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I had a nice bowl of clear yellow chicken broth which was not salted. It was in a serving bowl when this happened. I poured the cold unsalted soup into the bowl and then microwaved it and it came out clear still. To make it more palatable, I added a small spoonful of salt and the below happened. It only became frothy after I added the salt. It was much 'foamier' when I first added the salt, then it slowly subsided.

What is causing this?

Foamy yellow broth in a bowl

  • Hmm, interesting. Was it on the heat or in a serving bowl when it happened? – rumtscho Mar 8 '15 at 21:53
  • It was in a serving bowl when this happened. I poured the cold unsalted soup into the bowl and then microwaved it, but the it came out clear still. It only became frothy after I added the salt. – Trogdor Mar 9 '15 at 0:24
  • Hm. How hot was the broth when you took it out? Just quite warm or (near) boiling? – Stephie May 7 '15 at 9:21
  • It was fresh from the microwave so probably 50-60 degrees C – Trogdor May 7 '15 at 9:27
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    See my edit @user110084 :) – Catija May 16 '17 at 22:26
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There are likely two or three things happening.

When clear liquids come out of a microwave, it is quite common for it to froth as soon as you put something into it. A spoon, or crystals of salt or sugar forms nucleation sites for over-energised water molecules to make vapour bubbles. Water forms vapour at any temperature, not just at its boiling point.

In conventional heating, convection starts from the layer closest to the heated bottom of the pan and the hottest liquid always rises to the surface and there is plenty of movements in the liquid body. In a microwave energy goes into the water molecules directly and the container is heated by the energiesed liquid, the opposite of conventional heating. There is very little time for convection currents to develop. Molecules within the body of the liquid that are excited may not find sites to form vapour and become locally superheated. Vapour pressure above the liquid may be actually less than what it should be at that temperature until the body is disturbed. Lots of tiny vapour bubbles are released when disturbed. They look foamy until they escape from the liquid. This is the most likely cause.

Salting out of proteins could be another cause, though probably less likely. You would probably see a layer of scum on the surface that would not disappear.

Emulsion breaking. Heating and addition of salt will encourage any emulsion to split. From your picture, there is plenty of oil around. There could have been some oil droplets suspended in the water phase of the soup. These could clump together at the start of emulsion breaking giving a cloudy appearance before floating to the top as a continuous layer. Not likely either.

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