Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spherification - Faux Caviar

The McGill Food Science Association was volunteering in February at the Salon Rendez-Vous. Our mission: represent McGill Food Science and expose the use of science in hotels, caterings and restaurants applications. And must I say mission accomplished :)

Stéphane, my long time best friend, loyal foodie and executive member of my association , and I worked endless hours to create a fun and interactive demonstration at the salon. In addition of some fun facts and theory we have made into an attractive booklet, we decided to include a demonstration of spherification.

Now, what the hell is this big long word? First, the word 'sphere' is featured in it. Thus, indeed we are creating spheres. In fact, spherification is the process of making spheres of liquid, any liquid, that has the same texture as caviar. As soon as you bite into it, it burst into your mouth. And with this technique, any liquid can be used... wine, juice, sauce... the possibilities are infinite!

But how? What we need:

- 1.5g sodium alginate
- 150 g liquid

- 3g calcium chloride
- 300 g water

Sodium alginate is a natural extract from brown algae. It is a hydrocolloid, which means it forms a gel when in contact with water. Here, we use a ratio of 1% sodium alginate to liquid. The sodium alginate needs to be dissolved in two times and be sure to let it rest between. It is very hard to dissolve this algae so be patient! And also, it is important to not incorporate too much air when mixing! After the alginate is well dissolved, let it rest for at least 30-45 minutes, the longer the better.

While waiting, make the calcium bath. You only have to mix the calcium chloride with the water and let it rest again for at least 30 min.

Now, get yourself some pipettes or a bottle which can make drops (ketchup, vinaigrette bottles from the dollar store). Fill it with the alginate solution and carefully drop the solution in the calcium bath. To make perfect sphere, hold the bottle parallel to the surface and press just enough to make the liquid come out and let it drop in the bath.

Wait around 20-30 seconds and scoop it out with a strainer or a specialized spoon. Rinse your caviar in cool water to wash off the taste and slow down the spherification.

What happens? The sodium alginate forms bonds when it comes in contact with the calcium. While the membrane forms, the interior still stays liquid. However, the reaction is unstable which means that with time, the interior will gellifies too. This is why we have to rinse it in water and consume it as soon as possible.

Moreover, the choice of solutions is very important. If the solution is somehow acidic, a buffer will be needed to stabilize it. Sodium citrate is often used.

Once again, a little imagination and a lot of fun can create some very interesting recipes. Combinations such as pearls of orange juice in a glass of champagne to make a mimosa or caviar of balsamic vinegar on a piece bread with some good olive oil.... yummmyyyyy!!!!

For more pictures, please visit the food science association website at and a video which shows the spherification process can be found on youtube:

Have fun!

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