Watermelon Caviar – Basic Spherification

I have more or less not played around anything with spherification, so I just wanted to start with some simple stuff. That said, what I wanted to first of all was basic spherification. Since I had watermelon at home I used that.

El Bulli introduced spherification in 2003. The technique involves a controlled jellification of a liquid that forms spheres when submerged in a bath.

The spheres can be made of different sizes and have been given names like caviar, eggs and ravioli. The resulting spheres usually have a thin membrane and are filled with the original liquid. A slim force of the mouth on the sphere makes them burst and release an amazing explosion of flavor. The spheres are flexible and can be carefully manipulated.

There are two main styles of spherification techniques (each of them has its advantages and disadvantages that make them suitable for certain applications but foremost the liquid used decides what method to practice):

  1. The Basic Spherification technique consists of submerging a liquid with sodium alginate in a bath of calcium.
  2. The Reverse Spherification technique consists of submerging a liquid with a mixture of calcium gluconate and calcium lactate in a bath of sodium alginate.

What I did (i.e. Basic Spherification);

For the Watermelon spherical “caviar” base

  • 250 g Watermelon juice
  • 2 g Sodium Alginate
  1. Mix the Alginate with 1/3 of the watermelon juice.
  2. Shred in a blender to obtain an even mixture without lumps.
  3. Mix with the remaining 2/3, strain and keep at room 
temperature for 30 min.

For the Calcium lactate bath

  • 6.5 g Calcium lactate
  • 1000 g water
  1. Dissolve the Calcic in the water with a beater.
  2. Put the mixture in a container.
  3. Retain.

For the watermelon caviar

  1. Fill a syringe with the melon caviar mixture.
  2. Drip into the Calcium lactate mix. Leave to ”cook” for one (1) min.
  3. Strain and wash the melon caviar obtained in cold water, 
strain off the excess water.
  4. Put the melon caviar in a container (for example, as I did, in a caviar tin).

The result? I am pretty happy with the “caviar”. See my picture below.

However, I also did some larger “regular” spheres and even though those had a nice look the membrane was way to thick. Yes, I tried to have the spheres submerged for different times (i.e. foremost shorter, way shorter than a minute in the Calcium lactate bath) but I still wasn’t pleased with the texture when eating them (to much jellification). If I had used a Sodium Alginate bath using my tap water (that contains to much calcium) as a base, that would consequently triggered the jellification already in the bath. However, my Sodium Alginate bath was just the melon juice and the Sodium Alginate, so I do not understand this.

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4 Responses to Watermelon Caviar – Basic Spherification

  1. I have played with this a little. My understanding is that Basic spherification continues to jellify or harden once the process begins, a smallish caviar will only last about 20 minutes before it fully solidifies. Reverse spherification doesn’t suffer from this problem so and keeping the spheres in water will allow them to be used for much longer periods. Just sayin…

    • Jesper says:

      You are absolutely correct. That said, basic spherification has the advantage (over reverse spherification) that you can achieve an initially much thinner shell and it is also easier to achieve a better symmetry of the sphere. Consequently, if you consume a sphere made by the basic method immediately you have much better “mouth feel”. However, if you want to prepare several hours in advance, reverse spherification is the only option. Also, liquids with a high level of acidity are no problem for the reverse spherification method (and will need no modification as in the basic method). So there are some pros and cons with both metods.

  2. Derek H says:

    My watermelon caviar looked great, however it was kind of “gummy” I was expecting it to kind of “pop” and be able to taste the watermelon juice. I even reduced the watermelon juice

    • Jesper says:

      The problem relates foremost to the size of the spheres (“caviar”): they have a very small volume of liquid. This (small volume) in combination with the method used (i.e. basic spherification) which makes the jellified “shell” grow until the sphere is solid (i.e. fully jellified) is the main problem. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to succeed and achieve the “pop” you are looking for with “caviar”. For me, spherification is foremost a “fun” thing that regrettably seldom taste good. That said, if you want to have the “burst” feeling: try making bigger spheres!

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