Molecular Gastronomy - Spherification and Caviar Ingredients and Equipment Online

Apple Juice Caviar

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Let's Make Caviar

We aren't talking about the caviar that comes from fish, of course, but the caviar that comes from the molecular kitchen and the molecular bar. We're talking about those fascinating, glistening orbs of liquefied or pureed foods encased in perfect membranes, mesmerizing structures that float in drinks and tumble over heavenly gastronomic creations, that deliver a combination of intense flavor and surprising texture as they burst in your mouth.

Until relatively recently, spherification ingredients and tools were not so easy to come by unless you were a professional chef buying in the trade. With the phenomenal growth in popularity of molecular cooking over the last few years, spherification tools and ingredients are now being produced not only for the industry but also for the home experimentalist.

Whether you are already experimenting with or even perfecting molecular cooking in your kitchen or bar, or whether you are wanting to try this new style of cooking for the first time, this article is your resource for shopping online for spherification ingredients and equipment.

Spherification in a Nutshell - Or Is that In a Gelshell?

Spherification, also called direct spherification, is the process of creating a gelatinous membrane to encase a sphere of liquid. A liquid such as fruit or vegetable juice is mixed with sodium alginate and then dropped into a bath of water and calcium chloride. If the juice is highly acidic, sodium citrate is also added to the alginate and juice mixture to enable the alginate and calcium chloride to react. Where the alginate first comes into contact with the calcium chloride, which is at the outer surface of the liquid drop, a thin, tasteless, odorless skin begins to form. Voilá--caviar! As soon as the membrane forms, the caviar orbs are lifted from the bath and rinsed with clear water. Left in the bath for too long, the caviar pearls will gel all the way through.

A variation of direct spherification is reverse or inverse spherification (either term can be used). In this process, originally developed for foods that are high in calcium such as milk or yogurt, the liquid food is mixed with calcium chloride and "cooked" in a sodium alginate bath. The membrane forms around the liquid food, but the gelling process does not continue into the liquid sphere.

A Simple Caviar Maker - The Syringe

Photo courtesy JustCookIt.blogspot.com
Photo courtesy JustCookIt.blogspot.com

Caviar Makers

A caviar maker is essentially a syringe with a large “needle.” You fill the syringe with the liquid and alginate mixture, then express drops of the liquid mixture into the calcium chloride water bath to form the caviar.

For experimenting at home or when cooking for a small group, a single syringe is efficient and effective. For making more than a few caviar pearls at a time, you can buy a caviar maker consisting of many syringes suspended over a large container that holds the water bath. Although the larger caviar makers are used commercially, you may one day find yourself so intrigued with the process, accomplished with the technique, and desirous of trying recipes that demand the production of more than one pearl at a time, that the larger version becomes a good investment for you.

Caviar Pearls, One at a Time

A Sea of Caviar Pearls

Great Ways To Get Started with Spherification

Spherification Equipment

You will notice from the videos and product offerings that all measurements used in spherification are metric. You will need metric measuring cups, spoons, and scales to work efficiently with this technique. For some, particularly for my fellow Americans, this may be a challenge! However, practice does make perfect, and you can start building your proficiency now by trying one of the many free metric converters available on the Internet.

Some starter kits include metric measuring spoons and other essential tools such as a perforated spoon for scooping the caviar pearls out of the sodium chloride bath and the rinsing water. Check starter kit descriptions carefully to see what’s included and what is not.

You may be able to improvise some tools using items you already have at your disposal. Most measuring cups show volume in both metric and non-metric. Some stainless steel serving sets include small perforated spoons. If you happen to have a feeding syringe, you might want to give it a try.

Precision Scales with Metric and Tare Weight Features

Spherification Tools

CIA Masters Collection 6 Piece Measuring Spoon Set
CIA Masters Collection 6 Piece Measuring Spoon Set

These spooons are calibrated in metric as well.

 
Texturas Eines, Set Of Tools
Texturas Eines, Set Of Tools

Contains two 50ml syringes, two collecting spoons, and one set of stainless steel dosing spoons (1.25ml, 2.5 ml, 5 ml, 15 ml).

 

Basic Direct Spherification Ingredients

Basic direct spherification ingredients include food-grade sodium alginate, calcium chloride, and sodium citrate. These natural ingredients have long been staples in the food industry and are completely safe to use and consume. When shopping online for spherification ingredients, be aware that some manufacturers refer to these ingredients by their own branded names. For example, the Texturas brand names are Algin, Calcic, and Citras, respectively.

