Ingredients for molecular gastronomy

Since The fat duck and El Bulli were announced “Best restaurant” in 2005 and 2006 respectively by Restaurant Magazine, molecular gastronomy has received increased attention. This has also resulted in a greater demand for the ingredients used, especially various thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers. In Europe, these have been given E-numbers ranging from E400-E499. The other ranges include colours (E100-199), preservatives (E200-E299), acidity regulators, anti-oxidants and anti cacking agents (E300-E399, E500-E599) and flavour enhancers (E600-E699). The European numbering is a sub-set of an international list of food additives, the Codex Alimentarius.

alchemist's pantry
The Alchemist’s pantry – an early predecessor to that of the modern cook! (picture source)

Some of the most used ingredients in restaurant kitchens are listed below:

E322 Lecithin
E327 Calcium lactate
E331 Sodium citrates
E400 Alginic acid
E401 Sodium alginate
E402 Potassium alginate
E403 Ammonium alginate
E404 Calcium alginate
E406 Agar
E407 Carrageenan
E407a Processed eucheuma seaweed
E410 Locust bean gum (Carob gum)
E412 Guar gum
E413 Tragacanth
E414 Acacia gum
E415 Xanthan gum
E416 Karaya gum
E417 Tara gum
E418 Gellan gum
E422 Glycerol
E425 Konjac
E440 Pectins
E441 Gelatine
E461 Methyl cellulose
E463 Hydroxypropyl cellulose
E464 Hydroxy propyl methyl cellulose
E466 Carboxymethyl cellulose
E473 Sucrose esters of fatty acids
E474 Sucroglycerides
E621 Monosodium glutamate
E631 Disodium inosinate
E636 Maltol
E953 Isomalt
E1103 Invertase
E1400 Dextrin
Transglutaminase (no E-number as far as I know)

(click here for the full list)

Unfortunately these ingredients are not available in normal stores (with one exception: gelatine). Of course they are readily available in large quantities to the food industry, but lately suppliers of sub-kilogram amounts have appeared. I have collected a list of these suppliers – if you’re not on the list, drop me a note at webmaster((a))khymos((dot))org). Recent additions to the list include Kalys, texturePro and DCDuby.

One challenge with the different shops is that some products come with little or no technical specification. For cellulose ethers for instance, Dow provides an extensive range to industrial customers (more on this in a previous blog post on cellulose ethers), just to give you an idea of the product range available.

I should also add a closing remark om tools: some companies sell syringes, measuring spoons etc in “nice boxes”. However, these tools can most often be obtained for a fraction of the price at any drug store, pharmacy or kitchen hardware store.

Once you have stocked up with your cooking chemicals, the next question is – how do you use them? I would recommend the information provided by INICON on molecular gastronomy and textures (MANY pdf’s to download). Also, many of the suppliers have recipes on their homepages.


  1. My buddy and I were discussing this the other day. We are both cooks and active in Molecular cooking, but we were talking about where to draw the line with e-numbers and additives.

    I strongly believe in applying science to cooking and challenging the public’s perception of taste, sight, smell, sound…….etc. But at what point does it become too much and you are just adding e-numbers to stabilize a foam that is only a “gimmick” effect anyway.

    At what point do we lose touch with our roots (high-quality, local, seasonal raw products) and just end up like the commercial giants putting methyl cellulose into our milkshakes (which are about as far removed from nourishing food as you can get!!) just because “it improves the texture”?

    We never reached a conclusion. What do you think……….??

  2. Andy,

    as an amateur home cook and science (chemistry) teacher trainer, I’d say that the distinction between what is experienced as “chemical additives” (with it’s corresponding E-number) and what you could call “high-integrity ingredients” is not always well defined. To me, as a Norwegian, some thickeners or gelling agents common in the far east seem rather alien, while gelatine is familiar because I’ve grown up with it. On the ther hand, all of them may be industrially produced (even synthesised) and have their respective E-numbers although the originally were harvested/produced in other ways.

    In fact, this kind of discussions are common in science/chemistry science curricula in teacher training all around. In my opinion, there’s no conclusive answer to this interesting quiestion, but one guideline could possibly be whether the additives are minor or major ingredients(?) Or maybe, where do the other ingredients (apart from the methyl cellulose) come from?

    Anyhow, everything we eat is composed of molecules, and each compound will have it’s systematic chemical name, even in an organically produced egg.

    Hervé This comments somewhere on food/Molecular gastronomy being a meeting point for art and science. If we consider great cooking to be an art, I’d guess it’s a little like being a musician: do you play some impressing licks to show off, or do you play them because you truly believe it’ll make the music better? If the first is the case, I think it’s just as ok to skip the additives (or hot guitar licks). However, if you have an idea that this really makes a difference, go for it.

    Summing up, I’d say that a key to this may be as simple as being honest, or…?

  3. Erik, you make some very good points.

    I especially agree with you that one should remain honest. I feel that this is the most important rule, because if one is just using additives to “cheat” then to me this defeats the purpose of cooking.

    At madeleines ( we are very proud of the application of science in our kitchen and will quite happily discuss what additives we use and how. In fact our dry goods storage has some of the products mentioned in the above list.

    I suppose the point that I’m trying to make is that molecular cooking is not just about the additives used. For me the processes involved are just as, or more important. Low temperature cooking for meat being one of these processes.

    I feel that the application of science in cooking will take a long time to filter down to the general public, because they view MG as adding unatural things to food and in our age of increasing organic awareness this is seen as a bad thing. As the title of this post suggests, additives are required to be able to practice MG. This is just not true! The general public will be practising MG as soon as they start roasting their meat at lower temperatures for longer…..

  4. Andy – thank you for your comments. I can understand your objections, but there are a couple of things you should consider (and Erik touches upon some of this). Most of the ingredients I listed are texture modifiers. In a normal (western) kitchen you only have a handful of texture modifers at hand: gelatin, pectin, corn starch, potatoe starch and flour. I didn’t include preservatives, colours, anti-oxidants etc. since these are not by far as interesting for molecular gastronomy as they are for the food industry where shelf life is a key paramter.

    Most of the compounds listed are natural products in the sence that they are purified extracts from plant tissues. Yes – they do have an E-number (and even a CAS number, a EINECS number etc. if you bother to search them up) – and of course they are made up of molecules and atoms. But so does all the other food you eat as well. Food is chemistry!

    I agree with your statement that “molecular cooking” is not just about the additives used. But the reason I compiled the list is more to let cooks – both professional and at home – see what ingredients are available. These ingredients are not mentioned in cookbooks, grocery stores do not sell them and generally people have very little knowledge about them. Also, many of them are difficult to get hold of in small quantities. That’s why I have compiled a list of suppliers.

    Having said this, I should also add that texture modifiers are only one small aspect of molecular gastronomy. I guess my latest post on how to prepare a perfect steak illustrates that temperature alone can also do a lot with the texture of meat.

  5. […] Emulsifiers, thickeners and gelling agents have almost become synonymous with molecular gastronomy for many. They can greatly alter the texture of foods and typically only a very small amount is required. Where gelatin was the only gelling agent videly available to cooks in Europe and America only a decade ago, this has changed with the advent of many internet suppliers of speciality ingredients. […]

  6. I have to say, that I could not agree with you in 100% regarding Ingredients for molecular gastronomy, but it’s just my opinion, which could be wrong 🙂

  7. im from the philippines and molecular gastronomy is quite new.

    one of the commonly use item would be sodium alginate … is this the same alginate dental supplies sell ?

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