Cocktails with a majestic cloud of vapour floating above the liquid, along with some other seemingly bizarre but delicious culinary creations such as Nitro Frozen Popcorn, Nitro Ice-cream, Phirni Oxide and cold chaats have become common at restaurants. These were greeted with open arms by patrons without them thinking twice about what they are chugging. But the recent hospitalisation of a man who downed liquid nitrogen at a Delhi bar, which left him with his stomach “open like a book”, has raised questions about the culinary applications of nitrogen — arguably made popular by British Chef Heston Blumenthal a few years ago, who used it to churn his iconic egg and bacon ice cream. .
“Liquid nitrogen is simply the gas cooled to such a low temperature that it becomes liquid,” explains Chef Manu Chandra, a partner at Toast & Tonic, The Fatty Bao and The Monkey Bar, and Executive Chef, Olive Beach. “Nitrogen has many uses. In its liquid form, it can be used to chill food and drinks quickly or pulverise food. It is used mainly to achieve results that conventional methods don’t allow,” says Chandra. Nitrogen, in its gas form, is also used to create what is commonly known as nitrobrews — cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen. “As a gas, it isn’t dangerous at all and is used to foam the coffee. It isn’t soluble and the technique leads to a creamier foam,” says Ashish D’Abreo, Founder-Partner, The Flying Squirrel.
But then, what went wrong at the bar? “When liquid nitrogen is added to a liquid, it cools the liquid while it boils away. It is essential that all the liquid nitrogen evaporates before one consumes the food or drink,” warns nutritionist Ishi Khosla, adding, “Nitrogen is a relatively safe substance to use but it has to be at the right temperature when presented to customers else it can lead to frostbites or cryogenic burns.”
“The problem also is that people cannot detect liquid nitrogen. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless,” says Chandra, adding, “I am appalled when I see people work with it without gloves and goggles. Everything cannot be reduced to a gimmick.”
It may be a novelty in the hands of the masters but what about the general public? “Customers must be made aware of its use in the kitchen and instructed carefully about how to consume it,” says D’Abreo. “Its use is fine so long as safety measures are taken,” assures Chandra.