Little Miss turned 5 recently, and one of her current obsessions is popping boba. We discovered it several months ago in the toppings section at a frozen yoghurt shop – they are little flavoured jelly balls filled with juice that burst in your mouth when you bite into them. Quite delicious, if I do say so myself. So I tried to buy some for her birthday party…but soon realised that no shops here sell these things! You can only buy from wholesalers. Well, Little Miss managed to persuade a local dessert shop to sell us a couple of small tubs on account of her impending birthday. But I also figured that perhaps we could try and make some ourselves. And so began our first foray into molecular gastronomy.
Popping Boba is made using a process called Spherification, a technique pioneered over a decade ago by the once-famed, three Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant (now closed). It requires very few ingredients, but may need a little trial and error to get right if you don’t have precise food measuring equipment. It was surprisingly simple overall and we’ve made a video to prove that even kids can do this!
All you need are water, juice, sodium alginate and calcium lactate (which are relatively inexpensive and can be ordered from health food shops online). All ingredients and instructions are explained in the video if you want to have a go. It’s very satisfying! We were quite imprecise with the chemistry but there is quite a lot of information online if you want to do it properly. In particular I’d highlight that the sodium alginate solution is supposed to be a 1% solution (ie. 1g of powder to 100g juice) but my scales couldn’t handle such tiny amounts. Also, I added in a dash of red food colouring to help the boba show up better for videoing purposes…they can be quite pale using regular juice.
The kids struggled a little with the syringe control required to make little spheres…and ending up making boba-tadpoles instead!
But it must have tasted good because it all but disappeared almost as soon as it was made.
After our success with the first lot of boba, we went on to try reverse spherification and we managed these rather delectable orbs of “strawberry yoghurt ravioli”. This method allows you to use dairy-based (ie. calcium-containing) ingredients for the spheres.
Admittedly, it would still take ages to make the quantities required for a party using a single syringe (although you can buy a fancy bit of equipment called a caviar-maker to help you mass produce the stuff). Neither do we have the means to preserve the popping boba for very long. So our homemade option is not exactly a solution to the lack of boba in the shops. But nevertheless, it was actually pretty fun and the kids have been asking to make some more. Perhaps we shall invent something new in the next round of experimentation!