Typically, you wouldn’t assume that something as cold as liquid nitrogen would be useful for food preparation. Still, it is quickly becoming the secret ingredient for many dishes. But because of its unique properties, you can’t exactly pick up liquid nitrogen at the grocery store. Fortunately, with a few phone calls, you can likely find some relatively easily. The best places to buy liquid nitrogen for cooking or other uses are welding supply stores, industrial gas companies like Praxair, or a tire mechanic.
Buying the nitrogen itself isn’t the hard part, though – it’s storing it. You will need something called a dewar, a double-walled vacuum flask, to regulate the mixture so that it doesn’t evaporate too quickly. Overall, liquid nitrogen is a relatively complicated product, so you want to be sure that you have all the right tools at your disposal. We’ll go over the dos and don’ts of using liquid nitrogen, as well as how to buy it for your needs.
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Where Can I Buy Liquid Nitrogen for Cooking?
Although liquid nitrogen isn’t readily available “over the counter,” you can find it in many places. Here is a quick breakdown of the locations where it might be available and what to do when purchasing it.
- Industrial Gas Companies – Praxair and Airgas are the two largest suppliers, so we recommend starting there. These companies sell a wide array of gases and chemicals for various uses, including liquid nitrogen. You won’t find price listings online, though – you will need to call to make sure you can purchase some. One other caveat is that you will likely have to provide your own dewar (more on those later).
- Tire Mechanics – Many auto body shops like to use liquid nitrogen instead of air to fill tires. The reason for this is that the nitrogen seeps through the rubber slower than oxygen, meaning that your wheel stays inflated for much longer. Fortunately, these shops should have plenty of nitrogen around, and they may have some extra dewars available as well. Again, you will need to call ahead since these places don’t advertise this product.
- Welding Supply Stores – Welders use nitrogen gas all the time when working. Since liquid nitrogen is the best way to store and transport the gas, supply stores will have tons of the stuff for sale. One potential problem, however, is that they usually handle bulk orders. So, if you’re only looking for a small amount to cook with, you might be out of luck. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Costco – Since many Costco’s have a tire repair department, they will likely have a liquid nitrogen supply for filling wheels. You can inquire about buying some during your next visit, and you may get lucky.
- Colleges – Many universities have liquid nitrogen for various experiments. Best of all, they can usually offer the material at a much lower price than what you would find elsewhere. Call up your local college’s science department and see if they are willing to sell.
If all else fails, you can ask someone who uses liquid nitrogen. Don’t know anyone? Fortunately, the material is trending on YouTube, as many vloggers have started to use the substance for mind-bending videos. So, simply look one up and send them a message. In most cases, you’ll get a reply and a link, which can point you in the right direction.
Tools/Materials Needed to Use Liquid Nitrogen
As we mentioned, you will need a dewar to store and use your liquid nitrogen. Fortunately, you can find these online, although they are not exactly cheap. The purpose of a dewar is to allow the gas to evaporate and release into the air. One thing to keep in mind is that you NEVER want to put liquid nitrogen into a sealed container. If you do this, it will explode as the liquid evaporates. Even storing it for a short period could be dangerous, so don’t do it.
We highly recommend purchasing your dewar before sourcing your nitrogen so that you can transport it effectively. Also, keep in mind that the liquid will evaporate no matter what, so you want to use it as quickly as possible. Once exposed to the air, it will start turning into a gas – this is the fog effect you see when looking at it. So, if you’re not ready to use your nitrogen, don’t buy it until you are.
Some other tools you should have on hand for handling and safety include:
- Goggles – Although a small splash of liquid nitrogen won’t freeze your eyeball, you always want to be careful. If you plan on breaking anything that gets frozen, you want to avoid having a piece fly into your eye.
- Gloves – Fortunately, liquid nitrogen evaporates so fast that it’s hard for it to freeze on your skin. However, prolonged exposure (i.e., dipping your fingers into the stuff) can cause frostbite or permanent damage. Gloves can mitigate this risk.
- Tongs – Even if the nitrogen itself is relatively harmless, the frozen ingredients will be extra cold. Using tongs can enable you to work without freezing your fingers.
- Ventilation – Always work with liquid nitrogen in a well-ventilated space. If you’re cooking indoors, we highly recommend running your stove hood or opening the windows. As the liquid evaporates, it will put extra nitrogen into the air, which will cause the oxygen levels to dip. If you feel yourself getting lightheaded at all, stop working immediately and get some fresh air.
How is Liquid Nitrogen Used for Cooking?
If you have never used this stuff before, plan to have some fun with it before you start mastering your technique. Since the substance can freeze virtually everything, it’s quite a novelty. Once you’re finished playing with it, here are some ways to use liquid nitrogen for cooking:
- Ice Cream – The obvious option is to flash-freeze your ice cream mixture. Because the process is much faster than traditional methods, the results are much smoother and creamier.
- Chocolate Drops – You can take any sweet or savory liquid and drop it into nitrogen. Let them freeze and pull them out with a sieve. Blend different flavors into a squirt bottle and get creative.
- Frozen Oil Popcorn – Yes, oil can freeze. You can squirt the liquid into nitrogen, and the air inside will make it look like popcorn. The result is light and airy but with tons of flavor.
There are plenty of recipes out there for you to try, so start experimenting! Just be sure to follow safety precautions, and you’ll be the star of the show!