Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Eating nothing

It’s really hot today so I’ve been thinking about ice cream, naturally. A common ingredient in ice cream is soy lecithin, which Mani noticed is found in most of the other things he also considers delicious. So what is soy lecithin? It is an emulsifier that stabilizes and thickens the components that would otherwise separate in foods like chocolate.

In the past decade, chefs have been experimenting with soy lecithin to make flavored foams or airs. I haven’t yet tried an air, but I have heard it described as all flavor and no food. You take a bite and there is an intense taste of, say, tea, but the substance vaporizes instantly in your mouth, leaving nothing behind. Pictured above is “white chocolate air,” a dish from Ferran Adria’s restaurant El Bulli, near Barcelona.

On a related note, I also learned that the taste of ice cream will vary depending on the condition of the emulsion. When ice cream thaws, the emulsion is compromised, and the tiny ice crystals within begin to combine into larger crystals that ruin the texture of the ice cream, making it hard, sticky, and dry. This is why a dairy’s fresh-made ice cream tastes better than any pint of premium ice cream, which has usually suffered through a range of temperatures on its journey from manufacturer to your bowl.


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