Scientific Principles and Techniques Used in Modern Pastry

4 Molecular Gastronomy Techniques That May Be Used in the Pastry Shop

Non-traditional thickeners

In addition to traditional starches, there are new ways to thicken sauces and to change the texture of liquids. Some of these thickening agents work without heating and are simply blended with the cold liquid, such as modified starch or xanthan gum. These allow the creation of sauces and other liquids with a fresh, uncooked taste.

Foams, froths, and bubbles

Liquids can be stabilized with gelatin, lecithin, and other ingredients, and then used to create foams by whipping or using a special dispenser charged with nitrogen gas. A well-made foam adds an additional flavour dimension to the dish without adding bulk, and an interesting texture as the foam dissolves in the mouth (Figure 1).

A dessert with a foamy topping
Figure 1.


Espuma is the Spanish term for froth or foam, and it is created with the use of a siphon (ISO) bottle. This is a specific term, since culinary foams may be attained through other means.

Espuma from a siphon creates foam without the use of an emulsifying agent such as egg. As a result, it offers an unadulterated flavour of the ingredients used. It also introduces much more air into a preparation compared to other culinary aerating processes.

Espuma is created mainly with liquid that has air incorporated in it to create froth. But solid ingredients can be used too; these can be liquefied by cooking, puréeing, and extracting natural juices. It should be noted, though, that the best flavours to work with are those that are naturally diluted. Otherwise, the espuma tends to lose its flavour as air is introduced into it.

Stabilizers may be used alongside the liquids to help retain their shape longer; however, this is not always necessary. Prepared liquids can also be stored in a siphon bottle and kept for use. The pressure from the bottle will push out the aerated liquid, producing the espuma.


Foam is created by trapping air within a solid or liquid substance. Although culinary foams are most recently associated with molecular gastronomy, they are part of many culinary preparations that date back to even earlier times. Mousse, soufflé, whipped cream, and froth in cappuccino are just some examples of common foams. Common examples of “set” foams are bread, pancakes, and muffins.

Foam does not rely on pressure to encase air bubbles into a substance. Like espuma, foam may also be created with the help of a surfactant and gelling or thickening agents to help it hold shape. The production of a culinary foam starts with a liquid or a solid that has been puréed. The thickening or gelling agent is then diluted into this to form a solution. Once dissolved, the solution is whipped to introduce air into it.

The process of whipping is done until the foam has reached the desired stiffness. Note that certain ingredients may break down if they are whipped for too long, especially without the presence of a stabilizing agent.


Turning a liquid, such as a vegetable juice or raspberry purée, into a solid not only gives it a different texture but also allows the food to be cut into many shapes, enabling different visual presentations (Figure 2). Regular gelatin can be used as well as other gelling agents, such as agar agar, which is derived from red algae.

A dessert with a jelly-like consistency
Figure 2.

Brittle gels

Gelling agents are often associated with jelly-like textures, which may range from soft to firm. However, certain gels produced by specific agents may not fit this description.

Rather than forming an elastic or pliable substance, brittle gels may also be formed. These are gels that are firm in nature yet fragile at the same time. This characteristic is caused by the formation of a gel network that is weak and susceptible to breaking. This property allows brittle gels to crumble in the mouth and create a melt-in-the-mouth feeling. As a result, new sensations and textures are experienced while dining. At the same time, tastes within a dish are also enhanced due to the flavour release caused by the gel breakdown.

Brittle gels are made by diluting the gelling agent into a liquid substance such as water, milk, or a stock. This mixture is left to set to attain a gelled end product. It should be noted that the concentration of gelling agents used, as well as the amount of liquid, both affect gelation.

Agar agar is a common agent used to create brittle gels. However, when combined with sugar it tends to create a more elastic substance. Low-acyl gellan gum, locust bean gum, and carrageenan also create brittle gels.

Fluid gels

A fluid gel is a cross between a sauce, gel, and purée. It is a controlled liquid that has properties of all three preparations. A fluid gel displays viscosity and fluidity at the same time, being thick yet still spreadable.

Fluid gels behave as solids when undisturbed, and flow when exposed to sufficient agitation. They are used in many culinary dishes where fluids need to be controlled, and they provide a rich, creamy texture.

A fluid gel is created using a base liquid that can come from many different sources. The base liquid is commonly extracted from fruits and vegetables, taken from stocks, or even puréed from certain ingredients. The longer the substance is exposed to stress, and the more intense the outside stress, the more fluidity is gained. More fluidity causes a finer consistency in the gel.

Fluid gels can be served either hot or cold, as many of the gelling agents used for such preparations are stable at high temperatures.

Drying and powdering

Drying a food intensifies its flavour and, of course, changes its texture. Eating a piece of apple that has been cooked and then dehydrated until crisp is very different from eating a fresh fruit slice. If the dehydrated food is powdered, it becomes yet another flavour and texture experience.

