Posts Tagged ‘techniques’

Banana marshmallows with parsley (v 1.5)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007


For TGRWT #2 I made banana marshmallows with parsley. The texture came out nice, but the initially fresh parsley flavour had become grassy/hay-like over night. The litterature I referred to last time suggested that the off-flavour is produced by oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids or polyenes. There are several strategies to avoid this. The first would be not to mince the parsley as finely as I did last time to avoid exposure to the air’s oxygen. If the oxidation is enzymatic, blanching would be helpful. And it would also be worthwhile to see if addition of lemon juice (vitamin C and citric acid, are both antioxidants) would have any effect (however, on second thought this would be strange since parsley already has a lot of vitamin C!). Mirko Junge commented last time that freeze dried parsley would possibly retain more of the freshness and he most generously provided me with several samples of freeze dried parsley. I decided to proceed with the following six types of parsley for my marshmallows:

  1. fresh parsley leaves, chopped to pieces of about 2-3 mm (picture above, left)
  2. parsley leaves, blanched for 30 sec, chopped to pieces of about 2-3 mm
  3. parsley leaves, sprinkled with lemon jucie, chopped to pieces of about 2-3 mm
  4. parsley leaves, blached for 30 sec, sprinkled with lemon juice, chopped to pieces of about 2-3 mm
  5. freeze dried parsley from Goutess (picture above, right)
  6. plain, dried parsley from my local store (picture above, front)

I used the same recipe as last time, but split the whipped sugar-gelatin-banana mixture into six different bowls before mixing with the parsley. I used approximately 0.6-0.8 g of fresh parsley for each of the entries 1-4. I tried to estimate the amount of dried parsley to use by eye, comparing with the amount of fresh leaves. The amount of dried parsley used was less than 0.1 g, so my balance was not of much help. The picture below might give you an idea.

Six different types of parsley were prepared immediately prior to mixing with the marshmallow base to minimize oxidation.

If the term ‘parallel cooking’ has not been invented yet, this might be good time to introduce it.

I let the marhsmallows set between two sheets of greased parchment paper.

Blind tasting of banana parsley marshmallows.

My wife helped me do a blind tasting to avoid any bias. The six marshmallow samples were each associated with a three digit code and presented on a plate to the taster. We both did two rounds each (A1/A2 and B1/B2) and the results are summarised in the table below. The scoring only describes the parsley flavour unless otherwise noted.

Parsley used A1 A2 B1 B2 Sum
Fresh parsley 5 5 5 5 20
Blanched parsley 4/* 1 2/* 2 9
Parlsey with lemon juice 0 1 5 5 11
Blanched parsley with lemon juice 1 0/* 2/- 0/- 3
Freeze dried parsley 4 2 2 2 10
Dried parsley 0/- 0/- 0 2 2

5 fresh parsley, strong
4 fresh parsley, weak
2 grassy/hay-like parsley, weak
1 grassy/hay-like parsley, strong
0 neither fresh nor grassy, weak overall
– disagreeable
* banana dominates

I was quite surprised once I had decoded the score sheets. Fresh parsley cut into relatively large pieces gave a parsley flavour without any hints of grassy or hay-like off flavours! Blanching or treatment with lemon juice were both detrimental to the parsley flavour, and even more so when combined. The variation observed for could be a result of an uneven distribution of the parsley in the marshmallow (increased parsley flavour if you happen to chew a leaf). The freeze dried parsley didn’t do very well compared with fresh parsley, but outperformed the dried parsley from my local store which didn’t have much flavour at all. Both samples of dried parsley however were dominated by a grassy/hay-like flavour. I should add that the grassy/hay-like flavour in itself is not especially disagreeable, but it does not go very well together with the banana.

The result is interesting and perhaps a little counter intuitive. Generally one would say that a larger surface area (= finely chopped) would enhance the flavour release. This experiment however shows that this is not universally true, especially if the flavours can be oxidized. So next time you make banana parsley marshmallows remember that less chopping gives better parsley flavour.

