Go Green: Creating Basil Cream with Xanthan Gum

Sometimes I find that just adding Basil to a dish is boring.
We can do better than that, so I decided to make some Basil Cream.
I didn’t want to heat the Basil as I needed it to keep its full flavour.
That’s why I used Xanthan (E415) to do the job.
First of all, take a lot of Basil. You can’t use too much. The more you take the more aroma you will get.
Then add some Olive Oil (I use 3 tablespoons for 100g of Basil) and some water (rule of thumb: 2/3 of the weight of the Basil, in this example: 66ml).

Now use a hand blender to blend thoroughly.
This will take some time. Basil will stick to the blades and you’ll need to remove them manually.
Whatever you do, don’t put your fingers between the blades! Always use a small spoon. If for some reason these blades start turning there won’t be enough left of your fingers to sew back on!

Once its’ well blended, strain the liquid through a sieve.
Use a spoon to press the liquid through the sieve. You want to get as much out as possible.
Once a dry, dark green crust remains in the sieve you can stop straining.

Now add 1% Xanthan Gum.
As the remaining liquid weighed 174g, I added 1,74g of Xanthan.
You need to be very precise here. Adding too much will make the cream too thick.

Use the hand blender to blend the liquid with the Xanthan Gum. Remember to clean the blender first as you don’t want any of the Basil Crumbs in your cream.

You can stop blending once the cream has reached a nice viscosity.
Now pour into a squeeze bottle.

This cream goes very well with tomatoes.
You can use it to create something like “Caprese Moleculare”.
I do this by placing Mozzarella di Bufala at the bottom, followed by Mozzarella Cream and diced tomatoes.
On top comes the Basil Cream. This adds a great aroma and perfect colour.

Xanthan Gum: Magic for Sauces and Pastes

For some sauces and liquids, Xanthan Gum is the way to go.
Stirring it into a cold liquid will significantly increase the viscosity of this liquid, turning it into a cream or paste.
You will probably consume more Xanthan in everyday life than you’re even aware of. Just check the packaging of your toothpaste, cosmetics, ice cream,salad dressings, sauces.
Gluten free foods are also highly likely to contain Xanthan Gum as it gives them the stickiness that normally comes from Gluten.
If it says “E415” on the package, it contains Xanthan Gum.

The great advantage is that Xanthan Gum doesn’t change the flavor or the colour of the foods that are treated with it.
I personally use it a lot in my cooking.

One great example is soy sauce. Soy Sauce has a very low viscosity. Iyou pour it over food it will just run down and collect at the bottom of the plate. Not what you want if your dish is artfully stacked or it simply needs to stick to your food to get the full flavour.
Of course you could simmer down the soy sauce until it has the required viscosity. This will take a long time though and, what’s worse, the result will taste extremely salty. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Instead, all you do is add a little bit of Xanthan Gum, stir hard using a hand blender or, in case of small quantities, a milk frother. You’ll find that while you stir, it gains viscosity and starts turning into a perfect soy cream.

Start with 0,5% and work yourself up in steps of 0,1% until your cream has reached the desired viscosity.
So, if you have 100g of Soy Sauce, add 0,5g of Xanthan. Stir for a while and check the viscosity.
If you aren’t satisfied with the result, add 0,1g and continue stirring. And so on. Don’t go too high though. Be patient when you stir. It takes a bit of time for the effect to kick in.
For a perfect viscosity I find that 1% is sufficient for most pastes.

The absolute limit should be 2%, i.e. a max. of 2g Xanthan Gum on 100g of Liquid.
This is still far below the limit where it would act as a laxative.

Please make sure to use an extremely fine scale. Just remember that you apply Xanthan Gum in steps of 0,1g. If you are just 0,05g off, that would be 50%!
Your scale should therefore be precise to a hundredth of a gram.

When you’re done you can fill the cream into a squeeze bottle. This can be used for storing your cream in the fridge for a few days and makes it really easy to apply it to your meal.

Another good example is Balsamico Vinegar.
I’m sure you know these “Balsamico Creams” you can buy in the shops. Guess what…if you’re lucky, they’re only 40% sugar, often more.
Check out this example of a Balsamico Cream I found in Italy. Granted, it’s cheap. But 41% sugar and 277 calories per 100g, really?

I covered the name of the manufacturer as it doesn’t really matter. Basically they are all the same.

Do yourself a favour. Buy a proper Balsamico di Modena, add a little Xanthan Gum (0,5%…, raise percentage as described above) instead of this convenience-stuff.

Look at the picture below.
This real Balsamico has only 84 calories/100g and 15% sugar, i.e. a third of the ready made cream.

So, here is how it’s done.

What we need:
– Balsamico
– Xanthan Gum
– Fine Scale (1/100th gram)
– Milk Frother
– Squeeze Bottle

First of all, weigh the Balsamico you’re going to use. In my example this is 50g.

Now add 0,2g of Xanthan Gum by sprinkling it delicately over the Balsamico.
Xanthan Gum tends to form lumps. The looser you sprinkle it the less lumps you will have.

Add Xanthan Gum in steps of 0,1g and use a milk frother to stir it into the Balsamico until the viscosity is right.

After some time you will notice that the viscosity of the Balsamico increases.

When you’re done and the creaminess is right, fill it into a squeeze bottle. Also, try it.
Yes, it’s much less sweet than one of those ready made Balsamico Creams. But hey, it’s vinegar.
It’s supposed to taste like vinegar.
This is the real thing.
On the picture you can actually see the viscosity of this Balsamico.

Now use the Squeeze bottle to apply it to your dish. Because of the viscosity you can achieve great effects here.

Molecular’s Little Helpers: Dosage

When I searched for a comprehensive list of dosage-recommendations for my most important molecular ingredients, I was disappointed to find nothing proper on the web.

