The global culinary industry has been known for its amazing creativity and ability to innovate with multiple techniques and ingredients. Each dish is art and comes with the chef’s characteristic creative excellence.
Pune is a classic example of creative cuisine with its amazing repertoire of cuisines and techniques and chefs who have won accolades the world over for their creations.
From deconstructed vada-pav to techniques like emulsification, gelification, sous-vide and more, the Pune food culture has seen it all. There are outlets selling smokey biscuits to nitrogen frozen desserts and foaming bowls.
While these dishes look irresistible and are fast becoming a city favourite, there is growing concern on the safety aspect. Several reports suggest that the use of Liquid Nitrogen (used extensively in the cocktail and dessert ranges) is potentially dangerous for consumption and requires deft handling.
Liquid nitrogen is a colorless clear liquid at an extremely low temperature (−195.79 °C (77 K; −320 °F)).
If not used carefully it can lead to instant ulceration in the stomach lining.
It is highly volatile and should not be ingested.
The Kerala Government recently took cognisance of this and banned “the production, storage, distribution and sale of smoke ice creams, soft drinks and other food items made using liquid nitrogen’”. The public was also instructed to inform the authorities if anyone is found violating this ban.
If this is indeed a serious concern, then why are we ignoring and allowing to proliferate in our city?
Sous Chef at Pandora Gastronomy and Bar, Pune, Chef Vikrant Naidu explains, “Liquid nitrogen was mainly used in laboratories by professionals and experts.
“It was British celebrity chef, Heston Blumenthal who gave the idea of using liquid nitrogen for creating smoke.
“This spread world over thanks to the internet and channels like YouTube and caught the fancy of chefs across.
Nitrogen instantly vaporises, when it comes in contact with a liquid like water.
“We take a bowl and fill it with water, place a cup on it and then pour liquid nitrogen on the water. So, basically, the smoke that comes out is not directly consumed. The main element, that is the liquid nitrogen, stays in the bowl itself.
Apparently, In Kerala there was a case where the liquid nitrogen had been poured directly into the ice creams. The customer may have consumed the dish where the nitrogen had not vaporised and hence took ill.
“The similar case was noticed in Haryana where a drink had liquid nitrogen in it and came with bubbles and smoke. Here again, the customer had the drink before the nitrogen could vaporize.
Liquid nitrogen is also used to speed the cooling and freezing process, converting a liquid into ice in merely 5 minutes.The crystallization process it also eliminated by it, which preserves the food items for a longer period.
It is also used for textures. Like, if we use rose and dip it in liquid nitrogen, that immediately freezes and is easy to crumble in a powdered biscuit like texture. But, the liquid does not remain in it.
Hence, it is important to ensure that any such dish is consumed only after the nitrogen entirely evaporates. There should be no liquid left in the bowl at thevtime of consumption.
What remains is just the smoke and gas which will not affect us, but the liquid will. Typically, in a small cup used to make smoky biscuit, about 5 ML of Liquid is poured, which evaporates in less than a minute and should be consumed only after 40 secs.
If consumed earlier, it is the tongue and the teeth that are affected first. But, if any dish that has more than 10 ML of liquid nitrogen, it can pose a problem. Hence the use of liquid nitrogen should be left to only the experienced chefs and bartenders.
## Evidently, Liquid Nitrogen is a ‘Handle With Care’ substance and requires adequate safety measures, coupled with increased consumer awareness. The Government of Maharashtra must take cognisance of the imminent dangers and regulate its use.
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