What do witches’ warts and some novel food & beverages have in common?
–They may both be treated by liquid nitrogen.
What’s the fuss about liquid nitrogen?
Liquid nitrogen is an odorless, tasteless, clear liquid with temperatures beyond -320oF that freezes anything on contact. Once reserved for medical or industrial cryogenics, the freezing medium is stirring up cocktails and desserts thanks to trained chefs and molecular gastronomists… but not to everybody’s delight.
The FDA recently issued a warning advising consumers to “avoid eating, drinking or handling food products prepared with liquid nitrogen at the point of sale.” They say that serious injury to the skin and internal organs can occur if liquid nitrogen is mishandled or ingested, and inhaled vapors can cause trouble breathing. The nitrogen is inert (doesn’t chemically react) but can displace needed oxygen which is a big risk for asphyxiation. Normally a non-toxic substance, liquid nitrogen can cause such extremely low temperatures that damage to human tissue can result from contact. That is the intended purpose when a dermatologist uses it to freeze off lesions.
When used appropriately prior to the point of sale and before consumption, such as in some frozen confections, liquid nitrogen completely evaporates and doesn’t pose a threat. Often the food and beverages such as “dragon’s breath” with liquid nitrogen added immediately before consumption, are found in malls, food courts, kiosks, and state or local fairs.
No tricks! Stay safe by following these tips for consuming items prepared with liquid nitrogen:
- Avoid items with liquid nitrogen added immediately prior to sale.
- Wait until the nitrogen has fully evaporated before ingesting, usually a few minutes.
- Handle with care so that liquid doesn’t splash in eyes.
What about dry ice?
Dry ice also abounds at Halloween time, used most often for creating a spooky fog effect on the ground. It is solid carbon dioxide, odorless, and with temperatures beyond -109oF. It’s an ice that doesn’t float or melt, but sinks and dissipates as gas without residue. For culinary means, food-grade dry ice is employed to hyper-chill a beverage or food.
As with liquid nitrogen, dry ice is extremely cold and can be dangerous if touched even for a second. Contact with bare hands or skin may cause severe frostbite.
How to serve your own dry-ice “witch’s brew” safely:
- To a larger plastic or metal punch bowl, add small dry ice pellets until 1/4 way full.
- Nestle a medium plastic or metal bowl into the large one and add more dry ice pellets to the space between until 3/4 way full.
- Fill the medium bowl with your punch and add about a cup of water to the space between bowls to activate the dry ice.
- Broxson, Brandi. “Spooky Halloween Punch.” Real Simple, 2018, www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/alcoholic-halloween-punch.