A while back I wrote about a book called Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. One chapter I didn’t explore in going through the book with my kids was called “Modern Industrial Chemicals. ” In it Potter discussed making gels and foams out of unexpected ingredients, along with other weird magic-show effects you could get with the right combination of additives. Since all the “chemicals” were hard to find in regular food stores – and since it all sounded so strange – I just let that aspect of geeky cooking slide. There was another reason of course, and that is the feeling that artificial ingredients just ain’t healthy. Now, I try my best to prepare meals using home-grown or local ingredients, with as little processing as possible. But the fact is, certain members of the family (who do not have to worry about their weight) tend to bring in a lot of junk food, so artificial ingredients are not unknown to us either. And being a fan of science in the kitchen, Potter’s book planted the idea in my mind that it’d be fun to play around with some of those artificial ingredients in their original form and see just what it is they do. So when I saw something called the Molecular Cuisine Kit on ThinkGeek not long ago, I asked them for a review set to try out. Molecular Gastronomy, as it is also known, is a term coined in 1989 the late Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti and the French chemist Hervé This. It quickly spread from a field of scientific study to a style of cooking. If you watch shows like Top Chef you have probably have some idea of what it can do. But even if it’s brand new to you, as it was to us, this kit will get you started on your own strange gastronomic adventure. The Molecular Gastronomy Kit, as it is called on the box, comes with recipe-size packets of five ingredients: soy lecithin, calcium lactate, alginate de sodium, agar-agar, and xanthan gum. If you’re the type who reads the labels on your junk food before eating it anyway, some of these names are probably are familiar to you. They are usually used to help foods keep their appearance and texture sitting on the store shelf. With Molecular Cuisine, they’re also used to create novel shapes and textures using fresh foods and flavors. The kit also includes food-grade plastic tubing, pipettes and syringe, and metal measuring spoons and a strainer. We tested out a couple of simpler recipes. And here I have to point out one big shortcoming with this kit: the “recipes” come in the form of videos on a DVD included with the kit. So in order to make a list of the other ingredients and tools needed to make one of the suggested dishes, you have to watch the video and take notes. To make things easier, I looked online and found the website for the kit’s maker, Molecule R. They have a page with some of the recipes written out, along with the videos found on the DVD. The recipes are in jpg form, however, so you still can’t copy and paste the text into a shopping list. The Molecule R website also includes some information on the ingredients, including where they come from (despite their chemical names, most are extracted from ordinary edible plants), their properties, and how they are used in cooking. Among the experiments we tried were Mango Verrines (a verrine is a colorful layering of ingredients in a clear glass – what they used to call a parfait when I was a kid). This involved pureeing fresh mango and adding agar-agar, a gelling agent used for making growth medium for microbiology experiments, to create what is basically a fruity form of Jell-O. Ours did not gel completely and turned out a little gritty; it’s possible I used too much mango for the packet of agar-agar. And our presentation was not up to standards, since we were short on glasses and instead spooned it into bowls with whipped cream on top. Although it was passable, the family agreed that plain mango, or even a plain puree, would have tasted just as good. Next we tried using the tubing and syringe to make jellied spaghetti. The kit suggests arugula – which, while a lovely shade of green, probably would not have been eaten by anyone in my family. So instead, we tried making it with some strong decaf coffee. I thought this might taste good on top of vanilla ice cream. The noodles were so much fun to make!You add agar to the liquid you are gelling, and slurp some up into the rubber tubing using the syringe. Then you set the gel by placing the tubing in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes, and use the syringe again to squirt it back out. The end result looked incredibly cool. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as yummy as I hoped. Our most successful try was the Frozen Chocolate Wind. (Even sounds great, doesn’t it?) We didn’t have any dark chocolate on hand, but we had several left-over milk chocolate Easter bunnies, so we sacrificed one for science. The chocolate was melted down and thinned with water, and then soy lecithin was added to make an emulsion. The mixture was whipped with a hand mixer (egg-beater type, although they recommend the drink mixer variety), and the resulting foam scooped off into a separate container. When we’d collected as much foam as possible, we popped it into the freezer for a while. I was pleasantly surprised by the intense chocolate flavor of this frozen foam. I’ll bet it’s even better with dark chocolate. So, is the kit fun? Most definitely. Will you learn some science from it? Yes – if you take the time to visit the Molecule R website, or grab a copy of Cooking for Geeks. 99 for the Starter Kit, the Molecular Cuisine set might be a little pricey as a chemistry experiment for the kids. A better choice if you just want to give it a try is to order the refills, which give you two boxes of one ingredient (20 packets total) for $7. Thanks to our friends at ThinkGeek for providing the review kit!.