The whipping siphon is one of my favorite pieces of modernist equipment. It can create a wide variety of foams as well as infuse liquids and foods and carbonate anything with water in it. It works by pressurizing a canister filled with liquid or food with nitrous oxide (N2O) or carbon dioxide (CO2) and then either dispensing it out a nozzle or venting the gas and using the liquid by itself.
At its most basic, a whipping siphon is a metal container used to pressurize liquids, typically with nitrous oxide (N2O). This pressurization can be used for many different effects from foams and froths to carbonated foods and liquid infusions.
When a pressurized liquid is forced out the nozzle of the whipping siphon, the gas escapes from the liquid, aerating the liquid and turning it into a foam. The foam can range from a quickly dissolving froth to a heavy duty, dense foam through the addition of thickeners and stabilizers.
This same pressurization can also be used to infuse liquids with flavors or to marinate ingredients. Carbon dioxide (CO2) can also be used in place of N2O to carbonate liquids, sauces, or even fruits and vegetables.
There are many different kinds of whipping siphons but I prefer the iSi Gourmet brand siphons, they come in both a pint-size siphon and a quart size. The unit also has decorator tips with durable stainless steel threads, a silicon banded head for heat protection during hot applications, and an ergonomic charger holder with a non-slip silicon grip. The entire unit is dishwasher safe and comes with a 2-year warranty. Don't forget to purchase N2O chargers as well!
The links above go to Amazon but Modernist Pantry carries the iSi whipping siphons and accessories and you can find a wide variety of whipping siphons on the Cream Right website. It is usually worth shopping around to see who has the lowest prices at any one time.
There are also some less expensive whipping siphons such as the Mosa brand. I have heard good things about the Mosa and if you are looking forward to trying out a whipping siphon without spending much money, it can be a good place to start.
It is surprisingly easy to use a whipping siphon. Place a liquid or fat into the whipping siphon. Seal the siphon by screwing the lid on, making sure all the pieces needed, such as the gasket, are in place.
Charge the siphon by screwing in a gas cartridge or "charger". The charger holder can be left on or removed, whatever you prefer. Shake the siphon to help distribute the gas in the liquid.
The final step depends on the preparation you are making. For foams you turn the whipping siphon upside down, with the nozzle facing directly down, and pull the trigger to dispense the liquid through the nozzle for a foam or froth.
When making foams, some foam stabilizers will need to be heated or chilled before they are ready to be dispensed. This is covered in more detail later on this page.
For infusions and carbonation you vent the gas from the whipping siphon and strain the liquid remaining. To vent the whipping siphon, place the siphon upright, with the nozzle facing up, and place a towel over the top. Slowly pull the trigger and the gas should escape with a minimal amount of liquid.
Once you are finished with the whipping siphon make sure to clean it thoroughly. Most siphons come with good directions for how they should be cleaned. In general, take the siphon apart, wash the siphon and its parts in warm, soapy water, and use the scrubbing brush on the nozzle. Once the parts are clean, dry them well.
There are several minor things that can go wrong when using a whipping siphon. I've tried to put the most common ones in my guide to troubleshooting a whipping siphon. Most of these issues are easy to correct. If you run into other issues please let me know and I'd be happy to address them!
Whipping siphons were originally developed to quickly and easily create foams. The main components of a foam are a flavored liquid and a stabilizer. The stabilizer can be anything from cream or cheese to modernist ingredients like xanthan gum or gelatin. The stabilizer often takes the form of a thickened liquid or a fluid gel.
The easiest foams to make with a whipping siphon, cream based foams, use the fat and proteins in cream to create thick, rich foams. For a basic whipped cream just add a pint of heavy or whipping cream to your siphon, add a tablespoon of fine or powdered sugar then seal and charge the siphon. Give it a few shakes and then the foam is ready to dispense.
You can easily flavor the cream by adding flavored extracts like vanilla or maple, citrus juices, or essential oils. The cream can also be infused ahead of time with herbs, spices, or chile peppers.
Gelatin foams range from light and airy to heavy and dense. All gelatin foams have fine, evenly distributed bubbles. Gelatin foams must be served cold or they will break down and melt. The addition of agar can help strengthen gelatin foams.
For light foams, powdered gelatin in a 0.4% to 1.0% ratio work well. For denser foams, using powdered gelatin in a 1.0% to 1.7% ratio is typical. Sometimes you will see even higher ratios.
