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Emulsify in cooking | Emulsification in Food | How to Emulsify Oil and Water
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Emulsify in cooking | Emulsification in Food | Cooking Emulsifiers

Emulsify in Cooking

To “emulsify in cooking” means putting two or more liquids together that do not usually mix into one another.
The process to emulsify commonly involves whisking one liquid very slowly into the other.

These substances will not mix or stay mixed with each other without the help of an emulsifier.

The process is called emulsification.

It’s what happens when you combine an oil and a water-based liquid like balsamic and can be a great cooking technique in creating creamy dressings and thick sauces.

Types of Emulsions

The 3 types of types of emulsions in cooking are:

  1. Temporary;
    Temporary Emulsion is for a short time, usually separates in under an hour since no emulsifier is used.
    The only agitation is whisking or blending.
    They are brief suspensions like oils and vinegar dressings and vinaigrettes.
  2. Semi-permanent;
    Semi-permanent Emulsion last hours, like hollandaise sauce which contains eggs.
  3. Permanent;
    Permanent Emulsion lasts multiple days, like mayonnaise-based sauces that contain eggs.

Emulsion-Based Dressings & Sauces

  • Vinaigrette;
    A temporary emulsion made with oil and vinegar, often without an emulsifier.
    A typical ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid is used.
    These amounts would need to be adjusted based on the type of oil and acid and/or vinegar used.
  • Mayonnaise-based;
    Dressing using mayonnaise for the base with additional flavourings and liquids.
    For example –
    • Dairy (buttermilk
    • Sour cream, yoghurt)
    • Acids (vinegar, lemon or lime juice)
    • Fruits (tomatoes, olives, berries)
    • Vegetables (celery, onions, carrots), condiments (mustard, seasonings, sweeteners, capers)
    • Protein (eggs) for a permanent emulsion.
  • Emulsified Vinaigrette;
    Oil and vinegar vinaigrette emulsified using whole eggs for a creamy permanent emulsion.
  • Hollandaise;
    A hot emulsified sauce using egg yolks and butter.
    Often used and popular topped over eggs benedict.

Cooking Emulsifiers

Common emulsifiers in food can be found in items from everyday life, for example milk, mayonnaise and vinaigrettes.
These are all relatively unstable without the presence of an emulsifier.
Although the egg is one of the most used here is a list of common food emulsifiers used to emulsify in cooking.

Emulsification food examples

  • Egg yolk;
    In which the protein lecithin is the emulsifier.
  • Mustard;
    Where a variety of chemicals in the mucilage surrounding the seed hull act as emulsifiers.
  • Cheese.
  • Mono and diglycerides;
    A common emulsifier found in many food products (coffee creamers, ice-creams, spreads, breads, cakes).
  • Honey;
    Honey helps to break apart fats that accumulate together, however not as effectively as lecithin.
  • Tomato paste.
  • Garlic paste.
  • Butter;
    Is an an emulsion of water in butterfat.
  • Margarine.
  • Crema (foam) in espresso;
    Coffee oil in water (brewed coffee), unstable emulsion.
  • Mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauces;
    These are oil-in-water emulsions stabilized with egg yolk lecithin, or with other types of food additives, such as sodium stearoyl lactylate.
  • Homogenized milk.
    An emulsion of milk fat in water, with milk proteins as the emulsifier.
  • Vinaigrette;
    An emulsion of vegetable oil in vinegar, if this is prepared using only oil and vinegar (i.e., without an emulsifier), an unstable emulsion results.

How to Emulsify Oil and Water

If you have a bowl of water and a bowl of oil, and try to mix them together the two liquids will not combine.
The result will be that the oil will just float on top of the water.
It doesn’t matter how hard you stir, whisk or shake, the oil and water will quickly separate again.

If you beat an egg and mix it with the oil and water you will notice the oil and water aren’t separating.
In this water and oil emulsion, the egg is the emulsifier.

Emulsify Sauces

To make a successful emulsion sauce use these tips.

  1. Add ingredients in the right order.
    Begin with the watery ingredients mixed with an emulsifier; then whisk in the oil or butter.
  2. Start slowly and whisk vigorously. It’s important to make the network of fat droplets as fine as possible.
  3. When achieved add the oil in a slow stream or the butter a tablespoon at a time, while whisking constantly and making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.
    The fat droplets will become mingled in with the emulsifier, which encourages them to stay in suspension and form a thick, stable emulsion.

    Once the sauce gets a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid, it’s safe to add the remaining oil or butter more quickly.

  4. Control the temperature.
    If an emulsion sauce that contains egg, like hollandaise, gets too hot, the egg proteins will coagulate and turn the sauce lumpy and thin.
    In an eggless emulsion, like a beurre blanc, too much heat will make the butterfat separate from the butter and leak out.

How to fix emulsion sauces

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, an emulsion sauce might still break on you. If this happens, you may be able to rescue it.
See the troubleshooting guide below for some quick fixes.

MAYONNAISEThe mayonnaise fails to thicken.The oil has been added too quickly, so it never gets dispersed.Beat a fresh egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and/or lemon juice in a clean bowl, and slowly whisk in the broken sauce.
MAYONNAISEThe mayonnaise becomes oily on the surface.Water has evaporated from the mixture, giving the oil droplets a chance to come together.Whisk in a spoonful of water.
HOLLANDAISEThe sauce is lumpy and thin.The egg yolk has overcooked.Strain out the lumps and whisk the hot broken sauce into another gently heated egg yolk in a clean bowl.
HOLLANDAISEThe sauce has separated while being kept warm.The sauce has become too hot, causing the butterfat to leak.Take it off the heat and whisk it vigorously, or briefly re-emulsify it in a blender.
VINAIGRETTEThe oil and vinegar have separated.The simplest vinaigrettes do not contain emulsifiers like mustard, so the oil and vinegar separate unless they are being actively mixed.Whisk the broken vinaigrette in a bowl or shake it vigorously in a closed jar and pour it over the food immediately, while it’s still in motion. A separated mustard vinaigrette is fixed in the same way.
BEURRE BLANCThe sauce hasn’t thickened.The ratio of butter to liquid is too low. Either the vinegar mixture was not reduced enough before the butter was added, or not enough butter was added.Add more butter.
BEURRE BLANCThe sauce is creamy at first, but then suddenly thins.The sauce has become too hot.Because all of the elements to maintain an emulsion are still present, all you need to do is remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in ice chips, a few at a time, until the emulsion returns.

How to Emulsify Oil and Vinegar

Chef Stephen Gibbs of Hands On Gourmet demonstrates how to emulsify oil and vinegar.

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