Those people in food business seem to spend all their waking hours trying to outdo each other in coming up with the weirdest, most mind-blowing food inventions. And similarly, we — the foodies/food bloggers/Instagrammers — are constantly competing over who gets to try it first. But how far are we willing to go? Would we risk our lives for it?
What is It?
Not too long ago, somebody came up with a dessert they trademarked the “Dragon’s Breath”. It has been replicated all over the world by now and called different names — from Heaven Breath to nitro puffs to snow balls — but it usually consists of bright, colorful rice or corn puffs that spew out smoke like a bowl of incense.
The secret to this is liquid nitrogen. It is a really cold substance that is used to make something freeze instantly. When in contact with air, it turns into fog. So, to create the smoky effect, liquid nitrogen is poured over the puffs, freezing them immediately, and creating a fog as the liquid evaporates.
When you eat something that has been frozen with liquid nitrogen, the cold condenses the moisture in your exhaled breath and makes it look as though you’re breathing out smoke — like a dragon — hence the name Dragon’s Breath.
It Can Burn a Hole in Your Stomach!
Liquid nitrogen is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-flammable. Sounds harmless enough, but beware, it can be extremely dangerous when not handled properly. Doctors have been known to use liquid nitrogen to dry out unwanted tissue — like warts — and let it fall off. Just imagine what it could do to your innards if you were to accidentally ingest it in its liquid form.
In 2017, a man in India drank a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen, which — due to improper consumption — burned a hole in his stomach.
The following year, in South Korea, a 13-year-old boy who consumed a liquid-nitrogen dessert started developing symptoms such as shortness of breath and a severely distended stomach. He had to undergo an emergency operation that left him with a 20-cm scar on his abdomen.
To understand how that happened, you must first understand the properties of nitrogen.
Nitrogen is a gas at room temperature, but becomes liquid when compressed and cooled. In its liquid form, nitrogen is very, very cold and will cause frostbite when it comes in contact with skin. However, when this liquid reaches its boiling point (-195.8 degree Celcius), it evaporates and turns rapidly back into a gas, expanding almost 700 times in size.
Therefore, if you accidentally ingest nitrogen that is still in its liquid form, not only will it burn your mouth/throat/stomach, your stomach will also quickly fill up with gas to the point that it might burst from the pressure. On top of that, nitrogen also displaces oxygen, which was why the Korean boy had difficulty breathing.
How to Consume It Safely
The usage of liquid nitrogen in the food industry is not something new. Liquid nitrogen has often been used in the manufacturing of beer and ice cream to add froth to the products.
The problem starts when the food sellers or the consumers are not well informed about the proper handling of liquid nitrogen. It is important to ensure that no liquid is left behind in the bottom of the bowl or dish that the food is served in.
To do this, the food and the liquid nitrogen have to be mixed together thoroughly so that all of the liquid nitrogen evaporates. After the food is ready, consumers should be advised to wait for a few minutes before digging in. Blowing on food may not be the best of table manners, but in this case, it can help ensure that no liquid nitrogen remains in that spoonful of dessert you’re about to take.
The Safe Room, Penang
The Safe Room is located on Campbell Street in Georgetown, Penang. Established in 2013, it is an award-winning cafe and restaurant, pioneering in liquid nitrogen and molecular gastronomy in Malaysia. Some of the awards they have won include the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for three years running (2016, 2017 & 2018) and INPenang Best Cafe Award (2017 & 2018).
The Safe Room serves only halal food and is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 12:00 to 23:00. It also boasts the world’s first love-lock tree inside a safe room.
Plus, the name should assure you that you won’t be leaving the restaurant with a hole in your esophagus.
I ordered the Dragon’s Breath, which was liquid nitrogen popcorn. Priced at RM9.90 per bowl, it was quite a bargain because the portion was generous and you’d certainly be paying more than that at the movies.
It tasted similar to regular sweet popcorn, but cold. I personally like my popcorn warm, but this was acceptable because at least it wasn’t cold and soggy.
I also tried their dragon fruit liquid nitrogen ice cream topped with cotton candy. What makes nitrogen ice cream special is that it is supposedly denser and creamier, as it has no trapped air bubbles inside and the ice crystals are much smaller. It is also claimed to be healthier than your regular ice cream because it is made on the spot, therefore contains no preservatives.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tell the difference. Sure, it was creamy, but then again, that was my first time trying dragon fruit ice cream. So, I don’t know how different it tastes from a traditional, air-bubbled, preservative-laden, non-nitrogen dragon fruit ice cream.