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Beyond the obvious: baking powder/baking soda/gelatin/yeast:

  • What food additives or chemical products do you use in your home cooking? Agar agar? Lecithin? Xanthan gum?
  • What would a relatively experienced cook who is a complete novice with molecular gastronomy want to have in their starter kit. Where would he/she get said starter kit?
  • What would be a good first application?
  • Or your favorite trick?
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When asking users to contribute a list of answers the question should be marked community wiki. –  hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 6:16
    
I'll take that bounty now. ;o) –  yossarian Aug 19 '10 at 14:10
    
@Yossarian Now, now be patient. Good answer, though. I think I have 7 days, but I won't just wait for no reason. –  Ocaasi Aug 19 '10 at 14:23
    
all in jest, my friend. I love this very geeky portion of cooking though, so I'm always happy to share. I didn't include it in my answer because it doesn't really address the question, but Sous Vide is my favorite part of "new" cooking. Unfortunately, the price tag is a significant barrier to entry. However, you could try the beer cooler method with fish / shellfish for some fabulous results. –  yossarian Aug 19 '10 at 14:34

9 Answers 9

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+100

This one is easy. What you want is the Texturas Experimental Kit. It's a series of chemicals / ingredients from El Bulli's line of stuff. It includes all you need to experiment with spherification, gels, emulsions, suspensions, "pop rocks", and the rest of molecular gastronomy. Best of all, it's only $32!!! Definitely the way to get started.

You will also need a .01g digital scale. These are about $12-20 on Amazon. You'll be using such small quantities of material (1/10ths of g) that nothing else will work. Eyeballing it, as we initially tried, doesn't work very well and is incredibly frustrating.

You will also need an eye dropper if you want to try spherification. That's the easiest way to do it. You can also use a Parmesan shaker to create large numbers of spheres quickly. Turn it upside down, the surface tension will keep the liquid in. Then tap it over your calcium bath to get a series of drops.

Spherification is a cool trick and really wows people. Some of the gelling agents can make gel that melts at fairly high temperatures, so you can make warm gels. I like making suspended drinks, so that you can "float" objects through out it. It gets the texture of a frozen drink, but without all the ice. Sangria works great for that, it's also a great double whammy to suspend spheres in it (mint spheres in a mojito for instance).

While the Texturas kit comes with a couple of sample recipes, THE definitive collection of molecular gastronomy recipes at the moment is available from Khymos. Best of all, it's free.

Total cost to get started? Under $50.

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So I started looking at the other items that the company selling the 'starter kit' had ... and I'm both intrigued and scared of something called 'meat glue' : amazon.com/Meat-Glue-Activa-Transglutaminase-2-2/dp/B00281S7EU –  Joe Aug 19 '10 at 14:24
    
@Joe, transglutaminase is quite common in industrial food preparation. It's used regularly for chicken nuggets, sausage, bologna, etc. The science-y chefs use it to make some crazy stuff though. Wylie Dufresne uses it to make meat "pasta" as it holds the noodles together. My Thomas Keller Sous Vide book (Under Pressure) cuts a chicken leg in half and debones it, makes a chicken mousse, stuffs leg with mousse, and uses the meat glue to put it back together to look like a leg again. I think in the home kitchen, these tricks of presentation are the main use for it. –  yossarian Aug 19 '10 at 14:42
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I've also heard scary stories about needing to wear a mask while working with it, as it can bond your lungs if inhaled. This seems to be untrue and just internet scare tactic / misinformation, but the mere thought is enough to steer me clear of it. –  yossarian Aug 19 '10 at 14:44
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A great trick for spherification: Doing the dropped method of spherification, I've found that you only need 10-15 seconds to get the caviar consistency. It can be hard to get fish the spheres out within that time. Put a sieve, cheese cloth, or finely slotted spoon in to the calcium bath, and then drop in your alginate solution. Once you've hit your time, lift your spoon / sieve / cloth out of the bath and put it in the water. This makes it really easy to get your time down and get the required amount of setting time. –  yossarian Aug 19 '10 at 15:02
    
No meat glue really can cause big time problems with breathing if you are in a poorly ventilated area (hello - nyc kitchen!). That's why I have no desire to eat that stuff, but it is pretty cool. Wylie did "sheets" of oysters that he could roll out and cut - wild. –  Avery Wittkamp Aug 21 '10 at 1:17

Salt. ;-)

It helps preserve foods, slows down bacteria, enhances flavor, and controls yeast.

