Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tapioca Maltodextrin: Sprinkle on the Fat

Next up in the molecular gastronomy bag of tricks is tapioca maltodextrin!

This stuff is pretty amazing. It's a "food grade dextrose made from tapioca" and comes in a very, very light powder. Maltodextrins, a kind of polysaccharide, are pretty commonly used as food additives, sometimes referred to as "stabilizers" for thickening liquids. If you've done any beer brewing, you might recognize the name: maltodextrin is added to some thicker beers to improve mouthfeel and add some head retention. (This reminds me I should get back to brewing some beer one of these days ...) This is a maltodextrin, but made from tapioca through a magical enzymatic process that I'm not all that inclined to research. And yes, the same tapioca you find in your bubble teas and tapioca pudding. The tapioca itself is flavorless, so using it as an additive does not contribute towards flavor at all.

In this lovely book that I'll probably never read, they state the following:
"When polysaccharide concentration is sufficiently high, the viscosity of the continuous phase becomes so large that the droplets cannot move. In such situation polysaccharides form a three-dimensional network through intermolecular entanglements that entraps the oil droplets and effectively inhibits their movement, therefor prolonging the stability of the emulsion system." (211)
In short, the tapioca maltodextrin encapsulates the oil. In liquids, such as salad dressings, this would keep the oil and water from separating. What we'll be doing here, though, is using it in an extremely high ratio, to the point where the combination of oil and tapioca maltodextrin is no longer a liquid.

I bought a pound of tapioca maltodextrin from Willpowder, who also sells all sorts of molecular gastronomy materials. I expected it to be a small bag or container, and instead got a giant tub, as you can see below.

Here's what you'll need:
  • olive oil
  • tapioca maltodextrin
  • salt
  • kitchen scale
I wanted to try out the Olive Oil Crumbs recipe on Molecular Recipes, so I used their measurements of 80g olive oil, 25g tapioca maltodextrin, and 3g of salt.

Whisk it together until crumbs form. I used a fork, as I found a whisk to be troublesome.

Next, heat the crumbs until they brown. Make sure the pan is dry. I originally used a spoon to stir them around but ended up just shaking the pan to keep them moving. As you can see, I overcooked them a little bit.

I sprinkled them over some little Campari tomatoes. As soon as the crumbs are introduced to a liquid they'll start to breakdown (releasing the oil molecules, I presume), so this isn't something meant to be put on a food and set aside. Serve it immediately. The crumbs quickly dissolve in the mouth, leaving the flavor of the olive oil. I used olive oil that I had infused with lavender, cardamom, and juniper berries, and the salt was a very finely ground sea salt with herbs. It was an interesting eating experience, for sure.

The above amounts come out to about 76% oil and 24% tapioca maltodextrin. Molecular Recipes and Willpowder both recommend using a starting ratio of 60%/40%, but you may need to experiment to find a good balance. I presume the 76% oil was to help the crumbs keep their shape by not encapsulating too much of the oil. If you want to make a powder, try using 60%/40%.

I had rendered some fat from some of my homemade pancetta and wanted to give this a shot. I didn't record my measurements, but it actually ended up being closer to 50%/50%. If you use a food processor you can easily obtain a powdered consistency. Most recipes I've seen for this recommend pushing it through a tamis, which is a very fine meshed sieve. I don't own one, so I used the finest sieve that I had.

Strangely enough, I ended up with what looked like grated cheese.

You can do quite a bit with tapioca maltodextrin, but as far as molecular gastronomy goes it seems as though the common usage is for making powders. Anything with a high fat or oil content, such as peanut butter, Nutella, or even butter (I would suggest clarified butter, from my own experiments) could work. Keep in mind that the oil is released when the powder comes into contact with moisture. I have yet to try "rehydrating" the oil, but I presume that doing so would really just release the oil molecules and allow the maltodextrin to combine with the water, rather than just turning it back into oil.

How you use this knowledge is completely up to you. I used recipes that were already out there, but I have enough of this stuff to try and find some new uses for it. I can promise you, neighbors, that I'll share anything interesting that I come up with as long as you promise to do the same.

Next up ... meat glue! I finally got my hands on some and learned to deal with epic failure at the same time!


  1. I'm always reading that tapioca maltodextrin absorbs fats and oils, but according to what I read it's encapsulating the oil, which doesn't technically count as absorption.

    I hope some bored scientist can read this post and maybe clarify how it works. Since molecular gastronomy is often touted as being so scientific and precise it should be explained the correct way, no?

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! Also, thanks for sharing those links- I found some awesome recipes to try- that BBQ shrimp recipe sounds amazing, but I don't know if I can justify 2 pounds of butter (even if it's for 10 people!) Love this post- so interesting, although most of it was WAY over my head :) And meat glue? I'll be back for that one!!

  3. Anthony, I just recently found your post as I was attempting to try the same thing on my own blog! I got more or less the same result: not so much a powder but little clumps of olive oil (mine was even clumpier though). I am planning to try the tomato thing with some of my olive oil clumps :)


  4. I just tried the pan toasted olive oil powder by the way. I did it in a cast iron skillet, and after about three or four minutes the larger pieces actually took on sort of a crunchy texture - like some kind of corn puff but made of olive oil!

  5. Mixing a high proof rum °151 or grain alcohol °190 with this and you have your answer to cinemas and concerts. Bring son e of your powdered alcohol and add it to fruit juice or make a rum & coke who's to know.