Molecular gastronomy was born from the never-ending quest by certain chefs to expand the boundaries of cuisine. Innovators borrowed tools from science labs and incorporated industrial food additives to manipulate the texture and appearance of what goes on the plate, allowing them to showcase ingredients in new ways. And voila, foie gras foam was born.
As recently as three years ago, most of the magic powders required to make all this happen were the providence of only a small handful of high-end restaurants. Now, thanks to a few daring entrepreneurs like Willpowder, you too can own a spherification kit or a jar of Versawhip to play with at home. With just those two items, you can wow your friends and family with lightly gelled olive oil paired with pine foam at your next dinner party.
Founded by cutting-edge pastry chef Will Goldfarb, e-store Willpowder is at the forefront of this niche market. It has a great array of items for sale that are usually found only as ingredients listed on the back of supermarket foods.
Willpowder's newest offerings are the extra-fun-to-pronounce Gellan Gum and Sucrose Ester. Gellan gum is a stabilizer that, depending on how you apply it, can produce everything from fluid gels to hard, non-elastic results. According to PharmInfo.net, "Small amounts of gellan gum can be used in gelatin desserts to improve heat stability and raise the setting temperature so gels will set without refrigeration."
Sucrose Ester, derived from sucrose and palm oil, acts as an emulsifier -- making things that want to separate stay together. "A bakery product will have a finer crumb structure and a softer texture, the stability of dairy or sauces will be improved, the texture of a mousse finer and ice cream a better flavor." This is an ingredient for the truly intrepid, since there aren't many suggestions out there on how to apply it.
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The older products are all there, too. Ever want to know what seaweed-based carrageenen can do for your ice cream? (It thickens it.) Order online and then get ready to experiment. Or opt for tapioca maltodextrin to powderize Nutella and transglutaminase to stick proteins together. (Make sausage without casings! Create frankenfood!)
As with all new things, it can be frustrating to figure out how to apply them in a home kitchen. (Though the beauty of having access to these ingredients is that you get to play.) But for some extra instruction, Willpowder has some recipes explaining what and how to work with tools of the trade like hydrocolloids and xantham gum - an incredible thickener.
Molecular gastronomy recipes will require a good scale and a basic grasp of chemistry, but if this is of interest to you in the first place, you likely either have or are willing to acquire both those things. For more tips to get you started, check out the French Culinary Institute blog Cooking Issues as well.