Photography by Hep Svadja

Molecular gastronomy — also known as multi-sensory cooking, modernist cuisine, culinary physics, and experimental cuisine — has led to many innovative dining experiences.

This study of the chemical transformation of the tastes and textures of food through cooking has a chef-centric approach instead of a science-centric approach, which makes it more useful to the everyday cook. Understanding even the basic interactions between common ingredients can lead to more consistent and successful cooking.

One recently popular process is spherification, which creates small gel spheres resembling caviar that pop with flavor when eaten.

Traditional spherification uses sodium alginate and calcium to create delicate molecular droplets, but in this project we will employ a much simpler technique using agar and cooled oil. You can imagine agar like gelatin, which is liquid at high temperatures but solidifies when cooled. We take advantage of this property by dripping the hot mixture into cold oil so that it forms a gelatinous sphere as it rapidly cools. These “caviar” can then be added in place of a traditional splash of balsamic for a fun textural treat!

Balsamic Caviar

Figure A

1. Pour the olive oil into a tall glass and place the glass into the freezer for about 30 minutes (Figure A).

Figure B

2. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and sprinkle with agar (Figures B and C). Whisk constantly and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the mixture from the heat and skim to remove any impurities.

Figure C

3. When the temperature drops to between 120°F and 130°F (Figure D), fill a syringe with the agar solution and carefully drip one drop at a time into the cold oil (Figure E). The syringe should be high enough that the drops sink into the oil, but not so high that they split into smaller droplets. The spheres can be stored in the oil in the refrigerator until they are ready to be served.

Figure D

Figure E


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Dice the red onion and place it into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and let sit for at least 15 minutes.

3. Slice the baguette diagonally. Place the slices onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Bake until toasted, approximately 20 minutes.

4. Dice the tomatoes and mince the garlic. Mix both into the bowl of red onions.

5. Remove the toasted bread from the oven and place a slice of mozzarella on each.

6. Arrange two large basil leaves on each mozzarella slice and top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture.

7. Gently scoop the balsamic caviar from the oil and spoon it onto the tomato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

More Molecular Gastronomy

Cream whippers can be exploited for many other culinary creations, such as rapid flavor infusions and marinades, in a method called nitrogen cavitation.

How it Works

Nitrogen cavitation homogenizes cells and tissues using rapid decompression of gases. Add nitrous oxide gas (N₂O) to your ingredients in the cream whipper and release the pressure rapidly, causing nitrogen bubbles to form within the cells and expand, breaking the cell walls. This releases flavor compounds quickly, allowing them to easily dissolve in solution and permeate other ingredients. It even tenderizes meats.

The possibilities are really endless, but check out this project for some recipe suggestions.