The Last Meal: Hawker dishes in the future (The Substation, 29-30 March 2019)

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The documentation of this project, “The Last Meal”, comes a bit late – although perhaps a little fittingly because a number of food-related ailments seemingly kept me from being able to work at my maximum potential.

Earlier this year, I was fortuitously brought together with Chef Ming (of JAM at Siri House) – by The Substation – and thus began a collaboration to reinterpret local/hawker fare into a kind of anxiety-provoking menu. A disturbingly uncanny trip up and down and around memory lane! A speculative vision of our human weakness fondness for nostalgia meets hard future utilitarian compromises! An experimental work for the palate! It was truly an pleasure and honour to be able to work with Chef Ming who took it on with so much energy and so many ideas to take it further, especially the start of the project coinciding with a period of severe fatigue for me.

I had recently sought treatment (CBT/Exposure Therapy) for what has been a lifelong affliction of emetophobia (a completely debilitating fear of vomiting) and an unreasonable aversion to acidic or vinegary foods (a difficult thing to explain at times, because it can sound absurd to preemptively tell everyone “NO VINEGAR PLZ” in the off-chance that any unknown dish might have vinegar). And I had also seen an endocrinologist to ask if there was anything to explain my ridiculously tiny appetite and aversion to cold temperatures – and was subsequently diagnosed with hypothyroidism (so said all the tests, despite me being an extremely hyper person). And finally, the biggest factor of all that had triggered this intense self-examination was: pregnancy! SHOCK! HORROR! Yes folks, the Ding and South are unexpectedly multiplying (stay tuned for a documentation of this new long-term project), and this meant that for a period of time during the first trimester I developed an strong aversion to my favourite food of all – eggs! This was very hard to live down indeed, compounding all of my food anxieties despite my attempts to deal with them head-on like an adult by following up with all these medical investigations. So all of this was in the background as we began discussions for this food project….

The starting point for our conversation had been one of my past projects from a Healthcare Workshop with the Kyoto Institute of Design x Royal College of Art, whilst I was doing my MA at Design Interactions (RCA). In a way, that workshop’s premise was already a bit like smashing two worlds together: you had that base of a historically practical and functional Japanese approach to researching and designing for elderly care (I remember our Japanese collaborator bringing to us these booklets of amazing innovative mobility aids and novel healthcare aids designed to assist in every aspect of elderly care) – meeting the provocative, parallel realities of a speculative future (as students from our Design Interactions programme used to call it, ahem, a more “DI” approach).

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Kyoto 2014: Kyoto D-lab held a Healthcare Futures Workshop centering on robotics in collaboration with the Design Interactions Course at the Royal College of Art – led by Professor Anthony Dunne and James Auger and D-lab’s Professor Julia Cassim.


Me, Calum Bowden, and Hiroko Narasaki worked on a project imagining a scenario where a robot was to prepare your “last meal”, having collected a lifetime of data of your food preferences, being able to robotically prepare the food you wanted in a texture that you could consume despite all your age-related changes in chewing and swallowing physiology. We discussed the ways in which factors such as end-of-life, food preferences, and necessary food modifications could be determined, and surveyed Japanese people on a list of foods they liked most. (Obvs this was also borne from our common interests in eating lots of good food in japan and spending a long time in supermarkets and food halls looking at all the beautiful plastic foods and gorgeous food packagings…)

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At the time we also thought that there might also be the issue where a meal is the sum of many parts and that people develop habits for eating certain foods together with others. But when we collect the data about the meal, the essential connections between unusual connections could also be broken – and odd pairings might be made. For example, in this case someone told us they loved foods such as Annin Tofu, Premium Niigata Rice, and Ashirari Decorations (to liven up the plating of her food). But in reality, no Japanese person would logically make a menu of Annin Tofu (Almond Jelly) together with Rice.

This was the starting point of the conversations we had to develop The Last Meal in Singapore, and to engage with a wider set of concerns facing the food industry in the near future (and specific to Singapore). Rather than to capture nostalgia in a perfectly rendered dish, the idea was to invoke the sense of the uncanny through subtle means. A twist of presentation, an unfamiliar texture, a physical constraint. The amount of alienation had to be right, and it was good that Ming kept us all on track by focusing on elements that would be universally recognisable by all Singaporeans.

