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Following up on the last post, about spherification of sweet tea, I conducted some more experiments, making other shapes, and testing the limits of the spherified gels. Basically, the process was the same as in the sweet tea ravioli, but with a bit different proportions of chemicals.

I managed to make excellent grapefruit noodles that were really tasty, and after a couple tries, I got them to the point where they had a similar texture and bite to normal spaghetti! I even managed to vary how al dente they were by adding a bit more xanthan gum. What I eventually want to do with this is to make noodles out of a tomato puree (I'll probably have to add some sodium citrate to lower the acidity). Then you have spaghetti and marinara, but without sauce. One of these spaghetti noodles, on a spoon, with a bit of fresh basil and a grating of parmeggiano would be pretty delicious!

The grapefruit spaghetti was made with 200 grams Ocean Spray Ruby grapefruit juice (it's not good--don't buy it--sub a decent juice), 1 gram xanthan gum (.5%), and 1 gram sodium alginate (.5%). Bath was 5 grams calcium chloride in 500 grams water (1%). I sheared the alginate into half the grapefruit juice, then added the rest of the grapefruit juice and stirred in xanthan. I let it rest for a while, but couldn't figure out how to get the bubbles out (I'll try heating it next time). Then I sucked up the grapefruit mixture into a syringe with the tip removed, dipped the tip underwater in the bath, and pressed the plunger firmly and evenly.

Then I attempted to make something recalling the delicious and traditional French appetizer (and breakfast?) of broiled grapefruit (to which I've previously blogged a recipe: broiled grapefruit). I mixed some brown sugar and cinnamon, sprinkled it on top of a grapefruit ravioli, and then took out the brulee torch. I didn't expect the ravioli to hold up under the intense heat of the torch, but it did! So I melted all the sugar on top of the ravioli, waited a couple minutes for it to harden, and then I ate it. The brulee topping was great. Unfortunately, the grapefruit mixture (which at that point was designed for noodles) was too thick, so it ultimately wasn't that great. But I did determine that sufficiently gelled spherifications can withstand intense heat, at least briefly.

Finally, I tried my hand at some mint caviar, a la Morou (he serves it with lamb, a play on the traditional mint jelly). In testing the "caviar" or "pearl" shapes, I realized something: with a single syringe, it will take FOREVER to get enough of the stuff to serve to anyone. So, either I can buy a $50 multi-syringe apparatus, or I had to figure something else out. And so I did figure something else out; about as low-tech as you can get. I washed and dried my hands (alright, fine, not really, but you should if you're repeating this for someone other than yourself), then dipped all the fingers of one hand into the alginate mixture. I let the liquid drip back into the alginate mix for a second or two, then quickly moved my hand over the bath. With my fingers somewhat spread out and all pointing downward, the alginate mixture drips rapidly in perfect little drops from each finger. So, in about twenty seconds, I had plenty of mint caviar to fill up a giant amuse bouche spoon. Left 'em in the bath only briefly, strained, rinsed, and served. It tasted fine. Kind of bland, because I just used water, peppermint extract, and some corn syrup. Then again, Morou's was fairly bland, too, but it worked in context of the dish.

Posted by Barzelay on 2007/12/06 @ 1:04 | Comments (20) | Food Additives


Would the reaction required to form the calcium alginate gel add any saltiness to the dish (since the leftover ions are sodium and chloride)? Or are the chemicals added in such small doses that the Na isn't really detectable?

Posted by: Jeff at December 7, 2007 2:33 PM

You're right that there are salty chemicals involved, but remember that the leftover saltiness is almost entirely on the outside of the spherified shapes. The calcium chloride bath itself is very salty, and we rinse the spherified things in water after forming them in order to rinse away that extra saltiness. As you point out, the sodium and chloride ions are not part of the gelling reaction, they are leftover. So the rinsing generally succeeds in washing away any of the extra saltiness, but it is a step that cannot be skipped.

However, in "reverse spherification," where the calcium is added to the juice and then dripped into an alginate bath (used for liquids that already contain calcium), salt is a much bigger problem. If one were to mix extremely salty calcium chloride into the liquid itself, the center would remain very salty when spherified. So most chefs use calcium lactate for reverse spherification instead of calcium chloride. But I don't have any calcium lactate yet, so for the sake of experimentation with texture, I've kinda just left flavor concerns for later.

Posted by: Barzelay at December 7, 2007 3:34 PM

I've had great success with spherification but only so-so with reverse spherification using calcium lactate. I think calcium lactate gluconate will work better. My main problem is getting a great sphere. How do you do that? I tried a turkey baster but didn't get big enough pearls. I want very large ones. If I use a spoon it flattens out.



Posted by: Mark at February 18, 2008 5:10 PM

Mark, I've never really made "spheres." I've made fluid gel balls that, if suspended in a liquid, appear spherical (I've never really seen one from all angles to check). But, if it is removed from the liquid and placed on a solid surface (i.e., a spoon), it shifts around to form kind of a flattened sphere like that shown in the ravioli pictures above. To make my ravioli, instead of a normal spoon, I use a tablespoon measure which has a deeper than normal, round bottom. In theory, that will cause the ravioli to have one flatter side, which will flip toward the bottom when released from the spoon. In practice, I've never noticed whether that occurs or not.

There are, I think, many other ways one could get actual "spheres," as opposed to just fluid balls. For instance, in a recent post, I write about agar spherification, where an agar solution is dropped into cold oil. You can squirt a fairly large amount of agar solution onto the surface of the oil and it will stay together at the surface for a short period of time before sinking. I made some very large caviar (1.5 cm diameter) this way when I accidentally squeezed my syringe too hard. And agar spheres fully gel, meaning that they will retain their spheroid shape, instead of deforming when placed on a solid. Does that at least give you some ideas?

