Shape Shifter |

Shape Shifter

Clear coconut-water ravioli. Cointreau caviar. Grapefruit juice noodles. It’s not magic—it’s spherification.

Brought to the spotlight by Ferran Adriŕ at famed Spanish restaurant El Bulli, spherification is the processes of converting liquid into a semi-solid, giving any watery substance just enough stability to keep its shape. Drops of olive juice can hold together as stand-alone spheres that pop, like caviar, in your mouth; juice can become a jelly-like substance strong enough to encase a filling, ravioli-style.
How does it work? The power of sodium alginate. In a process of basic spherification, your choice liquid is mixed with algin, then dropped into a calcium bath—where it becomes, in seconds, a pliable jelly-like sphere. Reverse spherification is the better fit for alcoholic substances, and it’s just the opposite: add calcium to the liquid, pour into an algin bath, and watch it set.

The longer it sits, the thicker it gels, so make sure to rescue your droplets before they harden into rubber. When done just right, the liquid balls are just tough enough to keep the liquid inside—but the slightest bit of pressure from the tongue releases a torrent of undoctored juice. The texture may alter, but the taste is just the same.

Chefs have made all manner of “pastas,” “eggs,” and “caviar,” morphing everything from cocktails to sauces into a semi-solid state. Although different proportions apply, any liquid can be sphere-ified, even if acidic, dairy-based, high in alcohol, or otherwise tempermental. It’s a technique just waiting for experimentation.

While you may not have sodium alginate hanging around your pantry, El Bulli’s own potions can be ordered online, bringing culinary alchemy to your very own kitchen. From there, the only limit is your imagination. Happy gelling!


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