Spherification is a technique that chefs use to transform liquids into solid, edible spheres. (Get it? SPHERE-ification?) These edible spheres can add fun pops of color, texture, and flavor to different dishes, from toast to ice cream to fruit salad — and look JUST like faux fish eggs!
Safety Considerations: Uses the microwave
Time: 45 minutes, plus 4 hours chilling time before you begin
Yield: Makes about ½ cup spheres
This activity was created by America’s Test Kitchen Kids. You can use any water-based flavorful liquid, such as fruit juice, vinegar, or lemonade. If your flavorful liquid is thick, like chocolate syrup, or salty, like soy sauce, first mix ¼ cup of the flavorful liquid with ¼ cup of water. Then, measure from that mixture. Other types of oil will not work in this recipe (you don’t eat the oil, you just use it to create the spheres).
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup flavorful liquid, measured separately
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- 6 cups ice
Gather Cooking Equipment:
- Tall container (about 24 ounces) with lid
- 4 bowls (1 large, 2 medium, 1 small)
- Rubber spatula
- Liquid measuring cup
- Oven mitts
- Funnel (optional)
- Squeeze bottle
- Fine-mesh strainer
1. At least 4 hours before you want to make your spheres, pour oil into tall container, cover container, and place container in refrigerator.
2. Add 2 tablespoons flavorful liquid to small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over surface of liquid. Use rubber spatula to stir until no large lumps of gelatin remain. Set aside.
3. Add remaining ¼ cup flavorful liquid to liquid measuring cup. Microwave until steaming, 30 to 45 seconds.
4. Use oven mitts to remove liquid measuring cup from microwave (ask an adult for help). Pour hot liquid into bowl with gelatin mixture. Whisk mixture until fully combined and no lumps remain.
5. Place funnel, if using, over squeeze bottle. Carefully pour gelatin mixture into squeeze bottle (ask an adult for help). Secure top on bottle. Place bottle in refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to let gelatin mixture thicken slightly.
6. Remove container of oil from refrigerator and place in center of large bowl. Arrange ice around container of oil. Carefully remove lid from container of oil.
7. Remove squeeze bottle from refrigerator. Hold bottle at angle over container of oil. Gently squeeze bottle until droplets of liquid fall into oil. Each droplet should form a sphere and fall to bottom of oil. To make larger spheres, quickly drip several drops of liquid in same spot. Continue forming spheres until all liquid is used up. (If the gelatin mixture clogs the nozzle of your squeeze bottle, unscrew the cap, run it under warm water, and use a toothpick to push out any gelatin that’s stuck. If the gelatin mixture becomes too thick, microwave the squeeze bottle for 5 to 10 seconds.)
8. In sink, set fine-mesh strainer over medium bowl. Carefully pour oil-sphere mixture into strainer. Use rubber spatula to scrape any remaining spheres into strainer. Discard oil.
9. Fill second medium bowl about halfway with cold water. Transfer spheres from fine-mesh strainer to bowl of cold water. Use rubber spatula to gently stir spheres in water. Working over sink, pour water-sphere mixture back into strainer, letting water go down drain. Serve.
10. Leftover spheres can be stored in airtight container covered with layer of vegetable oil for up to 1 week. Follow steps 8 and 9 to rinse spheres before serving.
How do those liquid droplets transform into solid, round spheres? There are two star players on the spherification team: gelatin and cold oil.
Gelatin is a kind of protein. It’s made up of long, thin molecules. When gelatin is mixed with a hot liquid, its molecules are loose and flexible and they move around a lot — the liquid stays liquid. But when the temperature gets colder, the gelatin molecules slow down and get tangled, kind of like the wires on headphones when they’re in your pocket. Eventually, they get so tangled that they trap the liquid inside. The liquid can’t move around: It becomes a solid.
When the room-temperature gelatin — flavorful liquid mixture drips into the cold oil, it almost instantly turns from a liquid droplet to a solid sphere. If the oil isn’t cold enough, the droplets won’t form spheres — they’ll look more like blobs (but they’ll still be tasty).
Speaking of our other star ingredient, you might have heard that oil and water don’t mix. Squeezing drops of flavorful liquid (that’s made mostly of water) into the oil causes the liquid to squeeze together in tight little sphere shapes. The oil pushes the flavorful liquid (that’s mostly made of water) into the smallest shape it can form — not loose blobs, not egg shapes or cubes, but perfect, round spheres!
How to Use Edible Spheres
Create different flavors of spheres to use as colorful garnishes or toppings. Sprinkle your spheres on top of toast, salad, yogurt, rice, ice cream, and more. If you add them to a warm dish, the spheres might start to melt, but they’ll still add lots of flavor! You can also drop spheres into drinks, like bubbly seltzer water or cold lemonade. No matter how you serve them, they’ll impress and surprise your friends and family.