One of the easiest ways to try out molecular gastronomy is by creating "pearls". Most pearls are small jelly balls, or small spheres, that can be used to garnish dishes or as an amuse-bouche.
Here we create sweet-sour balsamic vinegar pearls that are a great way to add a hit of flavor to many different dishes. The process of making them is even pretty easy, with just a touch of molecular gastronomy.
It's a fantastic way to add some flair to your dishes.
How Do You Make Balsamic Pearls
We first combine the vinegar with agar agar and bring it to a boil. Then we drizzle the balsamic mixture into very cold olive oil that chills the droplets into spheres before they reach the bottom of the glass. This forms agar pearls
Once you rinse off the balsamic vinegar pearls they are ready to use or you can store them in the refrigerator for later use. There are many uses for these agar balsamic balls, and they can be used in many dishes you would drizzle balsamic vinegar on.
We've also included a video below showing the technique in action.
And if you are just getting started with modernist cooking, you can't go wrong with experimenting with agar...many people consider it an essential element of molecular gastronomy.
What is the Difference Between Pearls and Caviar?
To be clear, these pearls are not the same thing as modernist balsamic caviar. They may look the same, and some people call it a cold oil spherification method, but pearls are solid jelly balls, while caviar has a liquid center and they are made through very different processes.
You can use spherification to make caviar. It usually uses a combination of calcium chloride or calcium lactate with sodium alginate or iota carrageenan.
Pearls simply use agar agar to fully gel the vinegar, but you could also use gelatin or other gelling agents, maybe even cellulose gum or guar gum.
What Type of Vinegar is Best
You can use any vinegar you want, though the higher the quality the better tasting the final product will be. A traditional balsamic vinegar of modena is amazing, but anything with a decent flavor is great.
You can also make white balsamic pearls with a white balsamic vinegar.
What to Serve Balsamic Pearls On
These can be used on any dish that would normally have a balsamic glaze, such as sous vide pork tenderlon.
With the addition of a little sugar, you can use these tiny pearls as a toppic for ice cream, sundays, or other tasty desserts. The black balsamic pearls are especially vivid when served on vanilla ice cream or other light colored dishes.
These can make a standard caprese salad much more upscale, are an amazing topping for burrata cheese, and can even elevate some fresh fruit to some much more fancy.
If you like this recipe you can get more than 80 other recipes from my book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Getting Started. The book covers many of the popular modernist techniques such as gelling, spherification, and foams. It also explores modernist ingredients like agar, sodium alginate, tapioca maltodextrin, and xanthan gum. It is all presented in an easy to understand format and I think it's the best way to learn about modernist cooking.
Also, if you are just getting started experimenting with molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine then I highly recommend one of these molecular gastronomy kits. They have everything you need to do many different dishes.