Based on my experience, I created my own.
I listed only ingredients that I use myself, the most important being Agar Agar, Xanthan Gum and Lecithin (in that order).
The rest… well, I have them, but I don’t use them that often.
One of them. Methyl Cellulose, I don’t use at all anymore. Basically this is wallpaper glue. Also, it’s used in the adult film-industry for fake… oh well, I leave this to your imagination.
But whatever, it’s something I don’t want in my food. I have listed it because many recipes still contain it. But if possible, you should refrain from using it.

The quantities shown here are always min. -> max. What within this range is right for whatever you’re doing depends on several factors, e.g. how much acid your liquid contains, whether it contains alcohol, etc.
It may take a few tries to achieve a satisfactory result.
My approach is to start in the middle and then go up or down, depending on whether the result is too hard or too soft.

Please note that some of these additives can have side-effects. Even though they have been tested to be fit for human consumption (shown by the ‘E’-Number), the tests were done with certain maximum quantities.
You should keep the quantities you use as low as possible, even if you should find recipes that require high quantities.
I’ve found recipes that go way above the maximum permitted quantity for industrially produced food.
If in doubt, rather don’t do it.
Sticking to the max. quantities shown in the list above should keep you on the safe side but in case of doubt, please check.

Molecular’s Little Helpers: The Most Important Additives

(Unpaid Advertising)
Molecular cuisine relies heavily on additives, some of which are vegan and actually quite helpful, while others… I’ll never understand why people put some of this stuff into their food.

There are of course a lot more than listed here, but these are the ones I regard as most important (as I use them a lot).
Others may have a different opinion but that doesn’t mean they’re right and I’m wrong. 🙂

I don’t list them alphabetically here, but rather in the order of their importance for my own cooking.
For a quick overview on the dosage, please check here:
Molecular’s Little Helpers: Dosage

Agar Agar (E406):
Used for Gelification.
Agar Agar is believed to have been discovered in Japan in the mid 17th century. It’s obtained from Red Marine Algae, making it a vegan alternative to Gelatine.
Besides Gelification, it’s also used as a laxative and an appetite suppressant, depending on the dosage.
If you stick to the dosage recommended below you should be on the safe side though.
Overdosing in a recipe will cause your product to have a rubbery, hard texture.
For gelification, Agar Agar is my favourite additive.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 1g/100g

Xanthan Gum (E415):
Used for Emulsification.
Xanthan Gum was discovered in the early 1960s and was approved for use in foods in 1968.
It’s produced by fermentation of sugar. The name is derived from the bacteria used in the fermentation process, called Xanthomonas Campestris.
Xanthan Gum increases the viscosity of a liquid. It can also be used to make foams.
Many gluten-free products contain Xanthan, as it gives products the stickiness which normally comes from Gluten.
High doses of Xanthan work as a laxative (approx. 15g/day). Sticking to the recommended dosage will keep you well below this number.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 0,5g/100g

Lecithin (E322):
Used for Emulsification.
Lecithin, as we use it in cooking, is a mixture of phospholipids in oil.
The major source of lecithin is soybean-oil.
Genetically modified crops may be used here but they aren’t detectable in the end-product. Therefore you can never be certain that your product is GM-free.
I use it mainly for creating foams.
Dosage: approx. 0,3g – 0,6g/100g

Calcium Lactate (E327):
Used for Spherification and Reverse Spherification.
Calcium Lactate is produced by the reaction of lactic acid with either Calcium Hydroxide or Calcium Carbonate.
It reacts with Sodium Aginate, forming a skin around a sphere, therefore in Molecular Cuisine both are normally used together.
Dosage: approx. 5g-7g/1l Water (Spherification), 1g/100g (Reverse Spherification).

Sodium Alginate (E400):
Used for Spherification and Reverse Spherification.
Sodium Alginate is refined from Brown Seaweed.
It reacts with Calcium Lactate, forming a skin around a sphere, therefore in Molecular Cuisine both are normally used together.
Dosage: approx. 5g/1l Water (Spherification), 0,5-1g/100g (Reverse Spherification).

Gellan Gum (E418):
Used for Gelification.
Gellan Gum is produced by the bacterium Sphingomonas Elodea.
This bacterium was discovered in the US in 1978.
Other than Agar Agar, gels made with Gellan Gum are heat-resistant up to 70 Degrees Celsius, therefore I use it mainly for creating hot gels.
Dosage: approx. 0,6g – 1g/100g

Carrageenan Kappa (E407):
Used for Gelification.
Carrageenan Kappa is derived from Red Edible Seaweed.
This is one of the oldest additives we know, as it was used in China as far back as 600 B.C.
Carrageenan won’t dissolve in cold water, therefore water must first be heated to at least 60 Degrees Celsius before adding it.
I don’t really use it a lot as I find that I can use Agar Agar in the majority of cases where I want to create a gel.
Dosage: approx. 0,6g – 1,2g/100g

Methyl Cellulose (E461):
Used for Gelification.
I only list this additive because it appears in some recipes I have found. I don’t recommend using it!
Methy Cellulose is produced by heating cellulose with a caustic solution and adding Methyl Chloride.
Methyl Cellulose has one distinctive property that makes it special: it sets when hot and it melts when cold.
This is the one additive I don’t ever use. I have some which I purchased for testing but I don’t prepare food with it.
Methyl Cellulose is also used as wallpaper-glue. Who wants to eat glue?
Another use is in the Adult Movie Industry where it’s used as fake… I leave this to your imagination. With the pictures you have in your head now, do you really want that stuff in your mouth? 😉
Neither do I.
Plus I wouldn’t know why I’d need a hot gel that melts when it cools down.
Dosage: approx. 3g/100g