Posted by: Barzelay at February 18, 2008 11:48 PM

Hi all
may be somebody know how i can stop consolidation prosess ? then i get littel caviar balls i can blow up it (liquid inside).After some time liquid become to be jelly !!!???

Posted by: Maxim at May 27, 2008 7:59 AM

to get the bubbles out either let the solution sit over night or vacuum seal it to remove them.

Posted by: donald at July 31, 2008 9:51 AM

to make spheres use a table spoon like described above but start with a little bit of the bath in the spoon. this will allow the sphere to release a little easier. i am about to start at a restaurant that serves beer spheres as an amuse for the bar. i'll tell you how it is done once i talk to the others who do it.

Posted by: Mark at October 5, 2008 11:27 PM

What temperature are the solutions? No one has mentioned it so I am assuming it is room temp. Is that right?

Posted by: Jim at October 12, 2008 7:24 PM

I've always done it near room temperature (say, 60 F to 80 F). But my understanding is that it should work pretty much the same as long as the solutions aren't freezing or boiling. However, the reaction may happen a bit more slowly if it's extremely cold, or a bit more quickly if it's hot.

You definitely don't want it to be hot enough for there to be convection inside the spheres, so I'd say keep it between, oh, 50 F and 120 F.

Posted by: Barzelay at October 12, 2008 10:23 PM

Does the temp. affect the size of the spher?

Posted by: Elijah barstis at November 25, 2008 8:36 AM

No, temperature doesn't affect the size of the sphere as such. However, colder temperatures can lead to greater viscosity in the liquid you're spherifying, making it possible to create bigger drops and hence, bigger spheres. But that effect will be minimal with most fluids and will be extremely dependent on what's in the fluid.

Posted by: Barzelay at November 25, 2008 8:53 AM

i read above, beer sferes??? i tried coca cola and it went flat, would u keep them in the refridgerator and serve them cold and for how long would they keep in the fridge or any sferes keep in the fridge??? i have not tried to keep them yet.

Posted by: Andrew at January 14, 2009 4:24 AM

Andrew, I've had carbonated mojito spheres at minibar in DC, and they kept their carbonation. They were made using reverse spherification (dissolve calcium in your product, then drop into an alginate bath). I'm not sure how they kept them carbonated.

They would keep in the fridge, but if you use the normal spherification technique (as opposed to the reverse spherification technique) your spheres will continue to set from the outside in, eventually (after an hour or so) resulting in a ball of solid jello.

Posted by: Barzelay at January 14, 2009 11:20 AM

i will try that, is it the same mesurements??? as normal spherification?

Posted by: Andrew at January 14, 2009 11:21 PM

i have just started to play with caviar making, and have tried both ways. the reverse seems to make them easier but i end up with spheres with tails. the normal way gives me gritty blobs that dont hold there shape so well and dont really gel at all it seems.some times it doesnt even hold together when it hits the calcium bath. is there any advice you can give me on making them better? on a side note do any of you know anything about methylcellulose? its suposed to turn into a solid when heated and liquid when cooled, but it doesnt seem to do so for me any advice is appreciated

Posted by: phillip at March 4, 2009 10:49 PM

Andrew, the measurements will vary a bit. For recipes, check out Martin Lersch's great resource, Texture.

Phillip, for easier spherification, it helps immensely if your base (whatever you're trying to spherify) is viscous. That way, it will hold together in the bath long enough for the gel skin to form. So, if your base is completely liquid, try thickening it a bit with some xanthan gum.

As for methylcellulose, use Linda's primer as a resource. If you're not getting the thickening when hot effect at all, then you probably haven't properly hydrated the methylcellulose. For methylcellulose, you have to shear it into your base with a blender (run it for a long time), and then in order for it to hydrate the mixture has to get very cold. Once it has gotten cold, the methylcellulose will have hydrated, and you'll be able to use it in your applications.

Posted by: Barzelay at March 10, 2009 3:44 PM

I have done a lot of sphereification and really am curious how you got something as acidic as grapefruit juice to gel.

Posted by: Chef jay at December 29, 2009 4:25 AM

Chef jay, I have very little recollection of what I did here. As you can see from the date of the post, it was back in 2006. Still, based on my notes, as recorded above, I didn't do anything special.

From above: "The grapefruit spaghetti was made with 200 grams Ocean Spray Ruby grapefruit juice (it's not good--don't buy it--sub a decent juice), 1 gram xanthan gum (.5%), and 1 gram sodium alginate (.5%). Bath was 5 grams calcium chloride in 500 grams water (1%). I sheared the alginate into half the grapefruit juice, then added the rest of the grapefruit juice and stirred in xanthan."

At the time, I'm not sure I was even aware of the pH sensitivity of alginates and other hydrocolloids. Looking back, my best explanation is that Ocean Spray's Ruby Red grapefruit juice is just not as acidic as real, fresh grapefruit juice. Or perhaps it worked sometimes, but I would have gotten a ridiculously low yield if I'd been trying to make lots of them. I'm sure Ocean Spray hasn't changed their formula, so you could test this after a trip to the supermarket. But as I said, this juice is actually not very good, so I don't have any suggestions for what to do with the leftovers.

Posted by: Barzelay at December 29, 2009 5:44 AM

Another way to remove surface bubbles in a liquid is a quick pass with a blow torch, the heat pops the bubbles but otherwise doesn't affect your liquid base.

Posted by: bluemonkey at July 11, 2010 1:51 AM

Any tips on spherification or reverse of honey for a dessert?

Posted by: Josh at August 9, 2010 6:38 PM