Coffee cream foam

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007


Based on some googling of espuma and foam recipes (including Ferran Adria’s coffee espuma), I figured that the following should work:

2 dL coffee
2 sheets of gelatine
3 dL heavy cream
sugar/vanilla sugar

Soak gelatine in cold water. Strain. Dissolve gelatin sheets in the hot coffee and stir in sugar while heating. Cool. Add heavy cream. Filter through a fine meshed sift (just in case there should be any undissolved sugar, gelatin or particles) into a 0.5 L iSi gourmet whipper. Screw on top and charge with a cream charger. Shake 2-3 times and leave in fridge for a couple of hours. Hold whipper upside down, shake once to displace mixture towards the nozzle in case it is stuck and dispense. Texture is soft and silky. Tastes delicious!

Some more chemistry: The cream chargers contain dinitrogen oxide (N2O) which is less polar than carbon dioxide (CO2), and hence more soluble in fat (such as heavy cream for instance). Another reason why carbon dioxide is not used in this recipe is probably that when it dissolves, some carbonic acid is formed which could curdle milk based products if pH drops to much and also influence taste (but carbonated milk has actually been marketed!). The idea of using dinitrogen oxide for soda/beer has also been explored.

Carbonated fruit the iSi way

Monday, April 9th, 2007

I blogged about carbonated strawberries some while ago. Those were made using dry ice which unfortunately is not always easy to get hold of. Last week however I bought a iSi Gourmet Whipper – one of those Ferran Adria uses to make foams/espumas. I plan to experiment with that as well, but the first thing I decided to prepare was carbonated fruit. In fact this is a safe way (the only?) to make carbonated fruit at home using a pressurized container.


The instruction booklet which comes with the iSi Gourmet Whipper only mentions cream chargers (filled with N2O, dinitrogen oxide), whereas soda chargers (filled with CO2, carbon dioxide) are not mentioned (I guess the opposite is true for the iSi Siphons?). This is quite amazing actually! Luckily however the cream and soda chargers are exactly the same size and both hold 8 g of gas. So it should be possible to make carbonated fruit with any of the iSi whippers (cream, easy, gourmet, dessert, thermo) or siphons available.

Here’s how you proceed:

  1. Fill you iSi whipper (or siphon) with fruit, preferably fruit which has a cut, wet surface to allow the carbon dioxide to dissolve in the water/juice.
  2. Screw on top securly
  3. Charge with one soda charger (two if you have the 1 L whipper)
  4. Leave in fridge over night
  5. Release pressure with valve (Important!)
  6. Unscrew top and serve immediately!
  7. Enjoy!

This is what carbonated grapes look like. As you see, I decided to cut the grapes in to halves.

Notice how they sizzle!

A quick recap of the chemistry: cold water dissolves more CO2 than tempered water, that’s why we leave it in the fridge. Also, remember that it takes some time for the carbon dioxide to dissolve in water, therefore it’s better not to be in a hurry. A quick calculation of the pressures gives the following: Both gases have molecular weights of 44 g/mol, so 8 g of gas corresponds to 0.1818 moles or 4.1 L at 25 °C and 1 atm pressure. The volume of the chargers is 0.01 L which gives an initial pressure in the chargers of impressive 445 atm! With an approximate volume of 0.7 L this gives a pressure (in an empty whipper) of nearly 6 atm – the same as in a bottle of champagne. However once you add water, the equilibriums will change and the pressure in the head space will drop. Anyone who remembers how to calculate the head space pressure at equilibrium if the container is filled with 0.5 L of water and cooled to 4 °C?

I’ve done some googling and there is also some mention of making carbonated fruit with an iSi whipper over at Ideas in food.

(The word play in the title works better for those with a mother tongue where iSi would be pronounced just like “easy”!)

