Using Dry Ice to Carry Scent – A Culinary Fog

CO2Smoke
Lapsang souchong fog

It is a popular device in modern restaurants to serve clouds of perfumed smoke as a way to enhance a dish, adding another layer of sensory experience. Smoke can be produced with a small smoking gun, or expensive paraphenalia, and served to the diner along with the rest of the food under an enclosure. Alinea fills plastic bags with the smoke, wraps them in beautiful pillowcases, punctures them with a pin, and rests the plate on top.

When I was using dry ice for a homemade anti-griddle, I got to thinking about whether the beautiful fog it produces could be a different way to produce a scented "smoke". It turns out the answer is yes, in the simplest possible way. If you simply make a strong infusion of whatever aroma you want to carry, and then at the last minute add a small chunk of dry ice, you can pour the fog into your serving vessel, cover it, and bring it to the table. When the diner removes the top, the scent greets them right away, and if in a glass, it can actually be drunk.

My first experiment was with lapsang souchong tea. This tea is profoundly smoky to begin with, so I thought it would be kind of amusing that the fake smoke actually smelled like smoke. In the picture above I served it with drinking chocolate, cherry-smoked Japanese salt (from The Meadow in Portland, Oregon – a terrific salt & chocolate shop), and lapsang souchong pudding. I would have preferred cherry blossoms, but only the plums are in bloom this week.

I also tried cinnamon and that carried just fine too. Looking forward to experimenting with other volatiles.

[By the way, not surprisingly it turns out that this idea has been used for several years by Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal, and no doubt others. Thanks to Alex from Ideas in Food for helping me find the reference.]

One potential advantage to this technique is that you can make a low temperature infusion, preserving the unheated natural aromas. I think I'll try lemongrass next, as that would be an example where traditional smoking might not work so well.

A couple of words about safety. First of all, dry ice is really cold. It can hurt you. Learn how to handle it safely before messing with it. Second, inhaling too much of that smoke or using it in an enclosed space can be toxic. It is CO2 after all. Here is some basic safety info (which I don't vouch for, just passing along).

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, March 8th, 2010 in Experiments, Recipes.

6 Responses to “Using Dry Ice to Carry Scent – A Culinary Fog”

  1. March 9, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    Wow! That just looks very impressive!! I’ve always wondered how that was done.. Gorgeous photo!

  2. March 9, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    This is wonderful and so clever! What a lovely way to up the mood at the dinner table as well. Thanks for sharing. I might whip this out when I host a dinner some time. Be sure to impress everyone :) Gorgeous photo too.

  3. March 9, 2010 at 5:15 am #

    Oh yes, the bakeries in Singapore do put a small dry ice to keep the cake cold and I did hurt myself picking those up from the box.

    Love your pic. :)

  4. March 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Dry ice? Is this safe to smell? But interesting concept of spreading fumes.

  5. Michael Natkin
    March 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Yep, you gotta be careful! Hopefully nothing to serious though?

  6. March 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    I’m impressed! That looks so incredibly beautiful. An idea I hadn’t thought about but it makes perfect, elegant sense.

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