Unique Ingredients: Maltodextrin
Progress in any business or creative endeavor is very important. Without progress, the world would be a very boring place. In the food and beverage industry, unique or hard to find ingredients are the way progress is made. In many cases, texture is as important as flavour. The use of raw eggs is one way to add texture to a drink, but there is also another way. Using a natural carbohydrate (complex sugar) from corn, called maltodextrin or dextrose, you can add a unique, smooth texture to a drink. It can also help in stabilize the foam/head on cocktails. Both of these characteristics make for a better cocktail.
The first thing you should know about maltodextrin is that it is an all natural product made from corn. It is made by a similar process to table sugar (sucrose), which is extracted from sugar cane or beets. Maltodextrin is a complex sugar, which is similar to starch, but maltodextrin is slightly sweet and easily dissolves in water. One area where this product gets a lot of use is in the making of baby food and sports drinks. This is because it is easily digestible and is a good source of glucose for energy. Plus, it provides a smooth texture to baby food.
For cocktail purposes, we can use maltodextrin to add a smooth silky texture to drinks, or we can use it to help create a nice stable foam head on a cocktail. It is also slightly sweet, so we can use it to provide some balancing sugar to sours and other drinks that use sugar.
One example of where the foam stabilizing powers of maltodextrin can be very beneficial is in a drink like the Ramos Gin Fizz. This drink is suppose to be very foamy, which provides its very unique texture. The problem is that if short cuts are taken, such as not shaking the drink long enough, it will loose its foam and become very watery. To make this drink properly, you have to shake the hell out of it for one to two minutes. Even then, the foam may collapse, especially if you didn’t use the required raw egg white*. Without the foam, this really isn't a Ramos Gin Fizz. The addition of maltodextrin can help stabilize the foam.
The best way to get maltodextrin into a drink is simply to add it to your simple syrup when you are making it. Usually, ½ to 1 cup per litre of 2:1 simple syrup is sufficient. This way, whenever you add simple syrup, you will also be adding a small amount of maltodextrin, which will help make a silky smooth drink.
The reason maltodextrin changes the texture of a drink is because, much like corn starch or tapioca, it thickens when added to a liquid. This thickening increases the viscosity of the liquid, and it is perceived by our tongue as smooth. The easiest way to test this is to make a Whisky Sour, without the egg white, and substitute a ½ teaspoon of pre-dissolved maltodextrin. Use a very small amount of water and heat it in a microwave if it won't completely dissolve. You will find that the Whisky Sour will be slightly thicker than it would have been without the egg.
So where do you find this product? Every home-brew or wine making company will have it in stock. Usually you can purchase a kilogram (2 pounds) for a couple of dollars. Beer makers use maltodextrin to help create the head on bear and give the beer "body." Depending on your needs, you may not use maltodextrin, but you may also find that the better texture might be to your liking. One are where it is truly beneficial, is if you work in a service bar and drinks could take five minutes to get to the customer. When the head on a good drink collapses, the presentation isn't quite what it should be.
* Tip, if you don't use the egg white in this drink, make sure you use heavy or whipping cream to make the drink