In the early 2000s, every high-end degustation spot on the planet included culinary foam. Spanish wonder-chef-cum-chemist Ferran Adrià was to blame—ever since the man created it at El Bulli, anything that could be liquefied and made viscous enough to hold gas was pumped onto plates all over the planet until it quickly became a cliché.
Looking back, foam seems like a time capsule gimmick of molecular gastronomy. Adrià himself finds this a shame because "there are many other techniques and concepts that we perfected."
There was one huge advantage of culinary foam, though, and that was its ability to present any elemental flavor in its entirety, without camouflage. As Adrià told Toronto's The Star in March, by filling an ingredient with bubbles of nitrous oxide, "we could make very airy mousses, with the pure taste of the product chosen." This is a huge advantage if you want to sample a new, completely underutilized flavor, such as the milk of Australian marsupials like kangaroos, wombats, or koalas.
A company named Womabaroo in Adelaide, Australia makes the milk, a synthetic replica based on analyzed milk samples and rendered into powder format for zoos and animal refuges. Looking at the ingredients on the label, it's clear that the milk is made of a whey powder with an enormous dose of protein and fat (around forty percent for kangaroos), combined with an eccentric array of vitamins and minerals.
Technically, this product is designed for infant marsupials. Off label, though, could it be an untapped resource for a notorious dessert chef like Pierre Roelofs? If anyone could make it palatable, it's him.
Roelofs is a big name in Australian desserts. Originally from New Zealand, he worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in England and Spain before he began running three-course dessert evenings at Melbourne's Café Rosamond. He's known for fresh, intricate desserts and a whole lot of experimentation.
"I do like to challenge people," he says over the phone the first time we speak. "Although I'm older and wiser now and more into being interesting rather than shocking." Still, I was convinced he could find something exciting to do with this 'roo milk. After some deliberation, he gave in. "Yeah, alright."
I dropped off the milk at his home and we caught up a week later to discuss how it went. "I didn't want to mask the milk's natural flavor," he explains. "So I used a fairly neutral preparation. To get a foam, you just need to use a liquid with a high fat content or mix gelatine in—anything that holds the gas. In this case the milk was fatty enough so I used it straight, with some sugar. For me, the less I did was going to produce the best results."
Roelofs mixed the powder with a small amount of hot water to dissolve it, then about four cups of cold. He also used five ounces of caster sugar—so it was definitely a dessert—and loaded the whole lot into a syphon canister which he placed in the fridge for three hours. "I just gave it a shake every half an hour, to keep it loose and airy."
Roelofs likes to use foam in the middle-course of every dessert evening. "It's a light, fruity cleanser," he explains. "It's a 'between' dish that I serve it in these tall glasses—ones I also use for the milk dishes." He made no exceptions for our little experiment, either. "I piped it out after it was refrigerated enough to set, and then took some photos."
No paying member of the public was actually served 'roo or koala juice but Roelofs says the people on his Instagram account, "found it amusing, to say the least." Most importantly, though, how did the foams taste? "Yeah, they weren't great," he says.
"The koala was probably my favorite, but that was for sentimental reasons and not taste. They were all pretty similar to be honest." How? "Quite musky, a bit funky and a bit metallic." Mmm, musky. "The best word would be pungent—definitely not enjoyable."
Would he ever use koala milk again, then? "I guess if I was to use any of them again I'd try to dilute the taste with cream, maybe some vanilla. Just anything to lose that strong animal flavor."
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in June, 2014.