It’s time for another Food Manual! It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. To be honest, I thought about taking a break on the Alchemist to focus on other projects and school, but something brought me right back. I guess I love desserts and food science too much.
There is a seemingly infinite amount of desserts out in the world from a variety of cultures and countries, but one type of dessert seldom gets its proper recognition. For this reason, I decided to dedicate this manual to drinks and beverages because they have always played a prominent role in my life. From gulping down chocolate milk in elementary school to sipping hot chocolate in the winter with my family to slurping milkshakes infused with alcohol, their impression on me have always been constant and impactful. Plus, we need them to live.
P.s. I apologize a head of time for the quality of some of these pictures. You can tell that we’ve come a long way since the beginning of this journey.
Water is water is water. We all know that water is H2O because of being beaten over the head with this scientific fact in middle and high school. What does this mean? From a chemical perspective, it means that an oxygen atom is covalently bound to two hydrogen atoms, but that really doesn’t tell us much about water. Especially, since these chemical statements are so conceptual as to be impractical for our kitchen uses. The thing that is truly amazing about water is how much we need it to function. Water is the universal solvent. That means that most things can dissolve in water. Water is the liquid component of blood, in which red blood cells, platelets, white blood cells, and various proteins are transported throughout the body. In fact, our cell cytoplasm is mainly water, which is why humans are about 70% water by weight.
The ability of water to dissolve substances is not just for trivia playing purposes. With the exception of alcohol, all of our beverages are composed of water with or without other substances dissolved in it. Consider milk as an example. Milk is 88% water. Everything else in milk is protein, fat, and sugar. Carbonated drinks are water that have been pressurized to dissolve carbon dioxide and filled with sugar. Gatorade is water with dissolved salts (electrolytes) and flavored for taste. Coffee is water that is heated to high temperatures to remove the water-soluble components of coffee beans. The list goes on and on. If it is a liquid and it goes in your mouth, then it is mostly water.
Knowing this fact about water allows us to create a myriad of drinks and desserts. Typically, I like to think of dessert beverages in four categories based on thickness. The first is thin (water), the second is slightly thick (whole milk), medium thickness (cream), and very thick (milkshakes). The thickness of dairy drinks are based on the amount of fat found in them. This is why cream is thicker than water and milk. Cream is 36% fat, whole milk is 3.5% fat, and skim milk is about 0.5% fat. I classify skim and low-fat milk as water thin because the loss of fat naturally thins them out and makes them more water-like. This classification allows me to personalize drinks based on how thick I want them to be. If you want a drink that is slightly thick then whole milk should be your go to. If you want something slightly thicker than milk, but not excessively fatty like heavy cream then add some cream to your milk.
I know what you are thinking at this point. “Is there any way to have a thick drink without making it excessively fatty?” Of course there is! I actually realized this method by reading the back of a chocolate milk carton in the grocery store. Chocolate milk manufacturer’s often fool people into believing that there chocolate milk is very chocolaty by increasing the thickness of the drink. They do this by adding cornstarch to the chocolate milk during pasteurization (heating) to thicken it. It’s both cunning and devious, but at least it isn’t high in fat. If you want to make hot chocolate, but don’t want the fat of whole milk, try adding a teaspoon of cornstarch per serving of hot chocolate to skim milk as it is heated. Flour would also work, but it would require 2 teaspoons per serving. You’re welcome health conscious people! I guarantee you that you will love your healthy hot chocolate so much more if you try that method. The same concept applies to any drink that you can think to create. Although, if you want a drink the thickness of milkshakes, you are going to have to churn it to incorporate air. Freezing it alone won’t help because water is the only substance that is denser as a liquid than as a solid.
Turn up Tuesdays
I’ve never been big on alcohol. There’s something about seeing drunk people yelling incoherently and stumbling across parking lots that never really resonated with me. I do love to use alcohol as a flavoring agent for drinks and meals because it adds a bite that I appreciate. Alcohol is the one non-water beverage that we drink. Which begs the question, what is alcohol? The technical term for alcohol is ethanol, which has the chemical formula C2H6O. This distinction is crucial because there are actually an abundance of different types of alcohols that are used for a variety of things. For example, gas that is pumped into vehicles is made up of octanol, which is an alcohol with eight carbons.
Ethanol is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation. The type of alcohol produced is based on the source of the sugars that the yeast eats. I won’t get into these distinctions because I am far from an expert on the production of alcoholic beverages, but just know that this is how wine, vodka, rum, and any other type of alcohol are different. Also it is important to note that alcoholic beverages are not entirely alcohol. If the label on a pure alcoholic beverage says 40% alcohol by volume, then you know that the other 60% of the volume is water.
In general, you can add alcohol directly to any drink that you want to create. However, there is one instance in which we should be careful about adding alcohol and that is when creating frozen desserts like milkshakes. This is where we as vodka milkshake martini makers run into difficulty. The ratio of solutes (things dissolved in water like salt, sugar, and alcohol) to solvent (milk/water) creates the freezing point depression. Because we are adding alcohol, a solute that influences the freezing point depression a great deal, we could end up with martini chocolate milk very easily. It is possible to add more ice to a milkshake to further drop the temperature of the drink, but this can be tricky because there is no telling how much the alcohol altered the solute concentration. There is actually a formula for calculating the freezing point depression called the van’t Hoff Equation, but that’s quite a bit of work, so I won’t bore you with the details.
The final thing you should know about drink creation is how to flavor them. I’m sure you already have about a thousand ideas for making the perfect drink, but here are two tips related to how to maximize the flavor of any drink.
If you are using water or a water based drink as the basis for your beverage then you should know that water has the ability to strip flavors from most herbs, spices, and foods. If you boil a flavoring component, like mint, thyme, lemon rind, etc, in water then the water will adopt the flavor of whatever you add. This is because water forms bonds with the flavoring compounds found in other types of foods. To successfully do this, you need water to be at boiling or very high temperatures. This is a bit trickier with milk and cream because the high heat has a tendency to mess up the proteins in the dairy. As long as you don’t boil dairy products for an extended period of time and you stir frequently you will be fine. Although, as a precaution I would consider simmering the dairy instead of boiling it.
The second important piece of advice is related to alcohols and flavoring extracts. Always add these after you are done heating your drink. This is because alcohols have a much lower boiling point than water, which means that the alcohol will evaporate as you boil it in water. Flavoring extracts are alcohol based, so they will evaporate just like alcoholic beverages. Add them at the end to maximize flavor.
That’s the end of this Food Manual. You’ll notice that the comment section is disabled. That’s because I kept getting hit with spam, so I turned it off. However if you enjoyed this post or learned anything from it, PRETTY PLEASE with sugar and ice cream on top, like my page on Facebook. I’m trying to spread the word about this site and I need all the help I can get. Also leave a comment on Facebook if you have any requests that you would like to see for “Food Manuals,” science topics, or things to make. I’ll do my best to oblige.