Starter kits include all three basic direct spherification ingredients, but in small amounts. As you experiment with different recipes, you’ll begin to get a good idea about how much of each ingredient you should have on hand.

Additional Spherification Ingredients for Reverse or Inverse Spherification

Some reverse spherification recipes call for the addition of calcium lactate gluconate (also called calcium gluconolactate) to the liquid food in order to elevate the food's calcium content so that there is enough calcium to react with the alginate in the alginate bath. Xanthan gum may also be called for when the intention is to thicken the liquid food within the gel membrane.

Coca-Cola Ravioli

Coca-Cola ravioli - a shape formed with a spoon instead of with a syringe. Photo courtesy The Gastro-Lounge.
Coca-Cola ravioli - a shape formed with a spoon instead of with a syringe. Photo courtesy The Gastro-Lounge.

Spherification Recipes and Techniques

Here are some excellent online resources for learning more about spherification and for trying your hand at creating outstanding flavor and texture experiences.

  • Direct spherification is not limited to making caviar. By using a spoon instead of a syringe, you can create ravioli! Visit The Gastro-Lounge for a superb Coca-Cola ravioli recipe as well as an excellent description of spherification.
  • This recipe from Chef Tali Clavijo uses a mango puree with alginate and sodium citrate to create a "ravioli" that looks very much like an egg yolk, but bursts with mango flavor. Try his direct spherification spherical mango yolk recipe.
  • From the laboratory and kitchen of world renown new style chefs Albert and Ferran Adria comes an online collection of detailed direct and inverse spherification recipes and accompanying videos. Enjoy watching the creation of spherical peas, melon caviar, reverse spherical minimozzarellas, and more.
  • Now that you've triepes above, get adventurous with Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough of Spur in Seattle, Washington. This is their reverse spherification recipe for Beef Carpaccio with Deep-Fried Béarnaise.

Experience the Ultimate in New Style Cuisine - The World of elBulli

Decoding Ferran Adria: Hosted by Anthony Bourdain
Decoding Ferran Adria: Hosted by Anthony Bourdain

This DVD takes you behind the scenes at elBulli, voted "World's Best" by Restaurant Magazine. It introduces you to the research laboratory of Ferran Adria and culminates in a once-in-a-lifetime meal, a haute cuisine experience of unparalleled creativity and striking visual appearance.

 
A Day at elBulli
A Day at elBulli

Aimed at both food enthusiasts and industry professionals, this book documents a day at elBulli with stunning color photography. The menu is fully explained with detailed recipes that reveal the full extent of the chefs' artistry.

 

New to Molecular Gastronomy and Molecular Cooking?

If you are new to molecular cooking, some of the terms used in this article as well as the background of this new cooking style will need explanation. For background information, more demonstration videos, and a look into the language of this meld of food, art, and science, read this article about molecular gastronomy, where science meets cuisine.

About Shopping Online for Spherification Ingredients and Equipment

Keep in mind, as mentioned earlier, that some manufacturers have their own brand names for spherification ingredients. As you would for any product you are considering buying from an online seller, read the product details and warranties carefully. If you have questions, always ask the seller before purchasing. Also, read customer reviews when they are available. A customer’s unique experience might be the deciding reason for you to buy the product or not.

Happy shopping!

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Comments 46 comments

sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago

Excellent, useful and well-researched as always, ST. Although Indian cooking does not, to my limited knowledge, involve spherification, it is fascinating to know of this technique.

Shall pass this on to my good wife and get my ticket to the US pronto. One has to taste your cooking after all.


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 6 years ago

Dear friend,

Another well researched hub. Although this form of cooking doesn't interest me (since I hardly cook normally anyway lol) I found this to be very interesting and helpful to those out there who would like to try this, or are already starting out with this process. It's good that you offer a lot of these products that are out there, I'm sure it will be a godsend to folks who didn't know where to look.

@Sabu,

yes, you must come visit. I can attest to ST's wonderful cuisine :) You won't regret the trip, I assure you!

Thumbs up!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Very interesting and an eye opener. Thank you.


annemaeve profile image

annemaeve 6 years ago from Philly Burbs

Ooooo apple juice caviar on a hot summer's day... I want!

Things sure have come along way since Dots ice cream at the mall.

Love you, love your hubs.


proudgrandpa profile image

proudgrandpa 6 years ago from Charlotte, NC

In the past I have accused you of making me hungry with your interesting and delicious ideas about food. This time you have outdone yourself.

