Illustration for article titled How to gel your favorite beveragesPhoto: tarapong srichaiyos (Shutterstock)

I wish I had a good reason to lie in bed on a Friday morning and try jellied beer from a cocktail glass – but the real explanation is anime. Anime has been my and my spouse’s pandemic hobby, and we’ve seen at least two dozen series in the past year. We recently finished The Disastrous Life by Saiki K., a show about an all-powerful high school clairvoyant who is desperately trying (and failing) to be mediocre. The title character has a weakness for dessert – especially coffee jelly, a gelatinized coffee dessert. Gelatin always spoiled me a little, and I’ve only made Jell-O once or twice, but I wanted to try coffee jelly myself.

Illustration for article titled How to gel your favorite beverages

What began as a serious attempt to recreate this actually good dessert quickly developed into a barely scientific mission to gelatinize all the liquids I could think of. The results have always been surprising, often tasty, and at times terrible, but I’ve gained the confidence to use gelatin when a recipe calls for it.

Gelatin comes from collagen, a widely used protein with a wound triple helix shape that gives structure to connective tissue in animals. Heating gelatin in water induces a hydrolysis reaction that breaks the proteins into smaller pieces. When you mix a powder made from these pieces with a liquid in solution, you heat the solution to activate it and allow it to cool. “The gelatin molecules rewind and form this beautiful gel network,” which encloses the liquid. E. Allen Foegeding, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutritional Sciences at North Carolina State University, who graciously offered explanations for my mistakes. (Scientists measure the strength of a gelatin’s networking abilities with a measure called “flower number,” named after scientist Oscar T. Bloom.)

Gelatine dishes come from medieval Europe, reported Sarah Gray For Serious Eats, however, making collagen from bones was time-consuming. Peter Cooper submitted and patents to improve the convenience of gelatin in 1845, while the famous brand name Jell-O comes from the patent of a cough syrup manufacturer from 1897 and – loudly Julie Thompson for the Huffington Post– Coffee jelly appeared in a British cookbook as early as 1817. Today the dish appears more often in Japan, where jellied liquids have one Centuries of history. Instead of using gelatin, these desserts contain agar, a substance found in red algae that behaves similarly to gelatin.

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Illustration for article titled How to gel your favorite beveragesPhoto: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Recovering this coffee jelly was extremely easy; I followed this recipe from Me first “flourished“Make the gelatin (unrelated to Oscar T.) by dissolving a .25-ounce bag of Knox Unflavored Gelatin in some warm water, then mix with two cups of my favorite coffee and some sugar and bring to a boil. I poured the mixture into individual serving size cups and chilled them to sit before serving with whipped cream.

The result was a refreshing dessert with a softer texture than the Jell-O you’d find in a diner and a pleasant way to get my morning caffeine boost. I had coffee jelly for breakfast for several days before realizing that if it were that easy to turn coffee into jelly, then I could probably turn many other liquids into jelly as well. I made a list of the liquids I encounter most frequently – coffee, tea, soda, wine, beer, and miso soup – and decided to gel them all.

The London Mist, my favorite tea drink and a mix of Earl Gray tea, milk, and vanilla, was the first gelled liquid I tried myself. I prepared the ingredients according to the proportions of the tried and tested coffee and jelly recipe: two cups of London Fog, a sachet of gelatine powder and three tablespoons of sugar. I made a big mess – that Protein molecules in milk acted as a foaming agent and let it boil over the little saucepan I used. I tried again and went to a larger pot.

Illustration for article titled How to gel your favorite beveragesPhoto: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

The results were … okay. A film of unsavory and somewhat gummy milk fat formed on the surface of each serving plate. The texture was more or less the same as coffee jelly, albeit a little milder than the milk. It tasted like a London mist, but the sweetness felt overwhelming – I’d forgotten the lactose in the milk. After a few bites, I tossed the rest of the wobbling mixture in the trash.

Next I tried Dr. Pepper Jelly and made some changes to my previous test. I had noticed that many gelatin dessert recipes online called for one sachet of gelatin per cup of liquid instead of the one sachet per two cup ratio that I had used. After the fog incident in London, I also found that Dr. Pepper alone was sweet enough not to need any added sugar. Finally, I had seen some recipes – especially for children – use a microwave to heat the gelatin.

I prepared the soda and gelatin solution, swirled it in the microwave in three one-minute increments (between each stir), and then let the mixture harden. The result was … hideous.

