Video: Centrifuged Pea Butter and corn Water

Pea butter is one of the primary reasons I was compelled to put a laboratory centrifuge in my house.  It is an iridescent, velvety substance produced in miniscule quantities by spinning peas at high G-forces.  It’s also one of the most vivid flavors I’ve ever tasted, and I needed to make it at home.

The existence of pea butter was unearthed by the Modernist Cuisine team, using a centrifuge the size of a washing machine.  My cooking compadre, Jethro, was the first kid on the block with a home-sized centrifuge (if you’re single, or have a basement) and did a great write-up on his pea butter experience back in February.  Jethro whipped frozen peas into a powder, then centrifuged them for 5 hours.  Contrary to his technique, I found that I was able to extract roughly the same yield of pea butter by blending thawed peas into a liquid and spinning it for 3 hours.  I believe the reason is due to Brownian Motion (see the explanation on the eGullet Centrifuges thread). 

I also decided to try the same technique with corn.  Corn and peas are both wet and chewy, they both contain starch, and they’re both really sweet.  After 3 hours of spinning at 1500Gs, I couldn’t detect a corn “butter”, per se, but I did get a thick, milky corn liquid that was extremely flavorful and rife for culinary applications.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be hunting for ways to use these centrifuged components.  Check back for recipes that will spin you right-round.

Centrifuge Showdown: Your Favorite Bottled Products at 3,000 RPMs

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Have you ever wondered what happens when you subject shelf-stable emulsions from your local grocery store to 3,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity using a centrifuge?  Yeah, me too! 

I chose three different types of emulsions: mayonnaise, salad dressing, and canned soup.  [I also tested spaghetti sauce, but one of the test vials exploded mid-‘fuge, so the results were inconclusive].  For each emulsion, I centrifuged two popular brands to note their differences in separation after an hour at 3,000 RPMs (equivalent to 3,000 Gs in my centrifuge).  It is important to note that an emulsion that separates under these conditions does not indicate a better or worse product, simply a stronger or weaker emulsion.  The goal of this experiment was not to determine which brand you should buy.  The goal of this experiment was to spin a bunch of shit at extremely high G-forces and see what happened. 

The results:

  1. Best Foods Real Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise, as it turns out, is a pretty strong emulsion.  This brand showed a slight separation visible at the bottom of the vial, but more or less held together.  If I spun it for longer, I wonder if I would have ended up with a layer of egg and a layer of oil…
  2. Miracle Whip – This was the strongest emulsion I tested, showing no signs of separation whatsoever.  I personally can’t stand the stuff, but for those of you who are fans of this mayo alternative, rest assured that it is highly acceleration-resistant.
  3. Kroger Zesty Italian Dressing – If you’ve ever made an oil and vinegar salad dressing at home, you know it’s naturally prone to separation.  This brand separated easily leaving perfectly clear oil at the top, vinegar in the middle and solids at the bottom.  +1 for “just like mom makes”, especially if your mom makes it from a bottle.
  4. Kraft Free Zesty Italian Dressing – I chose this product because, on the shelf, the emulsion looked extremely stable – all of the solids were held in suspension, which was likely for marketing reasons.  Although all of the solids separated out, the liquid phase didn’t clarify at all.  It seems the people at Kraft have found a way to make oil, water and vinegar extremely fond of one another.
  5. Kroger Chunky New England Style Clam Chowder – I expected that the chunky solids would wind up compressed at the bottom of the vial, but I was surprised to discover that the soupy part of the soup held intact.  I guess Chef Kroger (cough, cough) must have been very careful with his roux when he made this particular can of soup.
  6. Campbell’s Select Harvest 98% Fat Free New England Clam Chowder – As you can see, there was some significant separation in this sample.  My guess is the light-colored top layer of thin, watery liquid has something to do with the low fat claims on the label – diluting soup with water would certainly be an easier way to make it “healthier”. 

As I said earlier, this experiment was more about messing around than testing a hypothesis.  Speaking of messing around, what substances would you like me to try spinning?  The centrifuge is still my newest toy, and like all toys, I’m eager to fill it with unusual liquids. 

3 Laboratory Devices that will Appear in Your Kitchen by 2020

I think we can agree that by now we all expected to fly around in jetpacks and watch porn through a plug in our skull.  Unfortunately, those technologies have not yet become commercial, so we’ll have to make due until modern science can sort out its priorities. 

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little prediction.  By the year 2020, you’ll be able to purchase the following items anywhere that also carries a George Foreman Grill.  These devices are way out there now – only the most adventurous (and well funded) chefs are using them, but they’re headed to a kitchen near you… along with those jetpacks.

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What the hell is it?
A centrifuge.

What does it do?
It spins little vials of liquid around really, really fast. 

What say the white lab coats?
Centrifuges are used for separating out the parts of a liquid by density.  Your doctor probably uses one to separate your blood cells from plasma to, um, look at them and stuff. 

You put food in that thing?
Although centrifuges have already been used for years in industrial food processing (separating cream from milk, separating sugar crystals from their mother liquor), they’re just now starting to appear in the geekiest restaurant kitchens.  Chefs use centrifuges to clarify stocks, sauces and even lime juice.  Even the finest mesh strainer is no match for the separating power of the sedimentation principle, so the next time you’re making consommé consider your centrifuge instead of your chinoise. 

1

What the hell is it?
A rotary evaporator.

What does it do?
It extracts solvents from substances.  Kind of like a moonshine still, but designed by robots from the future.

What say the white lab coats?
By creating a vacuum inside the glass chamber, the rotary evaporator reduces the boiling point of a compound liquid.  Then, through gentle heating and turning, solvents dissolved in the liquid are evaporated and removed.

You put food in that thing?
Imagine being able to extract the essential flavor from just about anything into a highly-concentrated liquid.  Sure, you can go buy mint extract or even rosemary extract (if you know where to look), but what about the essential oil of bacon or saffron?  Chicago’s famed Alinea restaurant has been using rotovaps to distill the essential oils from herbs, and even chiles – all flavor, no heat.  So, when you’re baking cookies and the recipe calls for vanilla extract, don’t turn to the plastic vial from the grocery store; make your own!

XL_triaditemWhat the hell is it?
It’s a freeze dryer.

What does it do?
It freeze dries, R-tard.

What say the white lab coats?
Freeze drying has all the benefits of freezing, but without those nasty ice crystals.  The freeze dryer freezes the materials inside, then creates a vacuum and adds just enough heat so that the water frozen inside the materials converts directly to gas and escapes.

You put food in that thing?
It may not surprise you to hear that freeze dryers are used for culinary applications.  After all, this was the space-age piece of technology that brought us Astronaut Ice Cream.  But it’s not all about infinite shelf lives and lightweight transportation.  Ferran Adrià, often called the best chef in the world, has been freeze drying slices of fruit at his restaurant El Bulli.  10 years from now, when you want to make apple chips and jerky, you won’t be reaching for the dehydrator – you’ll be freeze drying!