I guess the best way to convey my sentiments is, "You had me at Coca-Cola Ravioli". NEIL


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Sabu, I see tickets to Mumbai and Bangalore in your near future:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/74082/Trav...

Cheaper than tickets to the US!

Thank you for your very kind and complimentary words. Now take your lovely wife on one of those trips for a magical evening of molecular cooking.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Neat hub! You sure did your research, girlfriend!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

You have spherificated all the information and created a lovely taste of hub caviar! Could you put caviar through the spherification process? And then would you have caviar caviar? I'm going to lose sleep over this!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Trish, you are such a wonderful friend. I know this subject doesn't interest you, and yet you proofed this Hub for me. You are a dear.

Hh, some of this stuff really is amazing, isn't it? Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

Annemaeve, you are right about Dots. The founder, a chemist, invented his technique about 30 years ago. Say, there are franchises available!


annemaeve profile image

annemaeve 6 years ago from Philly Burbs

Franchise, away!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Great hub and what an interesting idea!


proudgrandpa profile image

proudgrandpa 6 years ago from Charlotte, NC

Franchise???? In the cheerleading world we have a franchise ice cream vendor called Duppin' Dots. I am not sure the name "Dippin' Spherification" is catchy enough to do the job. NEIL


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Neil, indeed, the one I'm talking about is Dippin' Dots. Do you think we can get them to make some mini frozen Coca-Cola Ravioli? Maybe we can name it "Proud Grandpa's Choice"!


sunforged profile image

sunforged 6 years ago from Sunforged.com

This is awesome, Ive always been captivated by the molecular gastronomy that I see on Top Chef, I had no idea that I may actually be able to play at home!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Holle, I'm still seeing caviar and ravioli dancing around in my dreams! The research was quite an adventure.

Chris, let's see if I get this right...I've created a "lovely taste of Hub caviar?" Be careful then, that you don't eat my words! Meanwhile, your notion of caviar caviar makes my head spin, too. I suppose you could liquify it, perhaps mixing it with vodka, and then spherify it. If it shows up on someone's menu, I'll let you know. LOL Hope you've managed to get some sleep!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Akirchner, it certainly is interesting. One aspect I find so fascinating is that you can make one kind of food look like another, like that mango egg yolk. Then there's salmon snow. Looks just like snow, but it's pink!

Sunforged, sounds like you might enjoy some new toys! The spherification techniques are a great way to start, because the equipment is simple and the ingredients readily available.


FlyingPanther profile image

FlyingPanther 6 years ago from here today gone tomorrow!!

As always great work Sally and very interesting..I always learn new things from you thru your hubs, thank you for sharing.

Love always.

FlyingPanther


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago

Trust you to know more about India than me ST. I had no idea about this. Thanks for the enlightenment.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

FlyingPanther, you and I share a love of food and cuisine. Maybe we can make some coconut milk raviolis that look like hard boiled eggs. LOL Thank you so much for reading and commenting.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Amazing ideas! Thanks for sharing this information. Had never heard of this before, so thanks for the enlightenment!

Love and peace

Tony


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 6 years ago from India

How interesting is this! And why am I only just noticing the hub?!! Gives the 'real' caviar a run for its money, I'm sure. :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Tony, you are very welcome. Molecular cooking techniques and outcomes are quite fascinating.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

FP, when I read your words about giving the real caviar a run for its money, I couldn't help but envision huge schools of roe-bearing fish with scrambling legs finally escaping their fate as human food. What a picture! But until there's a way to make apple juice taste like fish eggs, we'll be eating the real stuff, too. LOL


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 6 years ago from India

Haha, what a picture you evoke! :)


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

Holey-Moley! I've never heard of such a thing! Fascinating, indeed! Wow! And interesting to note the main coagulant is from seaweed, and so suitable for vegetarians!

Thanks for sharing this--I'm bookmarking this hub!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Lizzy, so glad you found this fascinating. Spherification is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this new style of cooking. The shapes and textures created by these techniques are truly astounding.

Thanks so much for your good words and for contributing the information about sodium alginate, which is the sodium salt of alginic acid extracted from brown seaweed and considered vegan.


loriamoore 6 years ago

I had to read the article to find out what spherification was. Cool.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Lori, that is really helpful feedback. I did struggle with this article in terms of audience, because I kept vascillating between writing for those who know what spherification is and those who don't. I eventually wound up writing for both, with the emphasis on those who do. I am delighted that this caught your eye, and that the work I put into explaining the process was worthwhile. Thanks a bunch!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Had to read this one just because it mystified me so. I've never heard of this sperification before and it looks intriguing! So it's basically like Dippin' Dots?