One thing that was clear was that when we imagined someone eating these foods in a near-future post-apocalyptic bunker, the person in the bunker was very specifically us. A Singaporean, here in the present. It wasn’t a baby from the future who hadn’t had the chance to gain the lived experience of enjoying hawker food in the form that we eat right now. It wasn’t someone from a foreign country being introduced to Singaporean hawker cuisine for the first time. It wasn’t about exoticising or fetishising our nostalgia for hawker cuisine and ‘heritage foods’. It was instead about transporting a Singaporean living in the present into a distant, uncertain food future where perhaps food security was an issue; where automation and efficiency was top priority to the extent of influencing hawker practices, where alternative proteins had become widely accepted in an era of land scarcity; where steady state foods would be commonplace backups; where a rapidly aging population would seek out enzyme softened versions of favourite foods to recapture the tastes of olde…

DONT BE SAD, HAVE YOUR LAST MEAL WITH US! Tickets selling fast. Join us on 29 & 30 March for an interactive art experience with a four-course dystopian take on local hawker fare, designed specially by chef Ming Tan (@maehng), in collaboration with visual artist and technologist Debbie Ding. SAD: The Last Meal addresses Singapore's obsession with nostalgia, by looking at the alleged death of the Singaporean hawker, and the anxiety around losing a facet of heritage that this country holds so dear—our local food culture. Our 7pm slots are nearly sold out, grab your tickets for the 9pm slot at sadthelastmeal.peatix.com. Tickets are $35 per person. #thevanishing #citieschangepeopledie #subafterdark #hawkerculture #sgfood #singapore #nostalgicsg #heritagesg #nolstagicpanic

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Somehow this also needed to be rooted in reality, so we planned to shoot a series of audiovisual stimulation aids to excite (or confuse) the senses and stimulate (or deflate) the appetite. With the help of Cain and the sub team, we shot Ming in his kitchen at Siri House cooking up the originals of the dishes that were about to be reinterpreted (or as Ming likes to say, that we were about to try to knock off the pedestal…)

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Although we had recorded sound on site in the kitchen, the original sound was not usable – it held the sound of a living kitchen with food being prepared and a restaurant during service. If I had used that original sound, it would feel like you were a disembodied spectator looking into some other space when you listened to the video like that. But I wanted the cooking to sound like it was actually happening right front in front of you. LIVE SOUNDS in whatever space you were in. So the sound had to be totally manufactured from scratch….

I suppose sound design for a video to be played back in an open space is always like putting on overly-dramatic stage makeup so that the details can also be seen under harsh stage lights and from a distance. So I did make some of the sounds very extreme and almost comedic. For example, for a bouncing fish cake, I decided to use some exaggerated bouncing balloon sounds that surprisingly seemed to work. And I cut up a lot of juicy leaves (actually they were leftover strawberry tops and stems) and swished about a lot of polymorph beads and mic-ed everything up painfully closely to get the most goosebump inducing foley sound.

I was inspired by the foley sound I had heard on the documentary Fruit Hunters and a show about Chaoshan cuisine that has been on Netflix recently, Flavourful Origins. And I guess you could say I made it all in the spirit of ASMR videos.

These were to be screened in front of the audience as they ate the new reinterpretations of dishes… I am a little shy about showing the final mix in isolation online because it truly was a bit over-the-top (I also have to confess that I did some of the final edits in the controlled access machine room with two operational laser cutters and their giant extractor fans whirring noisily in the background so my working conditions were also less than ideal) but I might make a trailer mix when I have more time over the weekend.

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Some pictures behind the scenes…

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Chef Ming peeks through the curtain to see what guests we have for the night

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Chicken Rice in Kueh Form

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Chef Ron doles out the secret sauce (cucumber)

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Retextured Carrot Cake, first lovingly batch-cooked in a wok with two different varieties of chai por, then brutally blended so to allow it to be hygienically and efficiently reheated in retort pouches; all to be squeezed directly (or sucked up) into the mouths of the audiences.

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Laksa in a dried form, vacuum packed for longevity and easy long term storage.

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A special Laksa rempah coating the puffed rice, ready to be rehydrated at a moment’s notice to produce a seriously authentic tasting laksa soup.

Now that I am writing out this post I realised I forgot to take a picture of dessert – the tau huay!


