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From Material Science to Avant-Garde Cuisine. The Art of Shaping Liquids into Spheres

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posted on 2014-10-09, 00:00 authored by Haohao Fu, Yingzhe Liu, Ferran Adrià, Xueguang Shao, Wensheng Cai, Christophe Chipot
Employing avant-garde cuisine techniques, in particular sodium alginates, liquid food can be shaped into spheres, thereby conferring to the former original and sometimes unexpected forms and textures. To achieve this result, rational understanding of the science that underlies food physical chemistry is of paramount importance. In this contribution, the process of spherification is dissected for the first time at the atomic level by means of classical molecular dynamics simulations. Our results show that a thin membrane consisting of intertwined alginate chains forms in an aqueous solution containing calcium ions, thereby encapsulating in a sphere the aliment in its liquid state. They also show why the polysaccharide chains will not cohere into such a membrane in a solution of sodium ions. Analysis of the trajectories reveals the emergence of so-called egg-box spatial arrangements, which connect the alginate chains by means of repeated chelation of one calcium ion by two carboxylate groups. Free-energy calculations delineating the formation of these egg-box structures further illuminate the remarkable stability of such tridimensional organizations, which ensures at room temperature the spontaneous growth of the polysaccharide membrane. Spherification has been also examined for liquid aliments of different nature, modeled by charged, hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds. The membrane-encapsulated food is shaped into robust and durable spheres, irrespective of the liquid core material. By reconciling the views of spherification at small and large scales, the present study lays the groundwork for the rational design of innovative cooking techniques relevant to avant-garde cuisine.