When maltodextrin (or tapioca maltodextrin) is mixed with fat, it changes to a powder. Because maltodextrin dissolves in water, peanut butter (or olive oil) that has been changed to a powder changes back to an oil in the mouth.


In molecular gastronomy, liquid nitrogen is often used to freeze products or to create a frozen item without the use of a freezer.

Liquid nitrogen is the element nitrogen in a liquefied state. It is a clear, colourless liquid with a temperature of -196°C (-321°F). It is classified as a cryogenic fluid, which causes rapid freezing when it comes into contact with living tissues.

The extremely cold temperatures provided by this liquefied gas are most often used in modern cuisine to produce frozen foams and ice cream. After freezing food, nitrogen boils away, creating a thick nitrogen fog that may also add to the aesthetic features of a dish.

Given the extreme temperature of liquid nitrogen, it must be handled with care. Mishandling may cause serious burns to the skin. Nitrogen must be stored in special flasks and handled only by trained people. Aprons, gloves, and other specially designed safety gear should be used when handling liquid nitrogen.

Used mainly in the form of a coolant for molecular gastronomy, liquid nitrogen is not ingested. It is poured directly onto the food that needs to be cooled, causing it to freeze. Any remaining nitrogen evaporates, although sufficient time must be provided to allow the liquefied gas to be eliminated and for the dish to warm up to the point that it will not cause damage during consumption.


Spherification is a modern cuisine technique that involves creating semi-solid spheres with thin membranes out of liquids. Spheres can be made in various sizes and of various firmnesses, such as the “caviar” shown in Figure 3. The result is a burst-in-the-mouth effect, achieved with the liquid. Both flavour and texture are enhanced with this culinary technique.

There are two versions of the spherification process: direct and reverse.

In direct spherification, a flavoured liquid (containing either sodium alginate, gellan gum, or carrageenan) is dripped into a water bath that is mixed with calcium (either calcium chloride or calcium lactate). The outer layer is induced by calcium to form a thin gel layer, leaving a liquid centre. In this version, the spheres are easily breakable and should be consumed immediately.

Calcium chloride and sodium alginate are the two basic components used for this technique. Calcium chloride is a type of salt used in cheese making, and sodium alginate is taken from seaweed. The sodium alginate is used to gel the chosen liquid by dissolving it directly into the fluid. This causes the liquid to become sticky, and proper dissolving must be done by mixing. The liquid is then left to set to eliminate any bubbles.

Once ready, a bath is prepared with calcium chloride and water. The liquid is then dripped into the bath using a spoon or syringe depending on the desired sphere size. The gel forms a membrane encasing the liquid when it comes into contact with the calcium chloride. Once set, the spheres are then removed and rinsed with water to remove any excess calcium chloride.

In reverse spherification, a calcium-containing liquid (or ingredients mixed with a soluble calcium salt) is dripped into a setting bath containing sodium alginate. Surface tension causes the drop to become spherical. A skin of calcium alginate immediately forms around the top. Unlike in the direct version, the gelling stops and does not continue into the liquid orb. This results in thicker shells so the products do not have to be consumed immediately.

White chocolate spaghetti with raspberry sauce and chocolate martini caviar
Figure 3.

Videos on spherification:

Direct spherification video: Molecular Gastronomy: Basic Spherification to Make Caviar

Reverse: Molecular Gastronomy: Reverse Spherification to Make Spheres with Liquid Inside

Specialty ingredients used in molecular gastronomy

There are a number of different ingredients used in molecular gastronomy as gelling, thickening, or emulsifying agents. Many of these are available in specialty food stores or can be ordered online.


Another name for sodium alginate, algin is a natural gelling agent taken from the cell walls of certain brown seaweed species.

Calcium chloride

Calcium chloride, also known as CaCl2, is a compound of chlorine and calcium that is a by-product of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) manufacturing. At room temperature it is a solid salt, which is easily dissolved in water.

This is very salty and is often used for preservation, pickling, cheese production, and adding taste without increasing the amount of sodium. It is also used in molecular gastronomy in the spherification technique (see above) for the production of ravioli, spheres, pearls, and caviar (Figure 3).

Calcium lactate

Calcium lactate is a calcium salt resulting from the fermentation of lactic acid and calcium. It is a white crystalline power when solid and is highly soluble in cold liquids. It is commonly used as a calcium fortifier in various food products including beverages and supplements.

Calcium lactate is also used to regulate acidity levels in cheese and baking powder, as a food thickener, and as a preservative for fresh fruits. In molecular gastronomy, it is most commonly used for basic spherification and reverse spherification due to the lack of bitterness in the finished products.

Like calcium chloride, calcium lactate is used alongside sodium alginate. In regular spherification, it is used in the bath. It is also used as a thickener in reverse spherification.