First experiments with sodium alginate

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Here’s some pictures and a video of my first experiments with sodium alginate and spherification. I used sodium alginate from the Texturas series and calcium chloride from a drug store. Needless to say, I’m very fascinated by the texture and the whole process. I have blogged about the chemistry behind previously.

Materials used:
2.0 g sodium alginate
200 g water (with low calcium content!)
50 g blueberry syrup

2.5 g calcium chloride
500 g water

2 g sodium alginate and 200 g water were mixed vigourously in blender. The mixture was then left to stand for some hours to get rid of the air bubbles. 50 g blueberry syrup was then added to the sodium alginate solution. A calcium chloride bath was prepared by dissolving 2.5 g calcium chloride in 500 g water. The sodium alginate/blueberry mixture was dripped into the calcium chloride bath using a plastic syringe with a steel cannula. After 1-3 min the pearls were removed and rinsed with water.

More detailed procedure with pictures and video:
I had to obtain a scale with a 0.1 g accuracy to weigh out 2.0 g of sodium alginate (my first experiments using a normal kitchen scale failed). The model I got cost about $100 and is inteded for school laboratories. Amazon provides several scales with this accuracy.


I used a blender to dissolve sodium alginate in water. This incorporates a lot of air in the mixture which we don’t want. It could possibly be avoided by using an immersion blender/mixer. However, I just left the alginate solution on the bench and after 3-4 hours the air bubbles had all escaped from the solution.


Plastic syringes and cannulas can be obtained from your local drug store or pharmacist. I found it was easier to produce evenly sized drops with a sharp cannula (CAREFULL!) than with just the plastic tip of the syringe. This of course depends on the viscosity of the solution. By thickening (with xanthan for instance) you can produce larger drops.


After 1-3 min the spheres were removed from the calcium chloride solution and rinsed with clean water. I dried the spheres carefully using a kitchen towel or paper.



Definitely looks like caviar when presented on a spoon like this!


Larger spheres were made by filling a small measuring spoon with the alginate mixture (I used a syringe for this so the outsides of the spoon would not be covered with alginate solution) and carefully emptied it into the calcium chloride bath. It takes some trial and error to achieve good results.


The spheres are suprisingly robust and can be handled without rupturing.


If cut with a knife, the spheres rupture and the liquid contents flows out.


The small spheres didn’t taste much, so I could have added more blueberry syrup. The large spheres however had a nice taste. The surprise element when they rupture in your mouth is very nice!

Practical molecular gastronomy, part 4

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

(Photo by vintage_patrisha at

4. Learn how to control the texture of food

Taste and flavour normally get more attention when food is discussed, but the texture of food is equally important and our tongue is very sensitive, not only to taste and temperature, but also to the texture of food. The texture of food determines it’s mouthfeel and it is related to many physical properties of the food. Wikipedia lists the following aspects of mouthfeel (click to see the full description of each aspect) which can be useful when analyzing food:

Adhesiveness, Bounce/Springiness, Chewiness, Coarseness, Cohesiveness, Denseness, Dryness, Fracturability, Graininess, Gumminess, Hardness, Heaviness, Moisture absorption, Moisture release, Mouthcoating, Roughness, Slipperiness, Smoothness, Uniformity, Uniformity of chew, Uniformity of bite, Viscosity, Wetness

I will barely scratch the surface of how texture can be controlled by highlighting a couple of topics and point you to further resources. Hopefully it will spark your interest and give some new ideas for you to play with in the kitchen. Those interested in a comprehensive review of food texture are referred to the CRC handbooks on food texture (volume 1: semi-solid foods, volume 2: solid foods).

What determines the texture of food?
Put very simple, it’s the relative amounts of air, liquid and solids that determines the texture of food. This is complicated by the fact that liquids have different viscosities. Furthermore the air, liquid and solid ratio is not necessarily constant. A liquid can solidify or evaporate, solids can melt or dissolve, and air bubbles can escape during cooking or storage. An elegant but quite abstract way of describing the complicated mixtures of air, liquids and solids found in food, is to use the CDS formalism (CDS = complex disperse systems), introduced by Hervé This.