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All of the production of this food was entirely undertaken by the amazing Chef Ming (and his assistant Chef Ron), who are both extremely knowledgeable and superbly skilled and inventive with the food they prepare. The actual realisation of this project completely wouldn’t have been possible without Ming’s professional and gastronomical expertise and his willingness to do something quite so daring with the food. For most chefs would rather make a pleasing menu, rather than one that draws gasps of shock from an audience; a menu that manages to bring the audience to relook their food with a critical eye. I am not qualified to cook the food and serve it to a public audience for I have not the required basic food hygiene training accreditation to do so, nor do I know the intricacies of how to organise or run a service! My role in collaboration felt much smaller; because ALL the props has to go to Ming’s efforts and hard work to make this experience a reality! I only provided the idea and brain fodder for the project, but all of the amazing food (and food innovation work!) was the Chef’s work! It was really my honour to be able to work with Ming.

Countless thanks must also go to The Substation: Annabelle and Si Min for facilitating the entire process and helping to take care of all of the small details, as well as all of the Substation staff (and interns Ariel and Celine) for all their help. Without the help of so many people this wouldn’t have been possible!

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Addendum:

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Some highly observant audience members asked me on the night why there wasn’t ice kachang and nasi lemak on the menu. I was puzzled about the specificity of this question until I realised that they were referring to the image they had seen on the promotional material drawn by the designer, which ended up being printed in an unexpectedly huge size and mounted on the wall on the night of the event. Well, the answer is that at an earlier stage the shortlisted dishes originally included ice kachang and chicken rice so that was drawn into the flyer. However, the chicken rice was in a pyramid shape that could have been easily interpreted as the pyramid of a nasi lemak as well. Well spotted y’all.

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In case you were wondering yes to the credit of the designer the portraits did have a rather uncanny likeness…

In the Press…

Plural Mag – The Hunger Games
The Peak Magazine – SAD: The Last Meal art exhibition serves up dystopian versions of beloved hawker dishes
SG Magazine – This is how local chef Ming Tan interprets dystopian hawker cuisine
CNA Lifestyle – Kitchen Stories: Fighting insecurity and emotions to prove himself to older chefs

Mysterious White Powders: Artificial Chicken Flavour

I’ve been thinking about writing several posts about mysterious white powders (and offwhite powders as well), such as citric acid, baking soda, kansui, and nutritional yeast, which I will do so over the next few weeks. For now I’m going to start things off with everybody’s favourite…. ARTIFICIAL CHICKEN FLAVOUR!


 

“Artificial Chicken Flavouring”

 

Here is a picture of a chicken timer since its quite boring to look at a picture of white seasoning powder. A couple years ago I was taking apart a small chicken timer to send to George and I had just turned away for a moment when Kent happened to wander over and touched a spring inside the chicken. The result was that said chicken timer suddenly exploded. Oh chickens. So mysterious.

The other day we decided that we would try to “recreate a powdered Chicken seasoning”. Our motivations for this were perhaps quite different: George being vegetarian perhaps wanted to find an vegetarian analogue of a seasoning that was usually paired with chicken – and he went out and got some “Jerk Chicken Seasoning” that was conveniently vegetarian. But the problem is that “Jerk Chicken Seasoning” is not really chicken seasoning. It happens to be a seasoning which is complementary with chicken, and perhaps is so very often eaten together with chicken that it has become synonymous with chicken. However, that still does not make it truly chicken flavoured. IT IS NOT EVEN CHICKEN IN FLAVOUR.

I would like to do is to reverse engineer INSTANT NOODLE CHICKEN SEASONING. What is the essence of a chicken flavour? Now at the time of writing, I don’t think I’m even close to cracking it yet, but I want to find out the secret recipe for the seasoning packets in those bewitchingly addictive Mamee Noodle snacks. And I want to know the secret recipe behind the seasoning packet for the export-only Koka Stir Fried Noodles, which are very much unlike that of the emphatically health-conscious no-MSG recipes/formulations used for Koka’s local markets in Singapore. The UK export version of the Singapore produced Koka noodles look different from the packaging in the Singapore and also all contain MSG. How do I recreate this “artificial chicken flavouring”? And perhaps more to the point: is “ARTIFICIAL CHICKEN FLAVOURING” already a well-known or patented formula within the food technology industry….?

