Taste the Sky
Creating the world’s lightest dessert
Saudi Arabia, 2019: Aerogel is a remarkable material. The world’s lightest solid, derived from a gel, aerogel is comprised of 98% air and looks like you are holding a piece of sky in your hand. Bompas & Parr have applied the technical process of super-critical drying (used in aerogel formation) to create the world’s lightest meringues that look like you are eating a fragment of the sky.
After extensive research and development in partnership with Aerogelex in Hamburg, Germany, we presented the world’s lightest meringue at the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia during Ithra’s Creativity Season, Tanween, on October 10-26, 2019 as part of an immersive history of the magnificent meringue.
Aerogel pioneer Samuel Kistler focused his original research (in 1931) on silica, alumina, chromia and tin dioxide gels, but his curiosity pushed him to explore the far reaches of what would be possible to create in his autoclave. This included nickel tartarate, stannic oxide, tungstic oxide, gelatine, agar, nitrocellulose and even egg albumin. It is this final ingredient, not well documented, that has us really intrigued.
By creating an aerogel with egg albumin we identified the potential to make, for the first time since the 1930s, the world’s lightest meringue – one that looked like a piece of sky.
Aerogel was discovered though an academic bet about jellies, the quivering deacon of deserts. This was won by Kistler in 1931, after he successfully removed the liquid component of a gel, replacing it with gas and keeping the internal gel matrix intact – a heroic feat in our eyes.
Though aerogels are known to be some of the world’s best insulators, Kistler didn’t see the widespread use of the super-light solids in his lifetime. It was simply too expensive to manufacture. But now the global scientific community is finding increasingly creative and outlandish uses for them.
An aerogel matrix was used by NASA in 1999 on the Stardust mission where a spacecraft was launch to intercept the comet Wild 2 as it hurtled from the far reaches of the solar system and approached its centre.
Aerogel is also being evaluated by the US Navy for use in undergarments, as passive thermal protection for divers, and as a drug delivery system owing to its biocompatibility.