(Photo by Subspace at

How can texture be controlled and changed?
Texture can be controlled by temperature, pH, air/liquid/solid ratio, osmosis, hydrocolloids and emulsifiers – to mention a few. Here’s some examples:

  • Heating induces a change in the structure of proteins referred to as coagulation or denaturation. Typical examples are the boiling of eggs and the cooking of meat. When proteins denature they contract and become firmer. There are several helpful tables relating the doneness of different meats to temperature.
  • At around 70 °C (160 °F) collagen, the connective tissue in meat, turns into gelatin. As a result the meat becomes more tender, which is desireable in stews and other slow cooked meats.
  • Heat causes air/gas to expand and water to evaporate to give a foamy/airy texture. For example, experiments have shown that it is mainly the evaporation of water that causes a soufflé to rise.
  • Heat will cause certain hydrocolloids to solidify (for exaple methyl cellulose) whereas it will cause others to melt (such as gelatin).
  • Brining meat can greatly improve it’s texture and juicyness. This is done by immersing the meat in a 3-6% salt solution from anyhere between a few hours to two days before cooking.
  • Frozen water in the form of tiny ice crystals are important for the smooth texture of sorbets and ice cream. Ice cream that has been partly melted and frozen again will grow larger ice crystals that impart a coarser texture to the ice cream.
  • Acidic solutions (low pH) can cause proteins to denature. This allows fish to be cooked without the use of any heat. An example is the use of lime juice in ceviche.
  • Emulsifiers, thickeners and gelling agents have almost become synonymous with molecular gastronomy for many. They can greatly alter the texture of foods and typically only a very small amount is required. Where gelatin was the only gelling agent videly available to cooks in Europe and America only a decade ago, this has changed with the advent of many internet suppliers of speciality ingredients.
  • Cooking under vacuum can create new and exciting textures. First of all it’s a way of removing excess water without having to raise the temperature all the way up to 100 °C. When the water is removed, this will create pockets of air in the food, and when the pressure is released, the liquid surrounding the food that is prepared will rush in and fill these pockets. There is a commercially available vacuum cooker, but a DIY version can be made from a pressure cooker and a vacuum pump.

  • (Photo by Trinity at

  • Green leaf vegetables such as lettuce loose water upon storage. As the pressure inside the cells drops, the leaf becomes softer. By immersing the leaves in cold water for 15-30 min, thanks to osmosis, water will enter into the cells again. As the pressure increases, the leaves become crisper.
  • Air bubbles can greatly modify textures, and foams really are ubiquitious (which becomes obvious if you read the book “Universal foam – from cappuccino to the cosmos”). Ferran Adria’s espumas have become very popular, as has his recent invention, the Espesso. Air bubbles are also very important for the texture of ice cream, in fact ice cream is nearly 50% air (just consider the fact that ice cream is sold by volume, not by weight!).
  • A very recent addition to the modern kitchen pantry is the enzyme transglutaminase. The enzyme acts like a meat glue and Chadzilla has nice blog post on his transglutaminase experiments.
  • There are also enzymatic counterparts of transglutaminase available: proteolytic enzymes also known as proteases. You can find them in pineapple (bromelain/bromelin), papaya (papain), figs (ficin) and kiwi (actinidin) – and they are capable of degrading proteins and muscle tissue. Despite this, they have only found limited use in marinades, as their action can be difficult to control (as Nicholas Kurti experienced, look for the “But the crackling is superb” link).
  • When mixing flour and water, glutenin and gliadin react to form gluten which gives bread it’s elasticity and plasticity. Addition of 1-2% salt to bread tightens the gluten network and increases the volume of the finished loaf. Similarly, addition of 1% oil to the dough (after the first kneading) can further increase the volume. Larger amounts of fat added before kneading will interfere with the formation of long gluten strands, hence the name shortening.
  • The no-knead bread that recently hoovered around in the blogosphere challenges the conventional wisdom that bread needs kneading to get a good texture.
  • Once bread is baked, the staling process starts. Staling does not necessarily involve loss of water from the bread and is caused by crystallisation (or retrogradation) of starch. In this process water molecules are trapped. The process proceeds fastest at 14 °C, but is halted below -5 °C. This is the reason why bread should be stored at room temperature. The staling process can be slowed down by addition of an emulsifier such as lecithin which is abundant in egg yolk.
  • A way of turning high fat foods and oils into powders is by the use of tapioca maltodextrin. Hungry in Hogtown has shown how Nutella can be turned into a powder.
  • *

