Methylcellulose has been part of the chemical arsenal of avant guard chefs for years.
I have only been experimenting with it for a few weeks now, but have already found many significant uses for it. As a hydrocolloid, it can thicken liquids to form gels that can glue together vegetables, or spread thinly on silicone to form sheets that are flexible and plastic-like when dried, but turn crisp and brittle when baked. It can also be piped into hot liquid to form instant noodles. The gel, when whipped, behaves like egg whites and can be baked into souffles, marshmallows, and light and crisp meringues.
In the blogosphere, Ideas in Food have used various types of Methocel to make hot ice cream, whipped yogurt , hot mozzarella sheets, and gnocchi. Chadzilla has some recent posts in which he's made whipped lemonade and tempura batter.
Since my s'mores post, I have received a number of email inquiries about working with Methylcellulose. While I am certainly no expert, I thought that I would share some research that I have found helpful to my understanding of this versatile gum.
Methylcellulose,or MC, is a chemical derivative of cellulose. Cellulose is the 'bones', or structural cells of all living plants.
Methocel and Benecel are trademarked brand names of MC.
MC is widely used in the food, drug and cosmetic industries. If you have ever taken a coated tablet, or a capsule, you have ingested MC. It is often added to baked goods, beverages, ice creams, and whipped toppings. It is what forms the onion in the Burger King onion ring
MC is categorized as a food gum because it is a non-starch carbohydrate polymer. MC behaves like starch in the way that it thickens and stabilizes, but does so using much smaller amounts.
Because it does not ferment in the digestive tract, as does starch, it is non-caloric. MC is known to be non-allergenic, kosher, halal, and vegan.
Methylcellulose has varied applications: it can coat, thicken, stabilize, gel, suspend, bind, form flexible or brittle films, carry flavors, reduce syneresis (weeping), and improve texture.
Within these applications, it delivers versatility: it is soluble in cold liquids (though it can be introduced in hot liquids and agitated when cool), its viscosity is stable over a wide PH range of 2-13, it is non-ionic, has a high tolerance for salt and sugar, and it can be combined with alcohol or oil. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
MC is unique among hydrocolloids in that it forms a reversible thermal gel; it has the ability to gel when heated and revert back to its original state when cooled.
There are several types of Methylcellulose: A, E, F, and K, and even more variations within each type. A types are Methylcellulose, or MC, while E, F, and K types are hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, or HPMC. They differ in viscosity, gelation temperature, and gelation strength:
Nominal Gelation Gelation
Type Viscosity* Temperature Strength
A15 12-18 122-131°F (50-55°C) Very firm
A4C 300-560 122-131°F (50-55°C) Very firm
A15C 1,125-2,450 122-131°F (50-55°C) Very firm
A4M 2,700-5,600 122-131°F (50-55°C) Very firm
E15 12-18 136-147°F (58-64°C) Semi-firm
E50 40-60 136-147°F (58-64°C) Semi-firm
E4M 2,700-5,040 136-147°F (58-64°C) Semi-firm
E10M 7,500-14,000 136-147°F (58-64°C) Semi-firm
F50 40-60 143-154°F (62-68°C) Semi-firm
F450 360-540 143-154°F (62-68°C) Semi-firm
F4M C 2,700-5,040 143-154°F (62-68°C) Semi-firm
K100LV 80-120 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K99 C 80-120 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K15M 13,500-25,200 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K35M 26,250-49,000 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K4M 2,700-5,040 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K100M 75,000-140,000 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
K200M 150,000-280,000 158-194°F (70-90°C) Soft
*viscosity is measured in millipascal-seconds (mPa.s) in a 2% solution at 20 degrees C. (68F)
A types are soluble at 32-41 F (0-5 C) for 20-40 minutes. E, F, and K types are soluble at 68-77 F (20-25 C). Viscosity will continue to increase as temperature drops.