Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 1, 2016

Molecule-R, an Introduction to the Science Behind 40 Spectacular Recipes (2014), by Molecule-R Flavors Inc

Molecule-rThis most interesting book was a Christmas present from The Offspring and his lovely wife, and it came with a little kit box for making flavour pearls.  They share the same sense of humour so we know they are taking the mickey out of our Masterchef obsession, but we may yet have the last laugh because although both contestants in the Grand Finale struggled over the molecular ball for the splendid dessert, making pearls doesn’t look too hard to do.  (Famous last words….)

The book begins by explaining all sorts of things you’d rather not know about the 2500 food additives that lurk in the processed foods that most people eat on a daily basis.  These additives consist of stabilisers, acidifiers, preservatives, enzymes and texturing agents and if you want to avoid them, as I mostly do, then you need to grow your own vegies, buy carefully and make your own meals from scratch.  Even if you’re not paranoid about it, it’s getting hard to buy a tin of tomatoes to make your own pasta sauce, because these days the tomatoes have mostly been ‘improved’ in some way.  Fortunately you can still buy Italian tomatoes that are just tomatoes and that saves the anxious process of bottling them (because I am a bit paranoid about botulism).

However, I’m happy to set all that to one side, to have some fun with food every now and again, and I do love to see (and eat!) the clever things that inventive chefs can do using new techniques.  The book explains that there are four categories to play with:

  • gelification: I recognise gelatin and agar-agar in the list of five agents, and three others than enable you to make gels with different textures that can withstand high temperatures or produce soft-elastic or hard-brittle gels;
  • spherification: using calcium lactate and sodium alginates, to turn mushy scraps puree into shapes, like those bits of bell pepper in a stuffed olive that are really pepper puree ‘re-moulded’ for ‘uniformity;
  • emulsification: soy lecithin and methylcellulose (huh?) to make foams, which can be really delicious on the plate but are sometimes in my experience not worth getting excited about;
  • other transformations:
    • using liquid nitrogen to make smooth ice-cream as we’ve Heston Blumenthal do;
    • maltodextrin (unsweet sugar) as an aroma carrier i.e. a narky little powder sprinkled on food to cover up the fact that the food processing industry makes horrible flavourless food OR used creatively to make food taste like something it’s not as we have seen on Masterchef OR (a variation of this is Volatile Flavourings as it shows you on this video to conspire against your children to make them eat their vegetables; and
    • xanthan gum which is a thickener derived from glucose.

As promised, the book explains the science, so there are little diagrams like the ones we used to see in our school Science textbooks only these are all about food and not about elements and whatnot.  In the Gelification chapter there’s an Important Looking Chart which lists all the stuff you need to know including the origin, clarity, mouthfeel (I thought that was a wine term?) texture, dispersion, hydration, setting, melting, prohibitors (meaning problems you will want to avoid) and promoters (meaning ingredients that make the additive work better) and whether or not it’s stable in the freezer.  (No, gelatin and agar-agar are not freezer-stable, as we know.  You have to use sodium alginate and iota carrageenan, both made from algae, if you want to freeze your gelification attempts.)

On to page 18, and there it is: a simple five-step process to turn any solution you like into pearls.  Basically what you do is to chill some vegetable oil in a glass, mix some agar-agar into your chosen solution, bring it to the boil and place it drop-by-drop into the oil using the special little pipette that comes in the kit. Then you take the little pearls out using a slotted spoon and put them into fresh water to rinse off the oil.  Voilà, and there they are.  (As you can also see, here on this video using balsamic vinegar or for the more ambitious, honey caviar). Remember not to put them in the freezer after all that hard work, see the paragraph above).

Yes, I know, why would you?  Well, for fun.  To be playful in the kitchen and to make your guests chuckle at the silliness of it.  Or, if you’re the type, to impress your friends.  (But you probably won’t be asked to any dinner parties afterwards, they’ll all be too intimidated).

