Changing the physical state of something is an integral part of cooking. The liquid batter transforming into a cake, water turning to steam to cook veg, or butter melting to a liquid to fry food in, are all transformations that have been used in kitchens since time immemorial. Mastering these transformations can be the key to creating interesting dishes, and we’re going to be reaching for some chemicals to help us convert liquids into a particular form of solid: powders. These powders give us a way of adding flavour to dishes with a little flourish.
You can use them in a way similar to sauces but, as they don’t add liquid, they won’t make anything soggy.
Maltodextrin is a type of sugar; however, not all sugars have the same sweetness. General table sugar, or sucrose, is what we usually think of as adding sweetness, along with things like fruits (which also contain other sugars like fructose and glucose). These are all sugars and fairly sweet. Other things are not sugars, but taste sweet – the most famous are the sweeteners, such as aspartame and sodium saccharin, that are far more sweet than sucrose. A tiny amount of these can add sweetness to a large dish. Similarly, there are sugars that aren’t sweet, and maltodextrin is an example of this. The exact sweetness of maltodextrin does depend on the exact chemical make-up. It’s made of chains of identical molecules – the longer the chains, the lower the sweetness. Maltodextrin can vary between slightly sweet and hardly sweet at all, but it’s not easy to know what you’re getting when you make a purchase as it’s all classified as maltodextrin.
So, what use is a non-sweet sugar? Sugars absorb fats and oils, and this means we can use them to solidify things that would usually be runny. If you mix maltodextrin into something like olive oil or peanut butter, the result is a light, fluffy powder that still has the flavour of the original. Because maltodextrin also dissolves in water, when you eat these powders they transform back to a liquid in your mouth, quickly filling your tongue with the delicious flavour.
"Sugars absorb fats and oils and this means we can use them to solidify things that would usually be runny"