Delhi’s obsession with dhuan dhuan cocktails using liquid nitrogen is making YouTube-trained bartenders thrive
In light of the recent incident of a Delhiite landing in hospital with his stomach “open like a book” after having a fuming cocktail, experts say that novice bartenders in the city are playing with the lives of guests by using potentially lethal liquid nitrogen as a toy.Updated: Jul 05, 2017, 10:59 IST
A gorgeous looking, smoke-emitting cocktail that promises you a unique multi-sensory delight has now become a part of your bar experience. Such a cocktail has a surreal, fantastical feel to it, it is also modish and totally Instragram-worthy. And it’s always fun when an exuberant bartender tops it with a gimmick or two, and addresses you with your name to make you feel special while serving it.
All of this sounds great only till the time you are ignorant of the fact that the fuming drink can land you in a hospital with a hole in your stomach if it has not been done rightly. A 30-year old Delhiite had this nightmarish experience when he tried one such smoky drink in a bar and was rushed to the hospital with his stomach “open like a book.” The man had complained of extreme pain, abdominal swelling and breathlessness right after having the drink.
“YouTube-trained bartenders using liquid nitrogen are like quacks performing a critical surgery.”
While this seems like the first case of its kind in Delhi, a similar case was reported in UK in 2012. A bar in Lancaster, England was fined £100,000 after they served 18-year-old Gaby Scanlon, a smoking liquid nitrogen cocktail on the house, on her birthday. The drink “exploded” in her stomach. She was rushed to the hospital in extreme pain, and a surgery was performed to remove her stomach. Following the incident, an MP called for a ban on liquid nitrogen cocktail.
“There are few trained and experienced mixologists in Delhi. People have learnt mixology by simply watching other bar artists. Amateur bartenders are copying global trends and getting it all wrong. Liquid nitrogen is like a toy for them.”
Both the cocktails consumed by Scanlon and the 30-year-old Delhiite contained liquid nitrogen, brought into vogue by the likes of chef Heston Blumenthal, who used it to make his much-talked about egg and bacon ice cream. Apparently, in both the cases, the guests hurriedly consumed the drink, when the liquid nitrogen had not completely evaporated from the drink, and the fumes had not vanished.
What is liquid nitrogen?
Liquid nitrogen has an extraordinary low boiling point -196 degrees Celsius, or -321 degrees Fahrenheit. It is used as coolant for superconductors, vacuum pumps and computers, or by surgeons to remove warts and precancerous cells. Liquid nitrogen is so cold that it leads to serious frostbite or cryogenic burns when it comes in contact with any living tissue. In the food industry, it is often used for frosting and slushing cocktails, alcohol and garnishes, or to create vapour or fog when exposed to air.
Liquid nitrogen must completely evaporate before any food or drink containing it is consumed. Consuming even a small amount of liquid nitrogen can have catastrophic consequences.
Liquid nitrogen is kept in a container designed for the purpose, and it is important for those handling it to wear goggles, waterproof gloves and waterproof apron. Those who use it regularly wear specialised cryogenic gloves and apron, and use it with extreme caution.
Is it legal to use it?
Liquid nitrogen is permitted as a process additive in frozen food by the national regulatory body, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). “The Food Safety and Standards Act permits the use of liquid nitrogen only for freezing. It plays the role of a process additive. The liquid nitrogen totally evaporates by the time the food or drink reaches the consumer. So it is safe for consumption. But that’s not the case with cocktails because they are made and served immediately. The use in cocktails would come under novel process which requires approval from the authority but sadly this is not happening. I hope the authority will implement some control after this unfortunate incident,” says Dr Saurabh Arora, founder, foodsafetyhelpline.com.
Delhi’s dhuan dhuan obsession
Liquid nitrogen is being increasingly used in bars and kitchen by novice bartenders and chefs in Delhi, which is a deeply worrying trend. Mixologist Kama K M says, “Liquid nitrogen is being used freely and excessively in bars and restaurants. It’s also a mega trend in city weddings and private parties. Delhiites are obsessed with the ‘dhuan dhuan’ thing. A canister containing 55 litres of liquid nitrogen is used up in a wedding that has a guest list of 500 guests. And it’s again one canister per party on an average,” says Kama.