Let us look a little more closely at the ingredients for both seasonins which are so bewitchingly addictive:

MAMEE CHICKEN NOODLE SNACK (FLAVOUR PACK): Salt, Contains Permitted Flavouring Substances (contains gluten,soybeans), Contains Monosodium Glutamate (E621), Disodium-Guanylate(E627) and Disodium-Inosinate (E631) As Permitted Flavour Enhancers, Spices, Sugar. Contains Permitted Food Additives of Plant, Animal (Chicken) and Synthetic Origin.

KOKA STIR FRIED NOODLE (FLAVOUR PACK)
: salt, sugar, artificial chicken flavouring [contains sesame seeds], pepper, msg, garlic powder, soya bean extract, dehydrated veg & spices.

Let’s break it down a little:

Monosodium Glutamate (E621) – the sodium salt of glutamic acid (E620). gives foods an umami taste and enhance flavours. Because of its enhancing properties, it is great because it reduces the total amount of salt needed in order to make the food tasty to us. Commercially it is produced through the bacterial fermentation of molasses; glutamates are present in all proteins and can be found in many natural foods.

For starters I think MSG is an amazing invention! It is for me up there alongside the invention of instant noodles! It has been scientifically proven that glutamates (commercially synthesised or naturally occuring) have no particular adverse effect on the overwhelming majority of people. I personally enjoy food with MSG in it and all of the other naturally occurring glutamates. I usually assume that anyone or any website which denounces MSG has failed to do a basic fact check and can be dismissed as a quack (beware, for the world and internet is full of uninformed loons!)

Disodium guanylate (E627)
– the sodium salt of guanylic acid (E626), guanylates enhance other flavours but do not add any particular umami tastes. It comes from a part of RNA in cells of living organisms. Probably made from Tapioca Starch.

Disodium Inosinate (E631) – the sodium salt of inosinic acid (E630) inosinates enhance other flavours but do not add any particular umami tastes. Probably made from Tapioca Starch.

I noticed that Guanylates and Inosinates (aka the disodium ribotides) often come together. They obviously enhance savoury tastes so it is also worth noting that a lot of ‘low sodium foods’ may use these as a very tiny amount of them already magnifies the saltiness. I can see it as a useful way of cutting down on salt, but they can aggravate gout. But ultimately, as food additives, these ingredients might make up an exceedingly tiny portion of the ingredients of your food, so I am alright with a tiny amount of them in my food if it works so well in enhancing the taste in lieu of salt! It explains why instant noodle seasoning can taste so salty even though it amounts to little more than a tbsp of powder!

Garlic Powder – dehydrated garlic in powdered form. similarly, dehydrated onion in powdered form can also be found. these powders are not to be considered an inferior version of the fresh ingredient. It is in fact quite different from the fresh versions of itself. Both garlic and onion powders add a completely different dimension to food even if you are already using fresh garlic or onion within the food itself. However, they must be heated up in oil for best effect.

But… what is “artificial chicken flavouring”???

I’m assuming that since it is artificial, it means that it doesn’t include any real chickens. Not that I care since I would eat real chickens anyway (and anything tastes better with a good homemade chicken stock mixed in), but this simply means that adding real chickens into the mix isn’t the solution to this “reverse engineering” exercise…

Plus, the reason why we want to make a chicken seasoning is because WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS THE TASTE OF CHICKEN! I mean, have you ever eaten a chicken? I personally like chicken, although thesedays I haven’t eaten as much of it as before. My mother makes an amazing steamed chicken, of which the ingredients are just chicken and salt, and it is one of the purest and most delicious chicken flavours I can imagine, if I had to describe what was chicken. I mean, what is this chicken flavour that we taste? Why do we know it is chicken flavour? How does we chicken flavour? HOW DOES WE ARTIFICAL CHICKEN???

The earliest patent I could find for a CHICKEN FLAVOUR was this from 1972, from a Marcel Andre Perret, an inventor who also devised a process for producing an artificial beef flavour in 1968. The patent application itself dithers through a few methods for producing artificial meat and poultry flavours, which Perret thoughtfully notes would be well suited for the use of a housewife who heats it and gets INSTANT CHICKEN FLAVOUR under conditions available to an ordinary kitchen:

From US 3689289 A: Chicken flavor and process for preparing the same:

Perret proposed a substitute artificial beef flavor formed by heating a hexose or pentose monosaccharide with cysteine and cystine to 90 to 100 C. for two hours in the presence of water, adding vegetable protein hydrolyzate and a 5′-ribonucleotide, and then heating again at at least 70 C. for about two hours, to develop the desired beef flavor.

