Cooking with gas: Nitrogen, Food & You
We’re big fans of food and we’re big fans of gas here at Analox (sometimes, depending on what we’ve eaten, the two aren’t mutually exclusive…) Today, we’re looking at how nitrogen can be used in the food and beverage industry – from factories, to restaurants to pubs…
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING – NITROGEN & FOOD PROCESSING
Nitrogen has many uses in food processing. As liquid nitrogen is very cold (-196 °c) it can be used to freeze food quickly. Freezing food quickly leads to smaller ice crystals, which in turn leads to smoother tasting, longer lasting food.
If you have a sweet tooth, you may be interested to know that nitrogen can be used to put bubbles in some of your favourite chocolate bars. The melted chocolate is foamed up with nitrogen and when it cools, the bubbles appear. Gases like carbon dioxide and argon can be used instead, but nitrogen makes smaller bubbles and provides a creamier taste.
Nitrogen is also used in food preservation – by replacing oxygen in food packaging with nitrogen, the shelf-life of products can be vastly extended.
LIQUID NITROGEN ON THE MENU AT RESTAURANTS
The first mention of liquid nitrogen in association with food happened in 1890 when it appeared in a Victorian cookbook. Since then it has been a popular way of freezing and serving food in trendy restaurants (egg and bacon ice cream anyone?)
Liquid nitrogen can also be used to chill drinks, freeze alcohol and pulverise food into small shards and powder.
FEEL THE CHURN – NITROGEN ICE CREAM
Using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream is quicker than the more traditional methods and as quicker freezing leads to smaller ice crystals – it leads to a delicious dessert.
There are lots of ice cream shops across the world which specialise in nitrogen ice cream, crazy flavours and a lot of theatre!
WOULD YOU LIKE A FLAKE IN THAT? NITROGEN INFUSED BEER
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ll know that carbon dioxide is used in the beverage and hospitality industry to carbonate beers and lagers. However… did you know that nitrogen can sometimes be used as well? Nitrogen normally gives a creamier, smoother taste to a beer and ‘nitro taps’ are often used to put the fizz into stouts, craft beers and pale ales. If you buy a can of Guinness (heresy), there is even a small widget in there which releases nitrogen when you open it.
MILK, NO SUGAR IN MY NITROGEN PLEASE
Following on from nitro taps – one of the latest and trendiest developments is using these nitro taps to infuse cold brew coffee with nitrogen – a mixture commonly known as ‘nitrobrew’.
Nitrobrew is a cold drink, served in a glass, which looks like beer but tastes creamy, like coffee and delivers a potent caffeine hit – some claim it’s twice as strong as normal coffee.
Nitrobrew is only available in a few venues at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before it makes it big.
THE DANGERS OF NITROGEN AND HOW ANALOX CAN HELP
This is the part of the post where we have to get serious for a little bit… Although nitrogen has many great uses in the food and beverage industry, it can be dangerous if misused.
Although it is not toxic, nitrogen is an inert gas, which means that it replaces oxygen in the atmosphere. The atmosphere normally consists of 21% oxygen – a drop to 15% is enough to cause oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) in the body, and a drop to 8% is enough to cause unconsciousness and death.
It’s not just nitrogen gas that can cause problems. A small amount of liquid nitrogen will turn into a large amount of nitrogen gas – expanding up to 700 times.
When using nitrogen, either in gas or liquid form, it is important not to use it in a confined space, ensure it is stored safely and to have adequate ventilation. Using an atmospheric monitor to detect levels of oxygen in the atmosphere is essential – we offer a range of fixed and portable O2 gas detectors for all industries and price ranges.
Although you can get kits for making your own nitrogen-imbued food and drink, it is always best to leave the creation to the professionals. As long as food and drink has been prepared and served safely, nitrogen has such a low boiling point, all nitrogen will have evaporated by the time you get round to enjoying your ice cream or coffee.
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