‘There’s no such thing as food grade liquid nitrogen’
What’s even more disturbing is that there is no food grade liquid nitrogen available in the market. “The same liquid nitrogen that is used by tyre manufacturing companies to harden soft rubber in being used in restaurants. It means that it doesn't come with any kind of safety manual for bars or hotels. Ill-trained people are using it freely in cocktails and ice-creams. They are emptying the canisters on everything they are fancying. Such blind use of liquid nitrogen can be extremely dangerous,” he says.
“Bartending is in a state of mayhem in the city. There are no regulations and checks. An amateur bartender using liquid nitrogen is like a guy without a driving license driving on an accident prone road or a quack performing a serious surgery . While you have licensed bartenders in most parts of the world, there is no regulatory law in India.”
Kama says that it is the prime responsibility of bartenders to tell the guests how to have the drink safely. “Liquid nitrogen is used to change the texture of the drink and add fumes to it. When it is passed through the drink, it quickly evaporates into its vapour at room temperature, leaving the drink frozen cold. The drink can be consumed only when the fumes completely vanish so that not even a small quantity of liquid nitrogen is consumed. If they are serving it, they must explain this to guests. But unfortunately, they themselves get over excited about this whole smoky thing and they do not tell the guests about the risks,” says Kama.
Bartending is in a state of mayhem in the city
The absence of knowledgeable bartenders also makes the situation scary. “Molecular mixology is detailed study of chemistry. Only those who have proper knowledge of ingredients should be allowed to work in a mixology bar. There are very few trained, licensed and experienced mixologists, and some people have learnt mixology by simply watching other bar artists. Amateur bartenders are copying global trends and getting it all wrong. Liquid nitrogen is like a toy for them,” says Kama.
The blatant absence of training and licensing in the field of bartending has created a situation where novice bartenders are using their whims instead of knowledge to create cocktails . “Bartending is in a state of mayhem in the city. There are absolutely no regulations and checks. An amateur bartender using liquid nitrogen is like a guy without a driving license driving on an accident prone road or a quack performing a serious surgery . While you have licensed bartenders in most parts of the world, there is no regulatory law in India. Just like a doctor or a pathologist, whoever is dealing with health and safety needs to be certified. Bartenders are also dealing with human safety but they work without any license,” says mixologist Sandeep Verma.
Verma says that the curriculum in bartending schools is also not controlled, which leaves bartenders with half-baked knowledge. “Bartenders watch videos on Youtube and try to imitate gimmicks without any expertise,” says Verma.
Choose creativity over chemicals
Many experts says that it’s wiser to do away with the use of liquid nitrogen in mixology. “I would not recommend the use of liquid nitrogen for making cocktails in the very first place. Why serve something that can be so dangerous? I would not use it, and if I really have to, I will not hand it over to my guest until the fumes totally subside. I can let them watch how I make it but I won’t hand it over to them in an incomplete state,” says Sandeep Verma. Chef Manish Mehrotra too believes that it is better to give up liquid nitrogen completely. “ I remember a case in a Mumbai bar last year where a celebrity’s tongue got stuck with a spoon dipped in liquid nitrogen for 25 minutes. He was in agonizing pain. There are better ways of showcasing creativity and enhancing the flavour, texture and looks of your drink and food than relying on liquid nitrogen,” he says.
“ I remember a case in a Mumbai bar last year where a celebrity’s tongue got stuck with a spoon dipped in liquid nitrogen for 25 minutes. He was in agonizing pain. There are better ways of showcasing creativity and enhancing the flavour, texture and looks of your drink and food than relying on liquid nitrogen.”
Beware of quackery
Mixologist Yangdupt Lama that it is also important for guests to be aware about drinks: “While there is a lot of interest in alcohol and there is a will to experiment, people have very limited knowledge about consuming alcohol and the safety precautions that they need to take. They get carried away by what they see and they don’t ask any questions, so they can be fooled by anyone,” he says.
You must choose your bar carefully, and interact with the bartender to see where he stands. “Unless you trust the guy, don’t risk your safety. Also, while hiring bartenders for a private party, find out about their credentials. Ask for feedbacks from those who have hired their services earlier. Go through a reliable source and hire a reputed and experienced company ,” says Lama.