Mortion et al. US. Pat. No. 2,934,437, patented Apr. 26, 1960, describe an artificial meat flavoring composition, composed of the reaction products of a pentose or hexose, cysteine or cystine, and water, reacted for at least one hour at the boiling point in the presence of water. This composition is similar to Perrets, without the ribonucleotide. Moreover, Perret requires that the mixture of hexose or pentose and cysteine or cystine be reacted at 90 to 100 C. in the presence of water, and that then the protein hydrolyzate and the ribonucleotide be added and a further reaction carried out at at least 70 C. for about two hours.

Giacino US. Pat. No. 3,394,017, patented July 23, 1968, describes a poultry flavor composition produced by reacting thiamine with a sulfur-containing polypeptide or an amino acid mixture derived therefrom, and thereafter add- United States Patent 0 ice ing an aldehyde and a ketone to the reaction product. An amino acid mixture for use in the composition includes at least one sulfur-containing amino acid such as cysteine or cystine. The mixture is heated at from 200 to 420 F. for from A minute to three hours, the shorter heating times requiring higher reaction temperatures.(…)

Belikov et al., Chemical Abstracts 62, 15339d (1965), (Z/h. Vses, K-him. Obshchestva im. D. I. Menedeleeva) 10 (1) (1065), in a study of the nature of food odors, reported that an aqueous solution of l-cysteine hydrochloride, dl-alanine, l-glutamic acid, glycine, glucose, l-arabinose and methyl arachidonate, after having been heated for two hours at to C. developed an odor resembling that of chicken soup. There was no report on the taste of the product.

In accordance with the invention, an artificial chicken flavor composition is provided which is capable of developing the flavor of chicken when heated in the presence of water for from five to ten minutes at temperatures within the range from about 60 to about 90 C. The composition can be formulated as a solid mixture, any liquids present being absorbed on the solid ingredients, and is stable indefinitely in this form, and develops a chicken flavor when heated under the stated conditions. Accordingly, this composition is Well suited for use by a housewife, who merely heats it at the time of use, and then can use it at once, without any need for storage, after the chicken flavor has been developed. This avoids the necessity of pre-heating the composition by the manufacturer, and eliminates the storage stability problems inherent in such preheated compositions. Since the composition can be heated under conditions available to the housewife in the ordinary kitchen, unlike the 125 to 135 C. temperatures of Belikov et al. (which require pressure), the compositions of the invention avoid all of the difficulties inherent in the prior flavoring compositions.

The artificial chicken flavor composition of the invention is a combination of a hexose, a bland protein hydrolysate, an arachidonic acid compound, such as arachidonic acid, or methyl and/or ethyl arachidonate, or a mixture of any thereof, and cysteine and/or cystine, or a nontoxic acid addition salt thereof.

It goes on to suggest some examples…

To be honest, it looks a lot like a recipe to me.

Oh look, not at all strange, but a patent for a TCM chicken feet recipe for tonifying qi???

Which leads on to some more “recipe” looking patents??? But can you patent a recipe? What is it under the patent classification anyway??

If you must know, the classification for Patent US3689289A is: A23L – FOODS, FOODSTUFFS, OR NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, NOT COVERED BY SUBCLASSES A21D OR A23B-A23J; THEIR PREPARATION OR TREATMENT, e.g. COOKING, MODIFICATION OF NUTRITIVE QUALITIES, PHYSICAL TREATMENT (shaping or working, not fully covered by this subclass, A23P); PRESERVATION OF FOODS OR FOODSTUFFS, IN GENERAL (preservation of flour or dough for baking A21D) [2006.01]
1/227 · · · containing amino acids [2]
… which seems a little like a let down – what? Chicken is not its own category????

I mean like seriously this reads like a recipe for a roast duck… how do we classify patents anyway?

Which brings me to:
THE INTERNATIONAL PATENT CLASSIFICATION! classifying patents and allowing us to search for patent documents, “in order to establish the novelty and evaluate the inventive step or non-obviousness (including the assessment of technical advance and useful results or utility) of technical disclosures in patent applications.

