Culinary Deep Dive: Powdered Oils & Fats
Powdered Walnut Oil. Photo by Jenny Dorsey.
There is a curious phenomenon in the world of fine dining: mysterious white powder that comes in all sorts of delightful flavors. This 2nd Culinary Deep Dive will be about powdered oils and fats, another molecular feat that's been used in CPG's before becoming a part of "haute" cuisine. Maltodextrin (typically derived from tapioca) is a tasteless powder that can turn oils and fats into powder without adding noticeable flavor. It does not bond well with liquids, so once that powder touches a high-liquid environment (i.e. a guest's tongue), it will naturally dissolve back into a its original form.
You can powder almost any oil or fat - the applications are endless! Some bacon powder (from bacon fat) on your morning fried egg, perhaps? What about some walnut powder or peanut butter powder on a smooth chocolate mousse? Olive powder served alongside some olives? I recommend only using highly flavorful oils and fats, as the maltodextrin will soak up some of its natural flavor and render more delicate fats tasteless. For instance, I tried this method with macadamia oil and couldn't even taste the nut in the finished product.
Alright, let's get started with this process! Let's say we're making some walnut oil powder today. You'll need the following:
Before starting, a few notes: you always want to make sure you use high-quality oils or fats, as they hold on to flavor much, much better than their cheap counterparts. You also want to make sure you are using food-grade maltodextrin. If the fat you want to powder is a solid form (i.e peanut butter, Nutella) you'll want to do this process in a food processor instead of by hand with a whisk. If your fat is something that can be liquid (i.e. butter, bacon fat) it's better you melt it down, but let it cool before mixing it with the maltodextrin.
1. Pour ~1 Tbsp (doesn't have to be exact) of flavored oil or fat into a plastic bowl. Most recipes will dictate a weight, but I don't think this needs that level of precision (see #2). I do think using more than ~1 Tbsp at a time when mixing by hand makes life hard and the results in a clumpy mess, so if you need to make a large batch, just split it up into smaller batches.
2. Add ~2 Tbsp (doesn't have to be exact) of maltodextrin into the plastic bowl and begin to whisk. Again, you could use a scale to determine this but the reaction is pretty instantaneous and you'll be able to see if you need more maltodextrin or oil/fat. The rule of thumb is that maltodextrin should be 40% weight of the final product; once you've scooped a spoonful of maltodextrin you'll realize it's uber-light weight means you'll need a large volume of maltodextrin to match the weight of your oil or fat. (This is also the reason CPG's use maltodextrin as a way to fluff up the volume of its products). This is one of the only molecular recipes I think having a scale is relatively little value-add - any mistakes can be easily rectified if they happen at all. I do like to use a slightly smaller whisk than the regular variety so there's less room at the center of the whisk for the clumps to get trapped.
3. Keep whisking and adding maltodextrin until your oil or fat has fully transformed into a fluffy powder. It'll first turn into a glue-like substance before slowly breaking up into powdery pieces. Make sure to remove the clumps from inside the whisk, break them up, and reincorporate them into the powder. The end result should look like something similar to the photo above: there's no visible oil or fat left, the powder is relatively fine and dry to the touch, but it's not so grainy it resembles the original maltodextrin. Make sure to taste the end powder to determine if it is as flavorful as you'd like. For a super fluffy powder texture, pass your powder through a tamis.
4. Serve with something that is mostly dry - nothing that contains a high liquid content (i.e. don't put this on a soup). I usually use it as a garnish for plates, especially desserts that have a firmer sauce. You could put this on a chocolate mousse, for instance, or a pudding, as that is still relatively firm. I like to use darker-colored plates for presentation because unless your oil/fat was very dark in color to start with (i.e. Nutella), the maltodextrin will lift the color and the end powder is almost always white.
5. If you'd like to save your powder for later, put it into a half-pint container with a lid and store in the freezer. If you leave it uncovered, it starts absorbing moisture and will eventually melt. I've held some powders for weeks, so it lasts a while but the flavor does dissipate a little towards the end.
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