Texturizer Spotlight: Methylcellulose

18 Jun

“We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character”

-Thoreau

 

Today was a great day at Alicia. Not only did I get a lot of work done, but I also got to make some fantastic recipes. While most recipes I have encountered thus far in my work have been incredibly interesting, I must say that today was something special. Why? Methylcellulose.

Methylcellulose is a complex carbohydrate that is extracted from the cell walls of superior plants. For many years, it was used as a texturizer in large-scale industry, and only relatively recently has it made its way into high-end cuisine (For instance, The Fat Duck, a Michelin-star restaurant in England, is well-known for using this product in the famed “hot ice cream”). Generally, methylcellulose is used as a gelling agent, but unlike most other gelling agents, methylcellulose solidifies when hot and melts when cold. In other words, has the opposite property of most other gelling agents.

Until today, I worked with other gelling agents, such as kappa, iota, gelatin, agar-agar and gellan elastic gum (most of these are either extracted from algae or are byproducts of carbohydrate fermentation by prokaryotes). The cooking processes for all these gelling agents are very similar: add the gelling agent to your working solution at room temperature, bring to a boil, and cool down immediately. For methylcellulose, however, this process is – quite intuitively – different. When using methylcellulose, you add the methylcellulose (powder) to your working solution and then cool it down to below 5 degrees Celsius in order to allow the jellification process to start through hydration. When your solution has reached a temperature below 5 degrees Celsius, you heat it up to between 50 and 70 degrees Celsius, at which it solidifies and becomes a gel.

A gel that solidifies at high temperatures and melts at low temperatures sounds too good to be true, as it opens up many new culinary territories for exploration. At first, I had a hard time grasping the potential beauty of such a texturizer actually, but after seeing it with my own eyes, I was sold. Today, I made two recipes. Using methylcellulose as glue, I made “veggie burgers” from only garden-fresh vegetables (the methylcellulose worked as glue that made the vegetables stick together when heated in the pan. When these burgers cooled down, the adhesion was lost). The coolest recipe by far, though, was the “hot cream flan” – a highly unique take on a traditional flan. Instead of eggs, this flan recipe used methylcellulose to bind the ingredients together. While the recipe was incredibly simple – basically only methylcellulose and whipped cream – the result was stunning.

In fact, the texture-and taste sensation that followed is difficult to describe in words. Basically, the experience was dominated a hot and smooth, yet fairly solid, whipped cream texture that slowly but steadily melted on your tongue, filling your mouth with the invincible goodness of cream and vanilla.

After some brainstorming, I and two coworkers decided to take this already great sensation to a whole new level. And indeed, by adding fresh rosemary, local rosemary flower honey, toasted pine nuts, and wild strawberries, we managed to concoct a dish equally pleasing for all senses.

The result?

A journey through multiple dimensions.

First, the protagonist, the main actor: slightly gellified, vanilla-flavored hot cream. Then, a polarizing companion:   toasted pine nuts adding crunch, contrasting the softness of the ingredient in the spotlight.  Suddenly, a juxtaposition, a dichotomy. The fresh, tangy, wild strawberries enter the scene, twisting the reality that you so pleasantly enjoyed. The juicy berries explode as you take a bite, and it seems as if there is no return to where you once were. Behold; do not be overwhelmed, help is not afar. Sweet, smooth honey starts bringing you back to the starting point. But you never fully return, because amid all this confusion, something new has appeared, and it sticks with you on the entire journey. Its name is rosemary. Even though it is a distinct new actor in this game, it calms you. As time passes, you become habituated. Suddenly, you realize that you have completed the cycle of texture and flavor.

The adventure ends just as well as it started.

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A small creation: hot cream flan with rosemary honey, toasted pine nuts, and wild strawberries.

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veggie “burgers” made from asparagus, carrots, peppers.

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One Response to “Texturizer Spotlight: Methylcellulose”

  1. MM June 19, 2012 at 9:03 AM #

    Sounds fantastic. My associations say it feels science fictipn.

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