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One of my favorite Christmas presents growing up was a chemistry set. I don’t remember too much about it but I do know it had a lot of really cool test tubes.

My parents, thinking that I could possibly create a new strain of virus (and not wanting it on the furniture) relegated my chemistry set to the basement. I think the idea was to put a couple of chemicals together, let them sit overnight, and then see what kind of reaction took place in the morning. Each creation clogged up the test tubes so bad that you couldn’t use them again. Maybe that was the whole idea.

It took over forty years, but my wife finally got her first chemistry set this Christmas.

Her kit, the brainchild of a company called Modernist Pantry, promises “magical ingredients for the modern cook.” The fancy name for what you create with the kit is molecular gastronomy.

Several internet sources credit Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Herve This with cooking up the molecular gastronomy concept in 1988. During World War II, Kurti also worked with uranium isotopes on the path to the first atomic bomb and hosted his own tv show in the Sixties. I’m already thinking my wife’s chemistry set is going to put mine to shame.

The modernist pantry kit comes with soy lecithin powder, Xanthan gum, sodium alginate, calcium chloride, super agar, and silver grade gelatin (160 bloom). And a syringe which is labelled “caviar maker”. The basement might also be the best place for the modernist pantry kit.

While shiny silver pouches of Xanthan gum are fun to have around, what can you actually make with all this chemistry? You would probably be surprised.

For one thing, you can make foam. Foams, according to “Modernist Cooking Made Easy” by Jason Logsdon, are “easy to make, very versatile, and fun to use and eat.” In honor of Herve, I’m tempted to say, “Foam This!” You can also turn stuff into gel, thicken things, and spherificate. I’m not sure if that last thing is really a word, but it’s in the book.

But before you write this off as voodoo cookery or food they eat on the international space station, there are recipes in the book for dishes that the regular Joe has heard of and even eaten. You can make coleslaw, pork tenderloin, milk shakes, and pudding. Just be aware that they might be Xanthanified, frothatated, or siphon whipped. I definitely made up some of those terms but you get the idea.

So, here’s my promise to you. In a future blog, I will document something created with the modernist pantry (food) chemistry set. I will put some Pink Floyd albums on and get some incense burning to set the mood. Then, I will grab my syringe, er caviar maker, and get busy. But, before I do anything, I think I need to go out and pick up some more test tubes.

Have you any chemistry kit memories? Please leave a comment…