Tomato Water Spheres with Basil Oil

The big ‘voila!’ moment when working with molecular technique, comes in 2 parts…

1. Wow, I pulled it off ! (Meaning, the science worked)


2.  It tastes good! 

Without both of these end results, molecular gastronomy techniques are useless.

Last night I decided to tackle spherification, again. The first time around I made balsamic caviar, not realizing that with the use of agar, (a tougher jelling agent) actually continued to solidify the longer it sat.  Agar did not give me the consistency of a fluid center like I had hoped, it rendered small jellied beads of balsamic vinegar.  After experimenting with agar, I now know that it could be better used to make noodles, fruit beads, or other solidified gels,  but necessarily the best product for liquid spherification.

To achieve fluid centers, there are 2 ways to do this, one that will hold as a liquid for a few hours before the calcium turns it into a complete gel and the other way, using reverse spherification, which will allow the spheres to hold fluid in the center for a longer period of time (up to a week). I will explain both.

Helpful tools to gather before starting: 

  • Blender or Vita Mix
  • Chinois
  • Cheese cloth
  • Small slotted spoon
  • Syringe
  • Calcium alginate
  • Calcium lactate
  • Gram scale

The Modernist Cuisine Recipe and Method:

Tomato Water: 250 grams

  • 1kg of Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • Salt to taste
  1. Blend in a vita mix until tomatoes are pulverized.
  2. Strain through cheesecloth in a chinois, repeat if necessary, pulp-free tomato water should result.  Reserve to the side or refrigerate until use.

Tomato Spheres with Basil Oil:

  • 250 g Tomato water
  • 2 g Sodium Alginate
  • 200 g Grapeseed oil
  • 100 g Basil
  • 500 g Water
  • 2.5 g Calcium lactate
  1. In a vitamix blend pour in 250g of tomato water and start power, slowly tap in 2 g of sodium alginate, mix well for about 4 minutes on med-high speed. Press through a chinois or fine sieve, and refrigerate.  After this process, bubbles will be present in the mixture, to remove these let this sit overnight in the fridge or if you have a commercial vacuum sealer, vacuum pack it to quickly remove air for immediate use.
  2. To make the Basil oil, blanch and shock the basil. Combine with 200g of grapeseed oil in a vitamix, blend until homogenized. Press through a sieve, decant basil oil, and reserve in a syringe.
  3. To make the calcium lactate water bath, combine 500g of water and 2.5g of calcium lactate.  Pour water into the vitamix, turn on, then sprinkle calcium lactate into the water a few pinches at a time, blend until completely homogenized.  **Sprinkling in the powders into the liquids will prevent clumping and gelling.
  4. Set up 4 water baths: fill one with calcium lactate solution and fill the three others with cold water.
  • Fill tablespoon with reserved tomato water solution.
  • Tip spoon into calcium lactate bath to gently release contents.
  • Set in bath until membrane has fully formed around tomato sphere, about 30 seconds.
  • Inject approx .1 oz of basil oil into the submerged sphere.
  • Remove sphere from bath with perforated spoon.
  • Repeat procedures with remaining tomato water solution and basil oil.
  • Rinse spheres in each of the three cold water baths.
  • Refrigerate.

Reverse Spherification:

Using reverse spherification will allow you to hold on to the spheres in the refrigerator for a longer period of time, usually up to a week, but no later.
Follow the above instructions but switch Sodium alginate for calcium lactate in instruction line #1,  reserve in the fridge overnight.  For the water bath mixture, sodium alginate will be used instead of calcium lactate. The two molecular altering products are switched.  This allows the same molecular interaction to be achieved, but their hold times are both different.  In the first method, the spheres, if left overnight would solidify completely.  Using the reverse method allows for the spheres to remain liquid up to a few days.

The science behind it:

Spherification relies on a simple gelling reaction between calcium and alginate, a gumlike substance extracted from brown seaweed. The calcium chloride ions cause the long-chain alginate polymers to become cross-linked, forming a gel. Because the sodium alginate/tomato water mixture enters the calcium lactate in the shape of a droplet, the gel forms a bead. The size of the bead can vary dramatically, making it possible to create jelly-shelled equivalents of everything from caviar to gnocchi and ravioli.

For a visual experience and better understanding of spherification, follow along with Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and Mark Bittman in the following video:


What do you think? Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: