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Molecular Gastronomy - Spherification and Caviar Ingredients and Equipment Online
Apple Juice Caviar
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
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
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
These spooons are calibrated in metric as well.
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.
Calcium Lactate Gluconate
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
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.
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.