Club Chef's Institute 2006: Introduction to the Use of Hydrocolloids

November 2006

The Greenbrier Tavern Room
300 W. Main Street
White Sulphur Springs, WV
(304) 536-1110

Chef Michael Voltaggio of the Greenbriar Tavern Room in Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, introduces uses for hydrocolloids.

Chemicals: Substances used or made by chemistry: substances used in or produced by the processes of chemistry. Chemicals have a defined atomic or molecular structure that results from, or takes part in, reactions involving changes in their structure, composition, and properties.

Chemistry: Study of transformation of matter: a branch of science dealing with the structure, composition, properties and reactive characteristics of substances, especially at the atomic and molecular levels.

Hydrocolloids: Hydrophilic polymers of vegetable, animal, microbial or synthetic origin. They are naturally present or added to control the functional properties of food including viscosity, emulsion, stabilization, thickening, gelling, foam stabilization, and the prevention of ice crystallization. Here are a few examples of hydrocolloids:

» Agar: Extracted from red algae and used as a gelling agent in Japan since 1859. It is a source of fiber and can form gels in very small proportions. Once gelled it can withstand heat of up to 80ºC. Mix it in cold and bring to a boil.
Suggested Uses: Warm gelatins/terrines

» Alginate: Extracted from brown algae, it gels in the presence of calcium chloride. Dilutes while cold with strong agitation.
Suggested Uses: Reacts with calcium chloride to create liquid center textures

» Methylcellulose: Extracted from the cellulose of vegetables, it gels when heat is applied and when cold it acts as a thickener. Mix cold and rest in the refrigerator for a few hours for complete hydration. Apply temperature of 40º to 60ºC. When product cools it loses its gelling capacity and begins to melt. Great for adding cling to sauces and regulating viscosity during processing stages.
Suggested Uses: Hot ice cream, fried hollandaise, noodles and gnocchi

» Gellan Gum: Obtained from the fermentation of Sphingomonas elodea bacteria. Gels when heat is applied. Mix cold in liquid and bring to simmer. Pour into desired mold to set. Can be reheated to 70ºC and served warm.
Suggested Uses: Eggless custards that can be served warm, “noodles,” “pasta”

» Starch: A complex carbohydrate which is insoluble in water; it is used by plants as a way to store excess glucose. Starch (in particular cornstarch) is used in cooking for thickening sauces. In industry, it is used in the manufacturing of adhesives, paper, textiles, and as a mould in the manufacture of sweets such as wine gums and jelly babies. It is a white powder and is tasteless and odorless.
Suggested Uses: Glazing, Powders

» Xanthan Gum: Obtained from the fermentation of corn starch with bacteria found in cabbage. This gum has great thickening power. Soluble cold or hot. Can thicken alcohol. Used in a lot of grocery store marinades, sauces and salad dressing.
Suggested Uses: Fluid Gels, Mousses, Relishes, Sauces

» Pectin: A heterosaccharide derived from the cell wall of plants. Pectins vary in their chain lengths, complexity and the order of each of the monosaccharide units. It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braconnot. Under acidic conditions, pectin forms a gel, and it can be used as an edible thickening agent in processed foods. This effect is used for making jams and jellies.
Suggested Uses: Jams, Jellies, Pate de Fruit