Modern Industrial Chemicals (part 6) - “Melts” in your mouth: Maltodextrin - Powdered Brown Butter

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4.2. “Melts” in your mouth: Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin—a starch—dissolves in water, but not fat. In manufacturing, it’s spray-dried and agglomerated, which creates a powder that’s very porous on the microscopic level. Because of this structure, maltodextrin is able soak up fatty substances (they won’t cause it to dissolve), making maltodextrin useful for working with fats when designing food. It also absorbs water, so is used as an emulsifier and thickener, as well as a fat substitute: once hydrated, it literally sticks around, mimicking the viscosity and texture of fats.

Since it comes as a white powder, you can also use maltodextrin to turn fatty liquids and solids such as olive oil and peanut butter into powder. Because maltodextrin traps oils but dissolves in water, the resulting powder dissolves in your mouth, effectively “melting” back into the original ingredient and releasing its flavor. Since maltodextrin itself is generally flavorless (only slightly sweet), it does not substantially alter the flavor of the product that is being “powderized.”

In addition to the novelty and surprise of, say, a powder dusting on top of fish melting into olive oil in your mouth, powders can carry flavors over into applications that require the ingredients to be effectively “dry.” Think of chocolate truffles rolled in chopped nuts: in addition to providing flavor and texture contrast, the chopped nuts provide a convenient “wrapper” around the chocolate to allow you to pick up the truffle and eat it, without the chocolate ganache melting on to your fingers. Powdered products can be used to coat the outsides of foods in much the same way that chopped nuts are used to coat the outside of truffles.

Instructions for use. Add powder slowly to your liquid fat for a ratio of about 60% fat, 40% maltodextrin by weight. You can pass the results through a sieve to change the texture from breadcrumb-like to a finer powder.

Uses. Industry commonly uses maltodextrin as a filler to thicken liquids (e.g., the liquid in canned fruits) and as a way to carry flavors in prepackaged foods such as flavored chips and crackers. Since it traps fats, any fat-soluble substances can be “wicked up” with maltodextrin and then more easily incorporated into a product. For experimental dishes, you can use maltodextrin to create powders that can be sprinkled on the plate as garnish or as a way of transforming something that’s normally liquid into a solid.

Origin and chemistry. Derived from starches such as corn, wheat, or tapioca. Tapioca maltodextrin seems to be most commonly used in modernist cooking. Maltodextrin is made by cooking down the starches and running the resulting hydrolyzed starches through a spray-dryer. Chemically, maltodextrin is a sweet polysaccharide composed of typically between 3 and 20 glucose units linked together.

When it comes to understanding how maltodextrin soaks up oils, imagine it being like sand at the beach. The sand doesn’t actually bond with the water, but it’s still wicking up the liquid in the space between the granules due to capillary action. When working with either sand or maltodextrin, with the right amount of liquid, the powder clumps up and becomes workable. Because maltodextrin is water soluble, however, water would dissolve the starch granules. And, luckily, maltodextrin can soak up a lot more oil per volume than sand can soak up water, making it useful for conveying flavors in a nonliquid form.

Powdered Brown Butter

Whisking any fat such as browned butter (upper left) with maltodextrin (center right) creates a powdered form (bottom) that can be used to create a surprising texture as the powder “melts” back into browned butter when placed in the mouth. Try using this browned butter powder as a garnish on top of or alongside fish, or making a version with peanut butter and sprinkling on desserts.

In a skillet, melt:

4 tablespoons (60g) salted butter

Once melted, continue to heat until all the water has boiled off. The butter solids will start to brown. Once the butter has completely browned and achieved a nutty, toasted aroma, remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two.

In a small mixing bowl, measure out:

½ cup (40g) maltodextrin

While whisking the maltodextrin, slowly dribble in the browned butter until a wet sand–like consistency is reached.


  • Stir slowly at the beginning because maltodextrin is light and will easily aerosolize. The ratio between maltodextrin and the food will vary. If your result is more like toothpaste, add more maltodextrin.

  • If the resulting powder is still too clumpy, you might be able to dry it carefully by transferring the powder to a frying pan and applying low heat for a few minutes. This will help dry out any dampness present from room humidity. It will also partially cook the food item, which might not work for powders containing items such as white chocolate.

  • For a finer texture, try passing the powder through a sieve or strainer using the back of a spoon.

  • Try adding a bit of lemon juice to the brown butter, after it has cooled but before mixing it with the maltodextrin.

  • Additional flavors to try: peanut butter, almond butter, coconut oil (virgin/unrefined), caramel, white chocolate, Nutella, olive oil, foie gras, bacon fat (cook some bacon and save the fat drippings—this is called rendering). You don’t need to heat the fats first, but it might take a bit of working to get the maltodextrin to combine. For liquid fats (olive oil), you will need to use roughly 2 parts maltodextrin to 1 part fat: 50g olive oil, 100g maltodextrin.

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