Carob bean gum

Carob bean gum is another name for locust bean gum. It is often used to stabilize, texturize, thicken, and gel liquids in the area of modern cuisine, although it has been a popular thickener and stabilizer for many years.


Carrageenan refers to any linear sulfated polysaccharide taken from the extracts of red algae. This seaweed derivative is classified mainly as iota, kappa, and lambda. It is a common ingredient in many foods.

There are a number of purposes that it serves, including binding, thickening, stabilizing, gelling, and emulsifying. Carrageenan can be found in ice cream, salad dressings, cheese, puddings, and many more foods. It is often used with dairy products because of its good interaction with milk proteins. Carrageenan also works well with other common kitchen ingredients and offers a smooth texture and taste that blends well and does not affect flavour.

More often than not, carrageenan is found in powder form, which is hydrated in liquid before being used. For best results, carrageenan powder should be sprinkled in cold liquid and blended well to dissolve, although it may also be melted directly in hot liquids.

Citric acid

Classified as a weak organic acid, citric acid is a naturally occurring preservative that can be found in citrus fruits. Produced as a result of the fermentation of sugar, it has a tart to bitter taste and is usually in powder form when sold commercially. It is used mainly as a preservative and acidulent, and it is a common food additive in a wide range of foods such as candies and soda. Other than extending shelf life by adjusting the acidity or pH of food, it can also help enhance flavours. It works especially well with other fruits, providing a fresh taste.

In modern cooking, citric acid is often used as an emulsifier to keep fats and liquids from separating. It is also a common component in spherification, where it may be used as an acid buffer.

Gellan gum

Gellan gum is a water-soluble, high-molecular-weight polysaccharide gum that is produced through the fermentation of carbohydrates in algae by the bacterium Pseudomonas elodea. This fermented carbohydrate is purified with isopropyl alcohol, then dried and milled to produce a powder.

Gellan gum is used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, and gelling agent in cooking. Aspics and terrines are only some of the dishes that use gellan. It comes in both high-acyl and low-acyl forms. High-acyl gellan gum produces a flexible elastic gel, while low-acyl gellan gum will give way to a more brittle gel.

Like many other hydrocolloids, gellan gum is used with liquids. The powder is normally dispersed in the chosen liquid to dissolve it. Once dissolved, the solution is then heated to facilitate liquid absorption and gelling by the hydrocolloid. A temperature between 85°C and 95°C (185°F and 203°F) will start the dissolution process. Gelling will begin upon cooling around 10°C and 80°C (50°F and 176°F).

Gellan gum creates a thermo-irreversible gel and can withstand high heat without reversing in form. This makes it ideal for the creation of warm gels.

Guar gum

Guar gum, or guaran, is a carbohydrate. This galactomannan is taken from the seeds of the guar plant by dehusking, milling, and screening. The end product is a pale, off-white, loose powder. It is most commonly used as a thickening agent and stabilizer for sauces and dressings in the food industry. Baked goods such as bread may also use guar gum to increase the amount of soluble fibre. At the same time, it also aids with moisture retention in bread and other baked items.

Being a derivative of a legume, guar gum is considered to be vegan and a good alternative to starches. In modern cuisine, guar gum is used for the creation of foams from acidic liquids, for fluid gels, and for stabilizing foams.

Guar gum must first be dissolved in cold liquid. The higher the percentage of guar gum used, the more viscous the liquid will become. Dosage may also vary according to the ingredients used as well as desired results and temperature.

Iota carrageenan

Iota carrageenan is a hydrocolloid taken from red seaweed (Eucheuma denticulatum). It is one of three varieties of carrageenan and is used mainly as a thickening or gelling agent.

Gels produced from iota carrageenan are soft and flexible, especially when used with calcium salts. It produces a clear gel that exhibits little syneresis. Iota is a fast-setting gel that is thermo-reversible and remains stable through freezing and thawing. In modern cuisine it is used to create hot foams as well as custards and jellies with a creamy texture.

Like most other hydrocolloids, iota carrageenan must first be dispersed and hydrated in liquid before use. Unlike lambda carrageenan, it is best dispersed in cold liquid. Once hydrated, the solution must be heated to about 70°C (158°F) with shear to facilitate dissolution. Gelling will happen between 40°C and 70°C (104°F and 158°F) depending on the number of calcium ions present.

Kappa carrageenan

Kappa carrageenan is another type of red seaweed extract taken specifically from Kappaphycus alvarezii. Like other types of carrageenan, it is used as a gelling, thickening, and stabilizing agent. When mixed with water, kappa carrageenan creates a strong and firm solid gel that may be brittle in texture.

This particular variety of carrageenan blends well with milk and other dairy products. Since it is taken from seaweed, it is considered to be vegan and is an alternative to traditional gelling agents such as gelatin.