By doubling the gelatin powder ratio, I had created a stronger gelatin network – the Dr. Pepper had turned into a thick, jiggling block that felt hard to chew compared to the melt-in-your-mouth texture I had enjoyed from the coffee jelly. While the higher ratio was advertised as “tasteless,” it expressed a slightly meaty essence, similar to the aftertaste of rind. Although it tasted sweet like a liquid, the mixture barely tasted sweet like a jelly solid, and the Dr. Pepper wasn’t enough to mask the piggy.

When I asked Foegeding on the phone why the Dr. Pepper gelatin doesn’t taste sweet, He explained that making a firmer gel decreased my perception of sweetness by reducing the contact the gel made with the taste receptors on my tongue. At least at least a study found that we perceive firmer textures as less flavorful, regardless of the amount of food flavor molecules in our nose.

Fortunately, there was a good side to these less successful experiments – I had two principles outlined that I would bring to the next round of jellies:

  1. The ideal ratio for a gelatin-based dessert is a 0.25 ounce pouch to two cups of liquid
  2. Finding the optimal sweetness is a moving goal based on context and texture.

After feeling a bit drained after two mistakes, I had low expectations of the wine jelly and thought gagged about the idea of ​​the beer jelly. But I pushed forward – a bag of jelly for two cups of red wine. The wine tasted dry and I didn’t feel like thinking about the taste chemistry of alcohol, so I took three tablespoons of sugar. I liked the microwave method so I went for it.

This time I had hit the sweet spot. The texture was ideal, and while the taste bordered on Manischewitz’s, the wine’s own taste seemed through enough to make the experience enjoyable. I gave one of the cups to my neighbors who finished and enjoyed it. I later learned that Thomas Jefferson wrote a recipe for wine jelly by himself.

The beer was even more surprising; I reduced the sugar to just over two tablespoons and the result tasted great, like something I’d love to eat on the beach. Granted, I used one beautiful craft– a sour ale with guava – that enhanced most of the flavor. I don’t think I could stand a Coors Light Jell-O.

There are many other considerations when it comes to making a jelly out of your favorite beverage – too much alcohol and the gel network may not form properly. Foegeding reminded me in our conversation that certain fresh fruits like pineapple and kiwi contain protease enzymes that break down protein molecules. These enzymes are excellent for tenderizing meat, but also inhibit the gelling properties of gelatin.

For the final step of the powdered gelatin journey, I’ll try a hearty dish. I’m trying not to eat meat (despite the powdered bone protein trip I just completed) so I went for it vegan recipe for corn and miso aspicI swapped gelatin for the recommended agar as I already had gelatin on hand. I noticed that this recipe used a bag-per-cup liquid ratio that I found acceptable for a hearty dish.

This last recipe was my ultimate gelatin mistake. I poured the gelatin sachet directly into boiling water instead of dissolving it in the liquid first. This set off a reaction that caused the gelatin to turn into hideous gummy beige lumps. By lowering the packet into heated water without dissolving it beforehand, the gelatin network began to form without any water being trapped. It was like nailing into a stack of 2x4s before aligning them to form the structure, Foegeding told me. I restarted, this time first dissolving the gelatin and then slowly pouring the miso soup and jelly mixture into cups full of corn and nori.

I’m pretty sure the result turned out as it should and I can’t find any specific complaints with it. It tasted like miso soup and corn, and the texture was clearly gelatin and corn. However, I couldn’t take more than a full bite without gagging. Spicy gelatine dishes are not for me. [Editor’s note: Aspic can take some getting used to if you weren’t raised on it. —Claire Lower]

All of these gellings left me with a few general powdered gelatin tips for other beginners hoping to gel drinks:

  • Start with 0.25 ounces of gelatin powder per two cups of liquid. Take into account that firmer gels decrease your taste perception and require more sugar than you think.
  • Know the fresh fruit too a lot of protease Like pineapples, kiwi, papaya and figs inhibit gel formation.
  • Once you master the grocery store gelatin powder, there is a whole world to explore including gelatin powders and sheets of various flower numbers, agar, and other cooking agents that thicken foods and produce gels in the kitchen.

Gelatin is amazing from a chemical standpoint, and small changes to various ingredients in your recipe or the type of gelatin you use can have a big impact on the texture and mouthfeel. I have certainly learned from my many mistakes, although I actually made the experience of seeing the proverbial sausage a bit repulsive. Here’s a general lesson: dive deep into the science and history of an unfamiliar ingredient, conduct experiments and record where you screwed it up and why this is a great way to grow as a chef. But I also don’t plan on eating more gelatin for a while.