Cocktail Spheres (Popping Boba)

Ok.  Today’s recipe has a backstory (in case that wasn’t already obvious).

It starts months ago, when Hubs found a show called ‘Drink Masters” on Netflix.  It’s a bartending elimination style show that was surprisingly intriguing.  In one episode, contestants had to create a drink creating and using cocktail caviar or spherification.  Which is not caviar at all but a method of making little gel balls that resemble caviar that can be added to cocktails.  I was super interested, googled it briefly and then forgot all about it.

Then I got a cocktail cookbook for Christmas that mentioned it again (recipe & book review coming next week) that brought spherification to the forefront of my mind again, but not enough to actually make it.

Fast forward to this month's Cook the Books Club pick: Lessons in Chemistry. 

Here’s my GoodReads review:

Lessons in Chemistry
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was prepared to hate this book. Anytime a synopsis includes the words "daring to change the status quo" I mentally gird myself for a preachy, self congratulatory book.

This is surprisingly not that. Elizabeth, with all her quirkiness sorta encourages changing the status quo (of the place of women in the 1950s) but more so is just authentically herself and ends up bringing that out in others too.

This book wasn't without its issues:
-the book didn't "feel" like the setting was the 1950s - it felt much more modern
-Elizabeth's quirkiness (and Calvin's for that matter) more often read as autism spectrum and I don't know if that was intentional or not.
-Elizabeth's daughter (Mad) was hard to wrap my mind around. She read like a brilliant 9 year old instead of the 4 year old she was meant to be.

Despite this, the book was enjoyable. There were definitely scenes that made me laugh and I enjoyed how many of the characters and storylines converged at the end. Plus 6:30 (the dog) was a surprisingly endearing (though completely unrealistic) character.

View all my reviews

The focus of the book as cooking as chemistry renewed my interest in spherification and was finally the motivation I needed to order the ingredients and do some science in my kitchen!  And spherification is totally science, no joke.  It took quite a bit of research and several attempts before I found a successful recipe.

Spherification is when a juice of some sort is combined with sodium alginate, then dropped into a calcium chloride mixture to create spheres (other methods use gelatin and oil or tapioca).  The recipes I found online had some discrepancy about how much sodium alginate to use per 100 millimeters of juice.  You’ll see my results below, I believe that the amount of sodium alginate needed varies depending upon the acidity of the juice being used (but don’t quote me, it’s only a theory).

For me, it took a few tries to get the right consistency.  Once I did, the result spheres reminded me of Jell-o jigglers, only much smaller.  I used a larger frosting piping tip for my spheres, since I wanted the spheres to be larger for the cocktail I’m sharing next.  If making smaller spheres, perhaps a thinner mixture would be ideal - sounds like another experiment!

Recipe Note:

-calcium chloride is also sold as “pickle crisp granules” found in the canning section of grocery stores.

-If the mixture is too thin, the drops will flatten as they hit the calcium chloride bath.  Add another ⅛-¼ teaspoon of sodium alginate and blend to mis.  Refrigerate for another 30 minutes or so to thicken and try again.

-If the mixture is too thick, it will be hard to squeeze from the bottle, try thinning with additional grape juice.

Spherification to make Cocktail Spheres/Popping Boba

Instructions adapted from Instructables and Your Coffee and Tea

350 ml white grape juice

50 ml water

¾ teaspoon food grade sodium alginate powder

Gel food coloring of choice

2 cups distilled water

1 ¼ teaspoon calcium chloride (see note)

Place the grape juice, water, sodium alginate, and food coloring into a blender.  Blend for 2-3 minutes or until the sodium alienate is completely dissolved.  Pour into a covered container and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

After refrigeration, the mixture should be quite thick but still pourable (it should be a looser consistency than hair gel (or melted jell-o)- almost like pancake batter, but in gel form).

Mix the calcium chloride into the distilled water until completely dissolved.

Transfer the mixture to a syringe or squeeze bottle.  I wanted larger boba pearls, so I used one of my cookie decorating squeeze bottles so I could change out the piping tip to a wilton #12.  This yielded boba about the size of a pencil eraser (or a little smaller).

Hold the squeeze bottle about 6 inches above the calcium chloride bath.  Drip the sodium alginate mixture into the calcium chloride bath.  As the drips hit the water, the chemicals will react to create a thin membrane.  Allow the boba to set for about a minute, then scoop into a separate water bath to rinse.

Use immediately.  Or store overnight in a thin layer of water.


  1. How fun is this......can't wait to see the cocktail.

  2. I knew someone would go all science-y with a recipe/post! Glad you enjoyed the book. Still reading here.

  3. I'm not sure I've seen anything like this before. Maybe just a tad too adventurous for me....

  4. That's so cool, Amy! I love the experiment and your description makes me want to try. Nice choice of color too. I also had troubles suspending my disbelief when it came to Mad :)


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