AIEEEEE the mind boggles. All the terrifying inventions of food technology that I know so little of!
But now, it is dinnertime and I must make myself a dinner. Preferably with a chicken stock cube or something, for research purposes….

I still feel like there are insufficient pictures in this post so here is ROBOT CHICKEN…?

In the next episode, we continue to investigate: HOW DO WE ARTIFICIAL CHICKEN FLAVOUR AND WHY IS FRIED CHICKEN BATTER SO DELICIOUSLY ADDICTIVE (AND HOW DO WE RECREATE IT ALL WITH SCIENCE?)

The Spherification of Edible Liquids for Impatient People

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After a few hits and misses doing spherification experiments over the last few years for fun, here is a collation of some personal observations or lessons learnt about spherification that people don’t generally seem to explain properly in all the other recipes or online posts about spherification.

Basic Spherification
1% Calcium Lactate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
0.5% Sodium Alginate Mixture (0.5g to 100g mixture)

Reverse Spherification
0.5% Sodium Alginate Bath (1g to 100g mixture)
1% Calcium Lactate Mixture (1g to 100g mixture)
[better for milky/alcoholic mixtures]

Why do some people use Calcium Lactate instead of Calcium Chloride?

I noticed a lot of people online have suggested that people can use Calcium Chloride. The problem is that I don’t like Calcium Chloride because it has a salty/bitter taste, where as Calcium Lactate doesn’t really have a taste. You can “wash” off the salty taste in water, but the fact is that I don’t really like Calcium Chloride, after I learnt that Calcium Chloride reacts strongly to humidity. I brought a bag of it from London to Singapore, and my double-plastic-wrapped bag of Calcium Chloride must have gotten a tiny hole in it, which allowed the humid air in, and next thing I knew I had a mysterious chemical spill on my wooden floor which was near impossible to remove. Turns out that if Calcium Chloride is exposed to humid air, it will absorb a few times of its own weight in water. I have never heard of such a ludicrous thing happening with Calcium Lactate. And since I really don’t want to worry that one day my food chemicals will be reduced into a big puddle of water in my toolbox, I’m steering clear of Calcium Chloride from now onwards just to be safe.

Do I really need to use distilled water?

Yes, this is very important because many cities have very hard tap water, even if you use boiled water or water filters. This means that all your alginate mixtures will become very goopy instantly if you don’t use distilled water. London tap water causes the sodium alginate to start its gelling reaction almost immediately. Even the utensils should also be washed in distilled water before and during use, otherwise gelling will occur on them as well when preparing the bath or mixture.

Do I really have to wait 24 hours for the bubbles to leave the Alginate bath/mixture?

The bubbles can be really huge. If you don’t care about the bubbles like me, then don’t bother leaving it overnight. I find it still works the same, just not as pretty and perhaps disrupting the illusion of it being a perfect sphere of liquid. Also if you used tap water (eg London) then you will already have huge bubbles whilst stirring because the gelling will have started by now and you will have stirred bubbles into the goopy alginate bath.

Do I really need an immersion blender?

It would be ideal and it really makes a difference. But it will work even if you don’t use an immersion blender or hand blender to mix it up. You can also use just a spoon, if you’re all DIY or lazy like me. But remember, that for some reason all of these chemicals HATE to be dissolved into water and you will spend what seems like hours grinding a spoon into a big bowl of water and powder and screaming at the bowl of water.

Is it really necessary to pre-freeze the mixture into half-spheres for Reverse Spherification?

You will have seen the half-sphere silicone moulds, seemingly sold on every other molecular gastronomy webstore. The reason why people do this is that it does truly takes skill to make the shapes spherical with the Reverse Spherification process. You can’t just “drip” it into the bath, half-heartedly, (as you might do with Basic Spherification, and get away with it). You have to throw or plop it down bravely, but yet not too much otherwise it will hit the bottom of the bowl and become flat, which I find to be quite difficult to do. Basic Spherification seems to be more forgiving in terms of technique, you’ll probably end up with something roundish even if you have poor hand-eye coordination. So in order to give their spheres a better chance of having a better shape when doing Reverse Spherification, people pre-freeze their mixtures into half sphere shapes.

What if I “guess-timated” the amounts and it doesn’t work? How can I fix this confusing gloopy mess?

