Young and Hungry

Liquid Olives: Like Water Balloons But with Olive Juice

As part of the Spanish Vanguard Cuisine talk on Tuesday, organizers put together a little after-party to toast the two participating chefs— wd~50's Wylie Dufresne and THINKfoodGROUP's José Andrés — and show off some of their more avant-garde dishes. Like the famous foie-gras cotton candy and liquid olives.

Jorge Hernandez, a cook at Zaytinya, was working the liquid-olive station, and he was only too happy to explain how the process works.  The olive juice (taken from uncured green olives, the quality of which is not important, he says) is first mixed with sodium gluconate; the resulting juice is then drawn into a syringe (or squeeze bottle) and squirted into ball shapes and plopped into a mixture of water and sodium alginate. The water/alginate mixture wraps itself around the juice balls and forms a thin grayish-green skin.

Voila, liquid olives.

The way Hernandez explained it, the process sounded so simple that even Ferran Adrià's iPhone could handle it (assuming Adrià's iPhone could get its apps on sodium alginate). But I also realized that this was a party, and Hernandez may be simplifying things, or even forgetting things, as he fished out more liquid olive balls for a ravenous crowd.

Sure enough, according to this online recipe by Andrés (and adapted by StarChefs.com), the spherification process is slightly more complicated and may even include different (and more) ingredients.  But whatever. I have no plans to make liquid olives at home, even if I did have a kitchen vacuum to suck out the air bubbles in the various mixtures.

Why? Because eating liquid olives is mostly about the experience, not the flavors. I say that even though Andrés mentioned, during the earlier talk, that liquid olives often have more olive flavor than the real thing.

I beg to differ—at least based on this version. I placed a liquid olive on my tongue and let it roll around for a second or two. It was an absolute trip to have this ball bouncing around my mouth; it felt like I had tossed a tiny water balloon at my tongue, but it hadn't burst. Then suddenly the balloon split on its own, its ruptured skin releasing a rivulet of juice across my palate. The juice had a slightly viscous consistency and tasted like medium-grade olive oil, perhaps with a dash of salt in it.

After Andrés' build-up and that little balloon fight in my mouth, I expected much more.

  • Simon

    could you do your readers a favor and list all DC-area restaurants that specialize in some form of molecular gastronomy (beyond simply adding pearls of sauce as a garnish like every single dish at Farrah Olivia)?

  • DC Food lover

    Ooh that is a great idea, Simon!

    Yes, a feature or post about molecular gastronomy in the region would be awesome. Definitely would give me more restaurants for the growing list of "One day..."

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