While chemistry is present in so much of patisserie, it takes on an especially important role when using thickening and gelling agents.
Best known for their uses in “molecular” cuisine, each of these agents have unique properties that, when used properly, deliver interesting, unusual and exacting results.
Most gelling and thickening agents are hydrocolloids, and include:
- Agar Agar
- Sodium Alginate
- Xanthan Gum
- Guar and Locust Bean Gums
- Gum Arabicand Tragacanth
A notable, non-hydrocolloid with thickening properties is Lecithin, which is often used to add elasticity to flour-based dough and to stabilize foams.
Starches are also often used to thicken. They include:
- Root (e.g., potato, arrowroot, tapioca)
With the exception of instant varieties, all starches must be cooked to activate them. If they are undercooked, they tend to be too thin, gritty, and are prone to weeping; overcooked, again they tend to be too thin and are stringy and extremely clear.
As I’ve indicated previously, chemistry isn’t my strongest suit. And I remain undecided about “molecular gastronomy.” Nevertheless, having the chance to play with these products and witness their seemingly impossible results has been a treat.