#MakeU reflections: using Agar Agar to make noodles

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As anyone who has planned an activity or event can tell you, it’s extremely rare when things go exactly according to plan, and it’s even more rare when things go so well that they exceed your expectations. Personally speaking, of all the activities we planned for our Make U Summer Camp at DHSI2014, making noodles using Agar Agar was my absolute favourite.

For an early age I’ve loved to cook. In recent years I’ve become quite fascinated with a sub-discipline of food science called “molecular gastronomy.” Molecular gastronomy investigates the science behind how and why we make food, examining the physical and chemical changes that occur when food is prepared. While I’m interested in the findings and techniques developed through molecular gastronomy, I’m also extremely skeptical as to whether the movement is a good thing.

Cooking should be an act of passion. Whether that passion comes from making food for people that you love or it comes from a desire to make a stunning work of art, I believe cooking to be an art, not a science. I worry that by applying scientific principles to cooking we run the risk of replacing passion with scientific objectivism.

But I digress, let me tell you about how to make noodles using Agar Agar powder. Agar is a gelatinous substance derived from algae that has been used in Japanese cuisine for centuries. In a powdered form, Agar produces a similar effect to gelatine powder. Unlike gelatine powder which is derived from animal products, Agar powder is vegan.

The process for using Agar Agar powder to make noodles is quite simple and inexpensive. You’ll need:

  • Agar Agar powder (this can be purchased online, in many Asian grocery stores, or in health food stores)
  • Food-safe plastic tubing
  • a syringe (without needle)
  • a liquid of some sort
  • a burner
  • – an ice bath

The basic goal of the Agar Agar noodle is to take a flavoured liquid of some sort (in the camp we used green sports drink, chocolate milk, mango juice, and coconut milk) and turn it into a spaghetti-like noodle.

To make the noodles take 3/4s of a cup of liquid, stir in 1 tsp of Agar Agar powder, and bring the solution to a boil. Once the solution has been brought to a boil, use your syringe to inject the solution into food-safe plastic tubing.

With the plastic tubing filled with the solution, place the tubing into an ice bath for roughly 3 minutes. The ice bath will allow the solution to set up into a firm, noodle-like final product.

Fill the syringe with air and use it to force the noodle out of the tube.

For visual learners, here’s a great video showing the entire process.

Our campers loved this activity from start to finish. There’s something about younger learners which makes them fascinated by “gross” activities. The idea that familiar liquids could be transformed into noodles really captivated them.

Of all the liquids we tried, the chocolate milk was the only that didn’t work well. Instead of setting up into a firm noodle, it developed a runny/grainy texture. I wonder if I heated the milk too quickly and caused it to separate.

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We’re brainstorming some ideas for different molecular gastronomy events in London, stay tuned to learn how the MakerBus will be encouraging people to play with their food.

-Ryan Hunt

MakerBus Co-Founder

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