa a donut. She refuses, and asks if he has any fruit,
    • Another The Simpsons example: When Moe starts selling 'Flaming Moe's', his competitors try to uncover the recipe. Cut to Prof. Frink in front of a device.

 "Brace yourselves, gentlemen. According to the gas chromatograph, the secret ingredient is... Love!? Who's been screwing with this thing?"

    • A Springfield Elementary cafeteria worker once mentions that their gravy is just made up out of "brown and water".
    • Also when Skinner's mom directed some award ceremony in a Stripperiffic outfit (the very one worn by Jennifer Lopez in the Absolute Cleavage page image).

 Abe "Grandpa" Simpson: What is holding that together?!

Sideshow Mel: The collective will of every man in this room!

  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode where Plankton's family gets together and attacks the Krusty Krab, the secret Krabby Patty formula is said to contain "a cup of love".
  • In Walt Disney's Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, the queen's "peddler disguise" spell contains ingredients such as "an old hag's cackle" and "a shriek of fright", which she actually stores in her laboratory.
    • It seems "black of night" comes in a vial and shrieks of fright come in kegs. Who knew?
  • In Madeline's Christmas, the most important ingredient in a porridge that cures sickness is "love".
  • In Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, the secret to Strawberry Shortcake's cider is "warm wishes."
  • In one of the Honey Halfwitch cartoons, Fraidy Bat says that the secret ingredient in any cake is love. So Honey adds some Love Potion to the cake she's baking. What do you expect from an eight year old witch?
  • In Phineas and Ferb ("Meatloaf Surprise"), the secret ingredient in the Doofenshmirtz family meatloaf recipe is hate. "Usually it's love, but Great-Grandma Gretel had some issues."


  • Many jury-rigged objects (particularly Alleged Cars) are often described along these lines - "held together by spit and hope" being a common formulation.
    • Stripperiffic outfits have a similar composition. "Duct tape and a wish" are a popular combo.
  • Much of the Made of Index on this very wiki.
  1. though strictly speaking it is possible for hens to grow teeth
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.