If pearls are not your thing, you can make agar-agar spaghetti or even cannelloni…

This chapter then goes on to explain about carrageenans and gellan gum which is what they use in sugar-free jam (and probably explains why it tastes awful) and is also the stuff that makes the salt crystals stay on pretzels.  (I hadn’t ever wondered how they did that…)

The book crashes in credibility on page 31 when – in amongst its other info about gelatin – it tells us that gelatin is found in cosmetics as ‘hydrolysed collagen’ which is known for its anti-aging effects.  Yeah, right.

Other interesting snippets

  • gelatin is what’s used in gel capsules of some drugs to affect their absorption rates;
  • sodium alginate is used to make replicas of human body parts for special effects in the movies;
  • calcium lactate that lots of us take to ward off osteoporosis, is also used in some chewing gums – and *ugh* is used as a firming agent in ‘fresh-cut fruits and vegetables’ (those chunks on polywhatsit trays covered in clingwrap that some people buy at the supermarket, deluding themselves that they’re buying fresh fruit and veg.  Really, how long does it take to peel a carrot, eh?);
  • soy lecithin stops food from sticking to the bottom of pans when it’s added to non-stick cooking sprays and (I’m not making this up) enhances the color and forms a protective coating on painted surfaces when added to paint;
  • methylcellulose is used for fake semen in the porn industry (but it’s calorie-free), and is a performance additive in concrete mixtures;
  • xanthan gum is what’s used to make fake blood; and
  • liquid nitrogen can be used to turn corpses into fine particles, which should free up more space in cemeteries, I guess.

The recipes all look divine.  Edible Margaritas appeal, and so do strawberries stuffed with red wine vinegar.  Destructured raspberries look scrumptious and so does cocoa done in the same sort of way.  Ham-wrapped melon sushi looks gorgeous, and the bubble-gum fondants look like green and yellow fairy floss.  But Surprise Cranberry Jelly with lemon juice pearls and tapioca will probably, alas, still taste like cranberries.  And I bet if someone put Cloud of Chips on the menu at a restaurant and someone ordered it thinking a child would eat it, there would be a major tantrum when the potato foam arrived.  On the other hand Salmon and its Three Foams (soy, lemon and ginger) would be divine.

Are any of these do-able?  Yes, by the look of the instructions, but you need to be keen, have a sense of humour and a budget that can cope with needing to send out for take-away instead –  and not be too bothered about it if it doesn’t work out.

What I’m thinking of is this: The Spouse likes green tea ice-cream, and I think I could have a go at making some (inexpensive) pearls made from different kinds of tea: maybe lemon and ginger, or even the tea that he makes using herbs such as rosemary from the garden… and then serve it with the pearls sprinkled around a quenelle of the ice-cream and garnished with a sprig of mint.  I’ll put a photo here when I try it out.

(But don’t hold your breath, I’ve got some new books that are discouraging me to from doing anything else except reading for the time being).

Author?  There are no names provided and you can’t find out much more from Our Story on their website.
Title: Molecule-R, an Introduction to the Science Behind 40 Spectacular Recipes
Publisher: Molecule-R Flavors Inc, 2014
ISBN: 9780992111014

Available from their website, and maybe other places that sell cookbooks.




  1. What a great present. It sounds all very interesting and wonderful fun in the kitchen.


  2. This is funny. I like the idea of soy alginate for body parts. Remind me next Christmas to get some so I can have an arm or leg next to the Christmas turkey (just to see if anyone notices). Enjoy your book 💟


    • LOL it’s not what I expected to learn from a foodie book!


  3. Haha Lisa, I don’t think I’d ever have the enthusiasm for trying things like this. I’m minimum effort for maximum effect kind of cook!


    • Well, most of the time, so am I… but sometimes…


  4. X-Mrs Legend and Psych daughter think they are going to be Masterchef contestants so I might give them this book when we have our mid-January Xmas. But I think I’d better include your review with it as well.


    • Really?! I cannot imagine being clever enough in the kitchen to do that. I don’t think most people realise that it’s not just a matter of creativity in the kitchen and having mastery of so many techniques, they have to be able to remember the quantities without recipes. That’s the bit that would send me packing…


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