In today’s competitive world, we are always focused on how we can be better than another. Almost every organization or establishment needs to be innovative and two steps/products ahead to stay at the forefront of its market competitors. Thinking out of the box or presenting your product creatively as well as uniquely, garners a lot of appeal and attention of consumers.

The culinary use of liquid nitrogen is mentioned as way back in an 1890 recipe book titled Fancy Ices authored by Mrs. Agnes Marshall. In more recent times, restaurants have used liquid nitrogen in the preparation of frozen desserts, such as ice cream. They can be created within a matter of minutes at the table of the guest due to the speed at which the food is cooled. Likewise restaurants and bars, use liquid nitrogen in the preparation of cocktails because it can be used to quickly chill glasses or freeze ingredients. It is also added to drinks to create a smoky effect, which is created by the cold nitrogen vapour (liquid nitrogen boils at -195.8 Celsius at normal atmospheric pressure) condensing the moisture (i.e., water vapor) in the surrounding air above.

Many bars and restaurants serve alcoholic cocktails chilled or frozen with liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen has a melting point of -196°C. Addition of ice to cool a drink has the disadvantage of diluting one’s drink as the ice melts. Liquid nitrogen, however, cools or freezes the drink immediately and has the added advantage that the drink does not dilute over time.

A liquid nitrogen cocktail is any mixed drink in which liquid nitrogen is used. It gained popularity because of the novel smoky, bubbling effect. Liquid nitrogen, however, when used as cocktail ingredient can be potentially lethal. Unfortunately, it is not a regulated substance in many countries and there is limited control on its use.

Because of its low temperature liquid nitrogen can be extremely damaging to body tissue, causing frostbite and cryogenic burning on contact. Ingestion of liquid nitrogen can lead to severe internal damage, destroying tissue in the mouth and digestive tract. Furthermore, as it evaporates, liquid nitrogen releases a large volume of gas, which can cause the stomach to burst on consumption of a sufficiently large quantity.

As early as in 2012, the potential danger of liquid nitrogen cocktails was highlighted by an incident that occurred in the United Kingdom. On October 4, 2012, an 18-year-old woman named Gaby Scanlon was admitted to a hospital with severe abdominal pain and shortness of breath after drinking a cocktail prepared with liquid nitrogen while celebrating her birthday at a bar in Lancaster city center.  A medical team diagnosed her condition as perforated stomach. A gastrectomy had to be promptly performed to save her life. No proper risk assessment had been performed, and the bar staff had not received adequate warnings of the importance of not drinking the cocktail until all the nitrogen had boiled off.

More recently, closer to home, a Delhi guy who was caught up in the same fervor drank liquid nitrogen and the drink left him high and with a hole in his stomach. The 30-year-old man, who's refused to reveal his identity was supposed to drink it once the vapor had evaporated. He, however, ended up having the cocktail with the liquid nitrogen still in it. Although he felt sick soon after, he decided to have another one anyway. He then complained of discomfort, breathlessness and excessive pain in the stomach. He could see that within seconds his stomach began to swell, but could not really figure out the problem. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where the doctors claimed that his stomach was literally like an open book. He was promptly treated and is now doing fine.

The use of liquid nitrogen in the primary freezing of ice cream, to effect the transition from the liquid to the frozen state without the use of a conventional ice cream freezer, has also seen commercialization. Brands are Dippin' Dots, Mini Melts, Nitrogenie, et cetera. The preparation results in a column of white condensed water vapour cloud. The ice cream, dangerous to eat while still "steaming", is allowed to rest until the liquid nitrogen is completely vaporized. Sometimes ice cream is frozen to the sides of the container, and must be allowed to thaw.

The chemical is super-cold and only exists at temperatures between -210°C and -196°C. It starts to evaporate the moment it comes into contact with room temperature air, creating a dramatic dry-ice effect. As a gas it is completely harmless, most of the air we breathe being made up of nitrogen. But as a liquid, it has the power to freeze objects in a matter of seconds. Touching the liquid can give you severe cryogenic, or cold, burns.

In order to woo customers and bring new things to the table, restaurants and organizations are experimenting a lot with their products these days, but how safe are we with the kind of food we put in our mouth and the drinks we so easily swallow?

The perils of using liquid nitrogen in the preparation of foods is heightened when it is used by staff who are not well informed about the necessary precautions to be followed for its safe use and when this information is not relayed to customers to ensure their safety.


Click here to read the article from "The Hindu"