Water and Oil: Demystifying Emulsions in the Kitchen

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You might not use the term "emulsion" in your daily life very much, but you are probably eating them. In your refrigerator, there are likely two or more.

More on that soon. But what is an emulsion? 

Consider the fact that oil and water are known for not mixing well. Emulsions solve that problem.

Scientifically,  emulsions are fine dispersions of droplets of one liquid in another in which it is not soluble or miscible. Essentially, emulsions help two liquids mix that normally would not. For example: Mayonnaise contains egg suspended in oil. 

Other common emulsions you've likely encountered are mayonnaise, vinaigrette, and even milk and butter. 

Now that's all well and good to know this as fact, but how exactly can it make you a better cook?

In making emulsified sauces, such as hollandaise, mayonnaise, and vinaigrette, there are a few rules that help these mixtures blend properly that home cooks might not know. 

Firstly, ensure all ingredients are at room temperature to encourage proper emulsification. 

Secondly, slowly add the oil to the water-based ingredients while whisking vigorously or using a blender for better control. 

This is why almost all recipes which involve this process command you to stream in oil slowly—it really is scientifically necessary to make your mixture emulsify. 

Lastly, store in airtight containers, refrigerate promptly, and consume within the recommended timeframe to keep them at peak tastiness. 

We hope that knowing more about emulsions will help to make some essential sauces a friendlier and not-so-scary process. 

When you can make these basics from scratch, a whole world of emulsified possibilities opens up! :-)