    Check out my previous blogpost for an overview of the tips for practical molecular gastronomy. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry) and links (webresources, people/chefs/blogs, institutions, articles, audio/video) at might also be of interest.

    Simple temperature calculations

    Thursday, March 8th, 2007

    Although I recommend the use of a thermometer, sometimes it’s convenient to know how you can also manage without. If you mix water at two different (but known) temperatures, you can easily calculate the temperature after mixing. Just multiply the temperature of each part with the relative amount. For example, if you have 3 dL at 100 °C and 7 dL at 10 °C (which happens to be the approximate temperature of my tap water), this gives (3 dL x 100 °C + 7 dL x 10 °C) / 10 dL = 37 °C which is just perfect for dissolving fresh yeast when making bread.

    You can also do it the other way around. Let’s say you have boiling water and you know that your tap water is approximately 10 °C. If you want water at approximately 37 °C, you can do as follows:


    Start by writing what you have to the left (100 °C and 10 °C) and what you want in the middle (37 °C). Subtract: (100-37) = 63 and (37-10) = 27. And voilá – you need 27 parts water at 100 °C and 63 parts at 10 °C (and 27:63 simplifies to 3:7 which is what we found above). Now of course if you really wanted water at 37 °C, you would simply put your finger in to see if it’s at body temperature…

    Are there any practical applications of this? Yes – a simple, but elegant way to prepare fish would be to drop a fish of known weight and temperature (fridge @ 4 °C or freezer @ -18 °C) into water that has been brought to boil. Cover pot and turn off heat. The amount of water would be calculated based on the desired temperature of the fish. We are assuming here that there is no heat loss to the surroundings, which of course isn’t quite true. How fast pot of water will cool depends on how much water you use and on the pot. This can be corrected for, and luckily someone has already done it. More on this in my post on how to cook fish in cooling water.

    We can apply the temperature calculation from above to figure out roughly what the temperature will with this cooking method. 800 g of fish from the fridge (4 °C) and 2,4 L of boiling water gives a temperature of (0,8 x 4 °C + 2,4 x 100 °C) / 3,2 = 76 °C. The cooling curves for a pot with 2,5 L of water suggest a temperature loss of 15-20 °C in 30 min which would bring us down to 55-60 °C which – considering that no thermometer is used – is quite good.

    Cooking fish in cooling water

    Thursday, March 8th, 2007

    I have previously written about how you can cook a perfect steak with a simple DIY sous vide technique. Of course low temperature cooking applies equally well to fish with the only difference that the temperature can be turned down even lower.

    A slightly different approach for cooking fish was presented by Haqvin Gyllensköld in the Swedish book “Koka, steka, blanda” from 1977, which I became aware of through Östen Dahlgren’s book “Laga mat – hur man gör och varför”. In stead of keeping the fish at a constant temperature (which requires quite some attention unless you have a thermostated waterbath), in this method, as the hot water cools, the temperature of the fish increases until they’re at the same temperature.

    This is how you do it:

    1. Weigh the fish
    2. Boil the triple amount of water
    3. Add some salt to the water (15 g / L)
    4. Put the fish in the water and remove the pot from the stove
    5. Check the graph below for how long the fish should be left in the cooling water
    6. Serve!


    Need help on fish names in different languages? Yeah, me too!