Modernist cooks sometimes call these little beads of gelatin “caviar” because they look like clumps of fish eggs, but you can make them any flavor you like. Fruit juice, herbal tea, almond milk, root beer — try different liquids and think up ways to use them in gel dot form. For best results, be sure to chill a jar of oil before you start. (See the directions below.) You’ll also need a food-grade squeeze bottle and a strainer.
- 2-3 cups vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons (20ml) powdered unflavored gelatin (or two 1/4 oz. packages)
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) cold water
- 3 fluid ounces (ml) juice or other liquid
Fill a tall wide-mouth jar or drinking glass with oil, leaving some space at the top. Cover the jar and chill the oil in the refrigerator overnight or in the freezer for an hour.
In a medium bowl, stir the gelatin into the cold water until it is smooth. Let the mixture stand and solidify.
Meanwhile, in a small microwave safe container, heat the juice on high for 25 seconds until it is hot but not boiling. Heat again for 5-10 seconds if necessary. Carefully pour the hot juice over the set gelatin mixture. Break up the gel with the spoon and stir until the gelatin is completely melted. Let it cool for several minutes until it is warm but not scalding hot..
While you’re waiting, prepare a bowl of ice water to keep the jar of oil cold when you take it out of the refrigerator. You can also practice using the squeeze bottle with a little water so that only a drop or two comes out at a time.
Time to make the dots! Pour the warm gelatin into the squeeze bottle. Put the jar of chilled oil in the bowl of ice water and remove the lid. Slowly let three or four drops of gelatin flow out of the bottle into the oil, one of top of the other. The drops should stick together to form a ball and begin to sink to the bottom of the oil. Don’t make the dots too big, or they will flatten when they hit the bottom of the bottle. It may take you a few tries to get them just right.
Continue making little gel spheres until you run out of the gelatin mixture. Do them all at once, because after a while the gel will start to harden in the bottle. (If that happens, rinse out the bottle using hot water, mix up another batch of gelatin, and start again. Make sure there is no gelatin stuck in the nozzle.)
As the oil jar fills up, use a spoon to scoop out the dots. Transfer them to a strainer to drain. To serve the dots right away, rinse off the last bit of oil with cold water. To store the dots for later, place them in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Cover them with a little more oil if needed to keep them fresh, and rinse them right before using.
Serve the dots as a salad garnish or an ice cream topping, or plop them into a glass of soda and watch them bob up and down with the bubbles.
Variation: Amaze your friends with a little science trick! Make some grape juice dots and put half of them into a glass of water mixed with a teaspoon of baking soda. Slip the other half into some lemonade or lemon-lime soda. After a little while the baking soda dots will turn deep blue, and the lemony dots will become reddish. That’s because of a chemical reaction between a substance found in grapes that changes color when it comes into contact with acid (from lemon juice) or bases (like baking soda). Try switching some of the dots to the opposite glass to see how long it takes for them to reverse colors. Science!
[Warning] Chemical Enemies
Although you can experiment with any kind of flavoring or ingredient in modern cuisine, avoid using pineapple and gelatin together. The pineapple has certain chemical enzymes that will break down the molecular bonds holding the gelatin together and turn it into runny goop. If you’re curious, try it yourself: take a bowl of gelatin, add some pineapple, and watch it dissolve. Chemistry in action!