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:



I have never in my life been so excited to read a book!  If Mr. Booker from my 2nd, 3rd, AND 4th grade “special”  reading class could only see me now!   Last night was a version of Christmas morning and I channeled my inner 7-year-old self as I ripped through the many MANY layers and careful packaging that this beauty came in.   It sorta went something like this: 

Okay those kids are a little crazy… let’s just say I was excited.

Since I started following Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, I began to learn about a book that was being created solely in the realm of modernist food.  To learn what Modernist food is, you have to know where food, since quite literally, the beginning of time, came from. Molecular Gastronomy is defined as : A style of cooking in which scientific methods and equipments are used. This type of cooking examines, and makes use of, the physical and chemical reactions that occur during cooking. The term was coined in part by French chemist Hervé This…Examples of molecular gastronomy include cooking sous vide, flash-freezing with liquid nitrogen, and making foams and froths with lecithin and a whipped-cream canister (source).

Hearing of this book instantly intrigued me!  However the price deflated my bubble rather quickly, almost $800 for the series!  Within days the first printing was sold out, probably a blessing in disguise at the time, as I was just starting school and developing my passion for the MG field. 6 months later it is finally here!!  I’ve got about 3000 pages to get through, and I have never been so excited to learn about something in my whole life! There will be A LOT of blogging along the way.  To get my feet wet, I’ve laid out a few things I plan to try this weekend:

On deck:

  • Tomato Caviar (spherification technique)  using agar agar.
  • Bacon Powder!  using Tapioca Maltodextrine
  • Loaded baked potato gnocchi, made with ricotta, bacon powder, sour cream, flour, potato and chive.  Thinking I might try to pair it with a peppery white wine cheddar sauce.  (No MG here- just the use of the Bacon Powder!)
  • Jellied celery root and parsnip puree cubes, could be weird, or delightfully tasty.
Hopefully I don’t run into too many problems trying to find these products, but just in case I have a bountiful cart filling up.  MG tests are sure to break the bank!