Foams are taking over the culinary world and while recipes such as chicken roast with butter foam or beetroot mousse with feta foam may sound odd, they are becoming a new norm in the gourmet cuisine with fusions in savoury and sweet genres.
Foam on food is associated with the modern era of cooking. It’s a structure that traps air in bubbles, something similar to an emulsion. Just as an emulsion (which is a liquid) traps fat in a structure, foam traps air. Foams could either be made of proteins, water or even fat. Their texture completely depends on the size and the amount of bubbles trapped inside.
Creating foam is a gastronomy technique requiring a significant amount of skill although various instruments help in the application. It is this treatment of air bubbles that creates a lighter texture in the mouth of the eaters.
You may believe that there is only one kind of foam, but that’s not the case as there are various kinds of foam available. Foaming, as a technique, is very versatile and varied. It has been incorporated in modern cuisine in the form of whipped cream, meringues and mousses; all of these are nothing but foam.
Foams are lighter in weight and are made primarily by aerating mixtures, they are extremely delicate. They have been a part of traditional cooking too by way of their part to play in the creation of beers, bread dough and most kinds of pastry dough. However, these are generally categorised under “set” foams.
Fast forward to the modern techniques and foams have found a permanent place in molecular gastronomy. In these recipes, foam is infused with herbs, spices, fruit juices and many more unique flavours to create a hybrid taste for the palate. Imagine coffee foam that tastes just like your morning cuppa, but is 40 times lighter!
Whipping and blending are the tradional ways of creating foam, but there are far greater number of tools that are being used nowadays. To give the mixture a firmer texture and lend it consistency, stabilising agents such as agar are used. This mixture is given further aeration by pumping it into a whipped cream canister, which works on nitrous oxide cartridges. These are then shaken vigorously; the applied pressure spits out perfect consistency light foams. These canisters allow chefs to create new cocktails of flavours every single time.
Most chefs around the world believe that the first use of this delicious technique dates back all the way to the 1700s in the form of soufflés. The soufflés were both sweet and savoury and literally mean “puffed up”. The inside was light and airy to the bite while the outside had a tiny bit of crispiness. From there, its natural evolution took it into meringues and cakes.
In the field of molecular gastronomy, much of the technique evolution is courtesy a Spanish chef named Ferran Adria. One of the best in the world, he is the head chef at elBulli restaurant in Costa Brava. Reports say he eliminated the use of cream and eggs in his foams, instead infusing various flavours by changing the air.