After several “guess-timation” failures on my part, I’ve learnt that this is a matter of understanding the ratio/texture that the mixes ought to reach – it mainly means that the concentration for either the alginate or the calcium is inaccurate, and usually it means it was too little. So as a possible way of fixing things, for basic spherification, add slightly more alginate to the mixture, and for reverse spherification add slightly more calcium to the mixture. For the alginate, the goal is to reach 0.5%. For the calcium, the goal is to get to 0.18% calcium, which is usually 0.5% Calcium Chloride, 1% Calcium Lactate, and 2% Calcium Lactate Gluconate.

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And finally, yes, if you squeeze your spheres, they can and they will explode.

I’d love to hear from other people who have been playing with their foods like I have. Are there other tips or suggestions for impatient people who want to do some spherification of their edible liquids?

Mucor Mould Magnification

The USB Microscope has been very handy indeed: NOW EVERY CASE OF FOOD SPOILAGE CAN BE TURNED INTO AN INSTANT SCIENCE CLASS!

Here are some images of some mould which I believe (or would like to think) is Mucor mould. The mould colony was extremely fast growing (appeared within two days on Anna’s mashed potato which had been accidentally left in the open), and had very dense upright sporangiophores which had long columella.

Those who are squeamish about mould colonies may be glad to know for a fact that Mucor cannot grow on or inside humans and other warm endothermic creatures – because they cannot live in warm environments which are close to the human body temperature of 37 C.

However it is entirely possible to be allergic to mould, and then again, I suppose if your feet were permanently sequestered in very cold damp shoes, your feet might get mouldy (it would be likelier to be another type of mould then though). Well in any case, the mould is unlikely to grow inside you if you inhale it by accident.

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Contemplating a visual dictionary of pastry folds

Recently I discovered the joys of pre-made puff pastry. Despite what might seem to be my penchant for studying long laborious cooking techniques, even I find it too time consuming to make puff pastry dough from scratch for every occasion. Somedays you just want to eat a tart and you want to eat it NOW. For me the consolation is at least knowing how exactly puff pastry works. Puff pastry is puffy because the dough has many hundreds of layers of butter dispersed throughout, through a long laborious process of folding, rolling, and resting the dough. When the pastry is baked, the butter melts and boils, steam lifts the layers of dough which cook into crisp pockets of air, and the pastry rises.

Unlike other doughs, puff pastry does not involve leaveners or yeast so the entire rise of the pastry is down to the layers of butter in the dough. Resting is required to relax the gluten strands and working in cold temperatures on all surfaces is important so the butter won’t melt while you’re rolling it in.

Asparagus, Spinach, and Mozzarella Tart

Heat some oil and garlic in a pan and wilt spinach into it.
Cut pastry into squares, and place layers of mozzarella, asparagus, and spinach in the center of the pastry and fold in.
Bake at 200ªC for about 15-20 minutes.

Asparagus, Spinach, and Mozzarella Tart with a side of Shepherdess’ Balls
(Potato+Celery+Lentil balls made from leftover Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie)
Interesting discovery: Real Buffalo Mozzarella will produce a huge amount of liquid when baked in a tart like this, unlike some of the supermarket housebrand Grated Mozzarella packs, which I’ve gotten used to cooking/baking with. I was rather alarmed at first to see all the water coming out from the good/expensive mozzarella cheese. I checked the packaging on Sainsburys’ Grated Mozzarella and it seems that the addition of an anti-caking agent (potato starch) may be responsible for the lack of water and (favourably) chewy texture of their Mozzarella which the veggie eaters in the house have commented has quite an uncannily “meat texture”.

When I have more time I should like to explore and design a more comprehensive visual dictionary of pastry folds and other dough techniques. This is the result of one pomodoro’s work on the idea…

Tasty Wheat and Soya Protein: Tivall Burgers

In my continued exploration of food-grade protein design, yesterday we tried: Tivall Vegetarian Burgers. I obtained this from Whole Foods on High Street Kensington (where they did not have Quorn, but they did have a number of other “meatless” meat-alternatives. This Tivall Burger is also the same brand of veggie burger patty that is used in the jewish shops around Stamford Hill.