If you are using sheet gelatin you would normally use 0.2 to 0.55 sheets per 100 grams of liquid for light foams or 0.55 to 0.9 sheets per 100 grams of liquid for dense foams.
To make a gelatin foam, first hydrate the gelatin then disperse it into the liquid you want to foam. Pour the mixture into the whipping siphon and refrigerate it for several hours so the gelatin can set before dispensing it.
Agar foams are made from an agar fluid gel. They typically range from light, coarse foams to dense, fine foams. One big benefit of agar foams is that they can be used in hot or cold preparations so you will often see them on savory, hot dishes.
To make an agar foam, combine a liquid with agar using an immersion or standing blender, bring it to a boil for 3 to 5 minutes, then let it cool into a gel. Blending that gel turns it into a fluid gel. This fluid gel is added to the whipping siphon which is sealed and charged.
The more agar you use the denser the resulting foam will be. For light foams, a ratio of 0.3% to 1.0% works well. For denser foams 1.0% to 2.0% is recommended. You can also add gelatin, locust bean gum, or xanthan gum to change the density and coarseness of the foam.
For additional information about hydrating, dispersing, and using agar my guide on how to use agar.
Xanthan gum is a very common foam stabilizer. It works by thickening the liquid being foamed which helps to trap the bubbles. Most xanthan gum foams are light and frothy, though xanthan gum is also often used for denser foams in conjunction with another ingredient such as gelatin or agar.
Making a xanthan gum foam is very easy. Simply blend the xanthan gum into the liquid you want to foam. Place the liquid into a whipping siphon, seal, and charge. Xanthan gum foams can be used hot or cold, though they are a little firmer when cold.
For xanthan gum foams, a ratio between 0.2% and 0.8% is typically used. The more xanthan gum you use the denser the foam will be.
Using the whipping siphon to infuse liquids is one of my most common uses for it. It can infuse any liquid but the big 3 I normally infuse are vinegar, alcohol, and oil. Many infusions can be accomplished through traditional, time-based infusions but using the whipping siphon speeds this process up from several days (or even months) to just a few minutes.
To infuse a liquid, add it to a whipping siphon along with a strongly flavored herb, spice, or hot pepper. Seal the siphon and fully charge it with N2O. Let it sit for 1 to 2 minutes then vent the air and open the siphon. Let the liquid sit for 5 to 10 minutes to finish infusing then strain it. It's now ready to serve.
The process of infusing liquids with a whipping siphon also transfers flavor to the food used in the infusions. With strong spices, herbs, and flavors the infused liquid isn't enough to overpower the original flavor, but with more mild foods the result can shine. The whipping siphon can be used to quick pickle cucumbers or onions, infuse raisins or dried cherries with rum, marinate meats, and create many other flavorful dishes.
Infusing foods with flavor is similar to infusing liquids, except you want the liquid to be more flavorful than the food. Place the food and liquid into the whipping siphon and seal it. Charge the siphon and let the food sit for around 15 to 30 minutes. Vent the siphon and then serve the food.
My favorite infusions are ones that both the liquid and the food can be used afterwards. For instance, my spiced rum-infused raisins recipe creates both boozy, flavorful raisins but also a wonderfully complex raisin-infused rum.
When carbon dioxide is used instead of nitrous oxide in a whipping siphon it will carbonate any liquids in the siphon. This can be used to make homemade sodas, sparkling soups, or refreshing cocktails. However, it will also carbonate any liquid inside foods. This works especially well with watermelon and grapes, creating fizzy, bite-sized treats that are really fascinating.
Carbonating with a whipping siphon is a pretty simple process. The food or liquid is added to the siphon. The whipping siphon is then fully charged and left in the refrigerator for several hours. After the siphon is vented the food remains carbonated and can be served.
The exact amount of time needed will vary on the type of food you are trying to carbonate. Most liquids take one to two hours while fruits and vegetables can take up to twelve hours.
Carbonation works much better on cold foods and the food will stay carbonated for usually 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the type of food. When carbonating, make sure to use CO2 charges because the CO2 stays in foods longer. N2O escapes almost immediately, leaving a foam behind but no carbonation.
For faster carbonating you can clear out the air from the whipping siphon. To do this, after you seal the siphon, hold down the dispenser to vent the gas right away as you charge it with a CO2 cartridge. This will take most of the air out of the siphon. You can then charge the siphon normally and the time needed to carbonate will be reduced.