“What has become a growing fad in the food industry began by accident 13 years ago when Galen Kaufman, a neurobiologist, bit into a pear aboard his boat off Galveston, Texas. The pear had been locked overnight in a cooler of dry ice. “The dry ice had become carbon dioxide gas and soaked into the pears,” said Kaufman. “I realized this was an opportunity, maybe even a responsibility, to share this with the world.”
The world would have to wait. In 1999, Kauffman patented the fruit-carbonation concept and partnered with scientists at Oregon’s Food Innovation Center. The team refined the process of infusing water inside fruit with carbon dioxide — adding a flavor-enhancing fizz that leaves a tingle on the tongue.” — source
While in the U.S. carbonation became a molecular gastronomy term and technique that requires buying special equipment, Russian celebrity blogger Nika Belotserkovskaya popularized her idea of making lightly salted and carbonated cucumbers at home with no special tools and ingredients. Since her audience was (and probably still is) very wide, every single Russian speaking food blogger and every more or less interested in food person tried Nika’s recipe and loved it.
If you live in Texas, where we have everything available in every supermarket, you don’t really need to know how it works. The main three ingredients for success are baby aka cocktail aka small Persian cucumbers, San Pellegrino carbonated mineral water, and Kosher salt. Just skip to the recipe and do it! Unless, you are curious…
What if you don’t have small cucumbers? Replace them with English cucumbers, but peel and and cut them to equally sized spears.
What if you don’t have San Pellegrino? Any mineral carbonated water works. Make sure it is not heavy on minerals content. Taste it. If you like it for drinking, you’ll like using it for this recipe.
Salt is essential. Read about Where Kosher Salt Comes From & Why It’s Called Kosher and why pros prefer it. See section Kosher Salt and Substitutions for how to measure different kinds of salt when making substitutions.
Salt. Water flows through food cell membranes towards greater concentrations of dissolved particles. This chemical process is known as osmosis. When we place food in salty water, we “dry” it in liquid. Because the concentration of salt is higher outside food than inside, food looses its juices until the balance between inside and outside is reached. Plant cells “dry out” as much as 50% and it reduces the water activity.
Carbon dioxide is soluble in water and can travel with it through food cells membranes. Since fruit and vegetables have high water content, they can be carbonated. (Cucumbers have the highest water content of any solid food at 97 percent!)
Carbon dioxide + salt. Adding salt to carbonated water gives the carbon dioxide gas more surface area on which to form bubbles. Salt accelerates the process of de-carbonation, because the more bubbles are formed, the easier it is for the gas to escape. Now, what happens if we fill a jar with cucumbers and salted carbonated water to the top and seal it? There is nowhere for CO2 to escape, but inside cucumbers. The combination of carbon dioxide and salt makes water more active and speeds up processes in the jar.
The Taste of Fizziness. Many Russian-speaking food bloggers agree this recipe makes cucumbers taste similar to malossol ones. Why, if no acidic agents are added? “In later 2009, a team of neuroscientists […] showed that sour-sensing cells [in our taste buds] are the ones that respond to carbonation. […] the sensation begins when an enzyme on the surface of the tongue converts carbon dioxide into ions of bicarbonate and hydrogen. The hydrogen ions then trigger the taste bud receptors, which report a sour taste to the brain.” (Modernist Cuisine, V.2, page 465)