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

I don't know how Dots are made, Dolores. But you can bet I'll be on the trail now to find out!


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 6 years ago from USA

Wow you do continue to amaze me, I had no idea about this and am dying to try the Coca cola Ravioli! This is so detailed and informative, very interesting!!

High standards, as always.

=)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Isn't that Coca-cola Ravioli something else? Thanks for the good words, Marisue. They are special indeed coming from such an accomplished cook, writer, and food lover.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 6 years ago from USA

Hi Sherri, You're wonderful tales of kitchen times inspire me to soar! I would love to sit at your warm table, and see the show of Sherri in the Kitchen. Not to mention tasting your yummy food. You mentioned something about that pickled cabbage salad you made at Thanksgiving, and I found your hub with that recipe link. Haven't tried it yet but will this holiday!

This "spherification" sounds so spage age. Beam me up, Scotty!

A very unique subject!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

My husband and I love watching the cooking shows and quite a few chefs are using molecular gastronomy methods to embellish their dishes. Between the pseudo-cavier and all of those foams, food may never look the same again if this trend continues. Excellent hub!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

You bring up such a good point about how food looks, Peggy. One of the fun aspect of this kind of experimentation is that your eye may tell you one thing while your mouth tells you another. I've seen (and you and hubby probably have, too), beautiful plates of food that look exactly like sunny-side-up eggs and bacon, but they are actually made of mango, yogurt, and mixed vegetables. It is truly a kind of magic, and kind of disturbing sometimes, too. Thanks for reading and leaving your good words.!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

Very interesting. I always thought artificial caviar was made by plastic sturgeons.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

That's funny Rochelle! You have quite a sense of humor!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Good one, Rochelle! Don't even want to say where my mind's going on this one.


Benjimester profile image

Benjimester 5 years ago from San Diego, California

Wow, I had never even heard of molecular cooking before. I had no idea people were doing such interesting things to food. Is the calcium chloride and sodium citrate solution considered pretty safe? In other words, are you able to eat it all the time, or should you only have it on special occasions?


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India

Wow! This sounds like Alice in Spherical Land! 'Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be (spherical and)what it isn't.' Fascinating :)

@Rochelle :D :D


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Good question about safety, Benjimester. Both ingredients, so long as they are "food grade" are considered safe food additives by the FDA and other food agencies around the world. It's important to stress the word "additive". Neither is intended to be eaten in its "as is" form.

You may find this list of safety-rated chemical food additives very interesting, considering your interest in health:

http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm

Although the list rates sodium citrate (look under citric acid), it does not rate calcium chloride. Why, I don't know.

You may be surprised to know, as I was, that each of us ingests 160–345 mg/day of calcium chloride by consuming commercially prepared foods such as pickles, olives, canned vegetables, and too many other foods to mention.

There is a lot of information about these ingredients on the Web alone, so if you have concerns, it would be good to do some research.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Shalini, bless you! You have added lyrical grace here.

I agree, there is a certain magical, Wonderland-like flip-flop in our perceptions when presented with an egg yolk that tastes like a mango or caviar that tastes like Coca-Cola. What a strange world this is, anyway, but sensory surprises like this just may wake up some who've been sleeping. Thanks for the awesome comment!


eventsyoudesign profile image

eventsyoudesign 5 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

This article is very good. I am facinated with Molecular Gastronomy. I studied some Food Science when I was in college, but Spherification was not a technique we studied. Thanks for a great hub. I want to try this techniquie out just for the fun of it. Teresa


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Teresa, "just for the fun of it" is where innovations start. Considering your expertise in eastern European and vegetartian cooking, the sky's the limit. How about a pierogi (like a spherified ravioli) floating in beet caviar, then topped with real sour cream? My mouth is watering and my eyes are bulging out.


lemonkerdz profile image

lemonkerdz 3 years ago from TRUJILLO, PERU

I would love to have a go at this molecular gastronomy, make good food and have fun at the same time.

Check out a show in Britain from British chef Heston Bloomenthal, amazing what you can do with food. He has a tasing menu in his michelin star restaurant in the UK, a food lovers dream.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 3 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

lemonkerdz (love your name), thanks for your comment. Bloomenthal is one of the leaders in this "new" way of looking at food. Wish I could be in the UK to enjoy his innovations first-hand.

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