Foams and powders, gums and gels… these are the tools of the molecular gastronomist. Learn how to use them when you experiment with molecular gastronomy.
Your favorite foods plus science!
Chemistry is unlocking exciting ways for you to make great food
If you’ve watched any hint of celebrity chef cooking on television by now, you’ve seen chefs transform mango into egg yolk, lobster into foam and fruit juice into caviar all in the name of a new style of cooking most call “molecular gastronomy.” The good news, though, is that molecular gastronomy doesn’t have to remain on the TV. Get out your lab coats and wooden spoons because you’re about to start your very first experiment in your own home.
What is molecular gastronomy?
Before we can begin experimenting with molecular gastronomy, it’s important to know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. As of yet, there is no governing body to say what is and is not molecular gastronomy, so a number of cooking styles get mislabeled as molecular gastronomy. For the purposes of the following experiments, we’ll be concentrating on strictly foods that can be produced by adding food-grade additives (gases, gums, pastes, thickeners, etc.) to food.
Why would we do this? Because with molecular gastronomy, we can remake food. We can take mango and coconut puddings and have them look like eggs, turn foams into cakes, create edible salad dressing pearls and a million other things in between.
Of course, this definition is slightly different from the one proposed by the man who coined the term “molecular gastronomy,” scientist Herve This. This was more scientist than mad scientist, but laid the groundwork for modern molecular gastronomy because of his scientific approach to cooking. Sadly, the definition leaves out a lot of cool techniques that you should also try (like turning food into steam, which is pretty amazing, and using immersion circulators to sous vide food, etc.), but it gives us a good starting place. Plus, it’s really cool!
How to get started
As you get started, you’ll need a guide. Fortunately, we have just the thing for the beginning molecular gastronomer. In it, you’ll find a complete set of books on the subject, where to get starter kits and a list of the tools you’ll need. Free feel to refer to this guide as you start your explorations.
Still, the first thing to do before you dive into the world of molecular gastronomy is to find out what’s possible. If you’ve never seen what chefs are doing with it, go find out. There are several books listed in the guide that will get you started.
Once you know what you want to do, then you just need to find the right equipment to get yourself going. Again, our guide already has a good list of tools and additives you’ll need to really get your gastronomic experiments going. However, if you’re not sure what you want to do, here are several recipes to get you started.
Experiment with these gastronomic recipes:
Berry balsamic vinaigrette pearls
Yields 1 cup of pearls
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 grams agar agar powder
- Pour the olive oil into a tall glass. Put the glass in the freezer.
- Put the raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork.
- Pour in the vinegar, sugar, and salt and mix well.
- Let the vinegar sit for an hour and then put into the food processor to make a thin puree.
- Stir in the agar agar and pour the mixture into a saucepan.
- Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and then pour back into the bowl.
- Quickly fill a pipette or syringe with vinegar.
- Dribble the balsamic into the oil. Repeat with all the balsamic.
- Remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and serve.
Yields 1/2 liter of foam
- 1 liter lime juice
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 800 milliliters water
- 10 grams soy lecithin
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon.
- Use an immersion blender to whip the top of the lime juice.
- Take your wooden spoon and skim off the foam. Serve.
30 second sponge cake
This recipe requires a food whipper, which you might have seen used at bars and ice cream parlors to make whipped cream. Liquid is placed in a holding tank and pressurized gas cartridges are inserted into the whipper itself. When the lever is pressed on the whipper, it aerates the mixture with the gas and, for lack of a better term, “sprays” the liquid which has now become a foamy cream. They’re great for whipped cream, sauces and, in this case, cake batter.
Yields 1-2 cakes
- 50 grams cocoa powder
- 80 grams sugar
- 20 grams flour
- 3 eggs + 1 egg white
- Mix all the ingredients.
- Place the mix into a food whipper with two nitrous oxide cartridges. (This will inject a lot of gas into the mixture to make the batter very light.) Press the lever on the food whipper so that the egg white mixture begins to fill a microwavable bowl. Fill the bowl 1/3 full.
- Microwave batter for 30 seconds.