Beginning at the Beginning
A common question enviro-conscious people have when they first hear about nitrous oxide is: What is it and how is it made?
This is an interesting and currently unanswerable question, because it was created long ago at the beginning of everything.
So, what is nitrous oxide gas? Where does it come from? And why do we use it?
What is nitrous oxide aka N2O?
Nitrous oxide is a naturally occurring colorless gas. It is found in our natural environment and also stored under pressure as a liquid, usually in canisters like you find at Hippie Whippy™.
N2O is an element in our environment and has been around since the foundation of the world. It’s produced by heating solid ammonium nitrate.
For the sake of better understanding, let’s define gas: A gas is actually liquid and doesn’t have a set shape or volume. It has a very low density and can easily expand or contract in response to changes in pressure and temperature.
Wait, you might say, gas is liquid?
Yes. There is a difference between something being liquid and being a liquid.
A very basic definition of “a liquid” is a fluid that is very difficult to compress. The definition of “liquid” is a matter that can flow and change its shape. So N2O gas both is liquid and becomes a liquid when compressed.
Confused yet? Perhaps a common example would help.
Let’s use H2O (the chemical formula for water). Water is a liquid that flows and conforms to gravity or a container that holds it. It also changes form based on temperature to ice, liquid or gas. All forms of water are considered to be liquid because they can flow and change shape.
So, N2O is the chemical formula of nitrous oxide gas. At room temperature N2O is a gas, but it changes into a liquid when cooled and pressurized. If the temperature drops enough it can even freeze like water (H2O), although the temperature that nitrous oxide freezes is very, very low.
Right now nitrous oxide is used primarily in three ways. First, it is used as an anesthetic in dentists offices. Second, it is a key aerosol and food manipulator in the kitchen. Third, it is used as an oxidiser for internal combustion engines.
Since science moves forward so quickly and new discoveries are made every day, it will be interesting to see where N2O is in 20, 50 and 100 years. There are many possibilities.
Why is nitrous oxide used with whipped cream??
Nitrous oxide is used with whipped cream for four main reasons: stability, performance when pressurized, structure, and taste.
First, nitrous oxide gas has very little chemical change when mixed with other substances. Unlike CO2, which creates carbonic acid when mixed with liquids, N2O is very stable, producing only a slightly sweet taste and smell. This makes it popular with cooks who want to produce recipes reliably without worrying about chemical changes.
Second, nitrous oxide is very stable when pressurized. This was one of the key factors why whipped cream producers used it in the original canned whip as an aerosol. It holds in the can and consistently pushes anything under pressure out time and again.
Third, nitrous oxide gas has very small bubbles that have a very impressive effect with fats. The molecular structure of N2O creates bubbles much smaller than other gasses like CO2. This might not seem important at first, but the bubble structure of N2O works really well with fats, particularly creams. This means that it bonds and fluffs whipped cream better than other gasses.
And finally forth, because when N2O mixes with other substances it produces a slightly sweet flavor and smell. For this reason it gives a subtle but pleasant elevation of drinks, creams, and deserts, often lifting them to the next level.
For all these reasons, N2O works perfectly for whipped cream and many other food projects and has become the go to industry standard, particularly for whipped cream.
We at Hippie Whippy™ are particularly happy with how well nitrous oxide gas works, because it enables us to continue our pursuit of good, healthy cooking while creating great relationships and love between people and the world.
Thank you for taking the time to read our post on nitrous oxide gas. Although we have passionately studied the science behind N2O, whipped cream, food, and beverages, we are hippies not scientists. There is (of course) much more to learn and discover. We will be posting more on this in the future, but if there is something specific that you’d like us to cover in a future post, please let us know and we’d love to create it for you!
We always like to promote love and freedom as our key message, so please don’t forget that the most important treasure in our lives is those around us. Let’s help make everyone more free by choosing love over all else. It may be hard, but it’s worth it in the end!