Kappa carrageenan is used in various cooking preparations including hot and cold gels, jelly toppings, cakes, breads, and pastries. When used in molecular gastronomy preparations and other dishes, kappa carrageenan should be dissolved in cold liquid.

Once dispersed, the solution must be heated between 40°C and 70°C (104°F and 158°F). Gelling will begin between 30°C and 60°C (86°F and 140°F). Kappa carrageenan is a thermo-reversible gel and will stay stable up to 70°C (158°F). Temperatures beyond this will cause the gel to melt and become liquid once again.

Locust bean gum

Locust bean gum, also known as LBG and carob bean gum, is a vegetable gum derived from Mediterranean-region carob tree seeds. This hydrocolloid is used to stabilize, texturize, thicken, and gel liquids in modern cuisine, although it has been a popular thickener and stabilizer for many years.

It has a neutral taste that does not affect the flavour of food that it is combined with. It also provides a creamy mouth feel and has reduced syneresis when used alongside pectin or carrageenan for dairy and fruit applications. The neutral behaviour of this hydrocolloid makes it ideal for use with a wide range of ingredients.

To use locust bean gum, it must be dissolved in liquid. It is soluble with both hot and cold liquids.


Maltodextrin is a sweet polysaccharide that is produced from starch, corn, wheat, tapioca, or potato through partial hydrolysis and spray drying. This modified food starch is a white powder that has the capacity to absorb and hold water as well as oil. It is an ideal additive since it has fewer calories than sugar and is easily absorbed and digested by the body in the form of glucose.

Coming from a natural source, it ranges from nearly flavourless to fairly sweet without any odour. Maltodextrin is a common ingredient in processed foods such as soda and candies. In molecular gastronomy, it can be used both as a thickener and a stabilizer for sauces and dressings, for encapsulation, and as a sweetener. In many cases, it is also used as an aroma carrier due to its capacity to absorb oil. It is also often used to make powders or pastes out of fat.

Sodium alginate

Sodium alginate, which is also called algin, is a natural gelling agent taken from the cell walls of certain brown seaweed species. This salt is obtained by drying the seaweed, followed by cleaning, boiling, gelling, and pulverizing it. A light yellow powder is produced from the process. When dissolved in liquids, sodium alginate acts as a thickener, creating a viscous fluid. Conversely, when it is used with calcium it forms a gel through a cold process.

In molecular gastronomy, sodium alginate is most commonly used as a texturizing agent. Foams and sauces may be created with it. It is also used in spherification for the creation of pearls, raviolis, mock caviar, marbles, and spheres. Sodium alginate can be used directly by dissolving it into the liquid that needs to be gelled, as in the case of basic spherification. It may also be used inversely by adding it directly to a bath, as in the case of reverse spherification.

This versatile product is soluble in both hot and cold liquids, and gels made with it will set at any temperature.

Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin, also called just lecithin, is a natural emulsifier that comes from fatty substances found in plant tissues. It is derived from soybeans either mechanically or chemically, and is a by-product of soybean oil creation. The end product is a light brown powder that has low water solubility.

As an emulsifier, it works to blend immiscible ingredients together, such as oil and water, giving way to stable preparations. It can be whisked directly into the liquid of choice.

Soy lecithin is also used in creating foams, airs, mousses, and other aerated dishes that are long lasting and full of flavour. It is used in pastries, confections, and chocolate to enhance dough and increase moisture tolerance.

As with most ingredients, dosage and concentration for soy lecithin will depend on the ingredients used, specific properties desired in the resulting preparation, as well as other conditions.

Tapioca maltodextrin

Tapioca maltodextrin is a form of maltodextrin made from tapioca starch. It is a common ingredient in molecular gastronomy because it can be used both as a thickener and stabilizer for sauces and dressings, for encapsulation, and as a sweetener. In many cases it is also used as an aroma carrier due to its capacity to absorb oil. It is often used to make powders or pastes out of fat.

Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is a food additive used as a thickening agent. It is produced through the fermentation of glucose. As a gluten-free additive it can be used as a substitute in cooking and baking.

As a thickener, when used in low dosages, xanthan gum produces a weak gel with high viscosity that is shear reversible with a high pourability. It also displays excellent stabilizing abilities that allow for particle suspension.

Moreover, xanthan gum mixes well with other flavours without masking them and provides an improved mouth feel to preparations. The presence of bubbles within the thickened liquids often makes way for light and creamy textures. It is used in the production of emulsions, suspensions, raviolis, and foams.

Being a hydrocolloid, xanthan gum must be hydrated before use. High versatility allows it to be dissolved over a wide range of temperatures, acid, and alcohol levels. Once set, xanthan gum may lose some of its effectiveness when exposed to heat.

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Modern Pastry and Plated Dessert Techniques Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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