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True. But where can I find some? I don't work near a laboratory or an ocean, you know. –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 2:55
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Never fear, you can harvest some from your local athletes. training-conditioning.com/2007/08/salt_in_their_sweat.html –  Tim Gilbert Aug 5 '10 at 3:14
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Another good idea, if your kitchen can accommodate two-a-day football practices. –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 7:35

I have (and have used at various times), agar agar (powder, flakes are evil), xanthan gum, Ultratex-3, lecithin, tapioca maltodextrin, sodium alginate. Any of these are relatively easy to get started with if you just want to have some fun. This clarification technique using agar agar is particularly enjoyable and low-stress. Let's you make perfectly clear juices like tomato or lime with intense flavors.

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Where'd you get the supplies, or look for recipies? –  Ocaasi Aug 5 '10 at 7:37

Citric acid crystals are good for sharpening up overly sweet things and also to clarify liquids. I used them in elderflower cordial this summer. You have to buy it from chemists though, apparently it's used to cut with heroin so it can be tricky to get hold of!!

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wtf, why do the drug dealers have to ruin everything? –  hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 21:56
    
I've seen it sold at a few pharmacies (US), and online home brewing suppliers. Also seems to be everywhere on Amazon... quite cheap too :) –  Kryptic Aug 5 '10 at 23:30
    
May not be crystals, but you can get citric acid from lots of homebrew stores and homebrew places online: vinomaker.com/additives.html –  justkt Aug 19 '10 at 13:28

I'm not sure which count as "obvious." Ok, salt is obvious -- but what about pectin and paraffin. We use pectin when canning and paraffin when making Christmas cookies. Also, do weird sauces, like liquid smoke, count? We use liquid smoke when making barbecue sauce and salsa.

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For purposes of this question, I'll leave obvious as the ones I listed in the introduction. I think pectin and paraffin are both interesting, although they are 'traditional' additives as opposed to newfangled "chemical" ones. Both are good information to have. Sure, liquid smoke counts, although it's technically more of an 'ingredient' than an 'additive', since it's literally just smoke-flavored liquid. –  Ocaasi Aug 20 '10 at 3:22
    
@Ocaasi: you pretty much pegged my thoughts exactly but I figured it was worth throwing out there. –  Dinah Aug 20 '10 at 21:11

These websites are pretty cool. I recommend checking them out even if you don't want to buy anything. A great source that offers various chemical packages and recipes online (these can be hard to find):

http://www.willpowder.com/

I know a lot of pro pastry chefs that order from Will Goldfarb (formerly of Room 4 Dessert). Lots of information on the web page about molecular gastronomy (also try searching his name online.

For good measure, his other business of hard to find wares that are priceless if you want to try these things out but need tools:

http://www.willequipped.com/index.html

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Bragg's liquid amino makes a terrific addition for savory dishes (it still has sodium in it, but it can often take the place of most of the salt you'd otherwise use). Of course there is a legal disclaimer, but i know of many people who recommend it for both preserving foods as well as digestive issues.

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I forgot about Bragg's; that's good one from the health-food side –  Ocaasi Aug 19 '10 at 15:11
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its great for things with beef broth, or as a sub for soy sauce, Worcestershire, etc; good even in Bloody Marys (we have vegan friends and W sauce isnt vegan)! –  mfg Aug 19 '10 at 20:55

Smoke. preferably from fresh wood, some use bushes, others use pinecones and such. Find it where you find live trees, forrests should have some.

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It even comes in liquid form! –  justkt Aug 19 '10 at 13:29

Only additives or chemicals (broad terms) I use are whatever the food companies include in the ingredients I buy.

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