Name: Tivall Vegetarian Chargilled Burgers (“Chargrilled burgers made form lightly seasoned soya and wheat proteins”).
Ingredient list: Rehydrated Soya and Wheat Proteins (72%) (contains Gluten), Onion, Vegetable Oil, Egg White Powder, Salt, Yeast, Pea Fibres, Potato Starch, Flavourings, Stabilizers (Sodium Alginate, Guar Gum), Malt Extract, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Spices, Calcium Phosphate, Vitamin C, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Zinc Oxide, Ferric Diphosphate, Vitamin E, Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12.

According to William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi’s “History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in the Middle East”, in an 1995 Interview in SoyaScan Notes, Daniel Chajuss (of Hayes General Technology Co. Ltd, who has done a lot of work on Soy in the USA and Israel) said that Tivall is one of the 3 major manufacturers of meat alternatives in Israel (The others are Soglowek (aka Zoglabeck/Zoglovek/Zoglowek) and Shamir Food Industries Ltd with 50% of the Israeli (non-export) market. He suggests that Israeli consumers (even non-kosher and non-vegetarians) buy these vegetarian products because they are convenience products, and kosher diners automatically stay kosher by eating vegetarian food.

As for the interesting part, the interview also mentions the origins of Tivall – traced back to a Dr Michael (Micha) Shemer and Saul Katzen. Saul Katzen was the first person to make meat alternatives from extruded soy flour in patty form, but the soy flour product (fines from non-toasted white flakes sifted out prior to alcoholic extraction) was apparently not tasty enough and also gave people some intestinal gas. The soy flour was bought from Chajuss’ company, and Chajuss apparently urged Katzen to buy soy protein concentrates instead of soy flour and run the concentrates through extrusion equipment. Although Katzen had the equipment, he stuck to soy flour because he felt that soy flour was less wasteful. Chajuss believed that the use of soy flour led Katzen’s company into bankruptcy which was very sad, and for a long time before it happened Chajuss had been giving Katzen a lot of soy flour for free.

After that Michael Shemer came onto the scene, having left University of Illinois, he worked for Miles Laboratories which had purchased Worthington Foods, working on a citric acid project. When he was fired by MIles in the late 1970s he joined an Israeli company named Pedco which made many kinds of food products, and Shemer developed new processes for making meat analogs. In 1983 Tivall, a company located on a kibbutz in northern Israel bought Pedco. It had been established and incorporated solely for the purpose of purchasing Pedco and its activities. Dr Shemer was granted several international and israeli patents on his processes which use reducing agents to soften gluten, but it is speculated that Tivall no longer uses the Shemer patents, instead using a 1956 Hartman/Worthington patent which is now in public domain – and which is what the other company Shamir is also using now.

Tivall’s vegetarian ‘meat alternatives’ apparently start with wheat gluten and use a reducing agent such as sodium sulfite or ascorbic acid (low pH) to make the gluten soft. A 1956 patent issued to Warren Hartman and assigned to Worthington Foods describes how to soften gluten by adding soy flour or soy protein. Their recipe seems to be a matter of food chemistry. Perhaps not as high-tech or exciting as I had expected but interesting to know exactly what I’m going to be eating.

Tivall Burgers with Mash topped with Fried Capers


We tried both frying them and baking them to see which would turn out better. I would say that baking them is infinitely better, frying does not impart the usual “browning” effects you might expect on them, but instead dries the insides of the patties out. Baking is extremely optimal. These patties were probably made to be baked.

The texture and the taste of these are excellent. So far, they have truly surpassed my expectation – complex and with a good bite to them. I would certainly eat this again – I think I even prefer these over normal meat burgers.

Next – for the sake of food exploration and SCIENCE – I will endeavour to try all the other Vegetarian/Meat-free Burgers including the Quorn Burger and Linda McCartney Vegetarian Quarter Pounder Burger. I was also interested in trying other meat-free burgers from UK supermarkets’ own housebrands such as Tescos, Sainsburys, Asda, and Morrisons – however! It seems that from my preliminary research that Tivall is apparently already the key supplier of meat-free alternatives for all these UK supermarket house brands! The sources seem flaky so I will have to dig a bit deeper. I would like to verify this and to see if there is a difference in products between the large retailers here. Tivall is apparently also very well established in many other countries in Europe, supplying some of the largest retailers in Netherlands, Israel, Germany, Sweden and Italy.


See also:
Tasty Mould: Quorn, Tempeh, and Huitlacoche