Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Spherification of Edible Liquids for Impatient People


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.



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?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

RiTA Toolkit: Markov and other text experiments for the Masses

This week I became aware of Markov generators for the masses! Yes! Now anyone can have instant word glossolalia! And now up to 200% more easy to use! Because the future is already here! The future came and then left the building some time ago! I think it came around last tuesday, did you miss it? Did you not already hear?? Aw man.


The challenge was to find the easiest way to do a markov generator mashup of two texts. A friend who was unfamiliar with programming asked me what was the easiest way to make a text mashup. Recently I saw Pete's Unpredictive Text installation at the WIP show and I found out he was using a library called RiTA so I downloaded it and realised it was oh so so so simple to play with...

First you need to install Processing, and then you have to install the RiTA library into Processing. I had almost forgotten how to install libraries actually, due to not using Processing in some months, but the long and short of it is that you just need to find the "Processing" folder which will have been automatically created in your Documents folder when you installed Processing.

On a mac it will probably be

On a windows it will probably be
C:/My Documents/Processing

In this folder you create the folder "libraries" and copy in the "library" folder which will be inside the RiTA zip package you downloaded. The library should now be here like this:


Look in the examples folder for Kafgenstein.pde. That's the kafka+wittgenstein mashup. The text files are in the folder /data. Make your own text files, substitute them in the markov.loadFrom line.

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Here is Enid Blyton's Holiday Book meets John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman.

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The other examples are equally interesting to play with.

No need to thank me. All thanks to RiTA.

Actually I lied, this post took 15 min to write cos, y'know, it takes time to make screenshots and upload them.

More of my previous markov experiments here:
Ghost Trap - Markov Text Generator
A Dream Generated from Other Dreams

Google Street View Vanishing Point

Drowned in a dozen different digressions at once! The news in my side of the woods is that me and G are moving house to Green Lanes next month, to a lovely place with a conceptual shed on the Haringey Ladder, one minute from Haringey Station. We began snooping around in Street View and discovered oddly that many businesses in Green Lanes have got INTERIOR STREET VIEW. You can look inside individual businesses….

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I’m on the inside... looking outside...

And you can see the different street view operators themselves in CCTV cameras at times if you zoom in…

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Why hello there...

In fact these interiors open up a whole world of exciting opportunities, full of mirrors and reflections and cctv cameras feedings back into a loop of street view. But one of the things I noticed was that interior street views often have a “vanishing point” if you look at the ground….

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I went to google and it seems these interior street views are now an independent thing where approved photographers can do it on behalf of street view, so a photographer must have gone around and done it for the businesses up and down Green Lanes in particular. Browsing through a list of approved photographers for street view in London, you can look at some of the general galleries of interiors they have shot in London, for example:


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See more:

"Google Street View: Capturing the World at Street Level" (Dragomir Anguelov, Carole Dulong, Daniel Filip, Christian Frueh, Stéphane Lafon, Richard Lyon, Abhijit Ogale, Luc Vincent, Josh Weaver. Computer, vol.43, no. 6, pp. 32-38, June 2010, doi:10.1109/MC.2010.170)
Google Business View