Liquid Nitrogen Cocktails
Liquid nitrogen is just what it sounds like-nitrogen in a liquid state. Nitrogen is liquid at an extremely low temperature, usually a wickedly cold 321 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It freezes body tissue on contact, so it’s sometimes used by doctors to freeze off warts. It’s also used in labs to store cells or in cryogenics or as a coolant for high temperature processes or experiments. It’s also sometimes used to brand cattle.
Liquid Nitrogen Cocktails: Culinary Use of Liquid Nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen is used by restaurants in a couple different ways. Sometimes they use it to prepare frozen desserts (e.g. ice cream) because they can be created in seconds at the table, and it looks pretty cool. Liquid nitrogen cocktails are another way that restaurants use liquid nitrogen because it can quickly chill glasses or freeze ingredients. It’s also used to create a smoky effect.
Liquid Nitrogen Cocktails: The danger
The problem with liquid nitrogen cocktails is that you are not supposed to actually ingest the liquid nitrogen. Bartenders are supposed to swirl it around in a glass until it vaporizes completely, and then pour in the alcohol. If they don’t do it right, you can end up swallowing it. The substance itself is not toxic, but the extremely cold temperature freezes body tissues on contact.
The Daily Mail recently reported such an incident involving liquid nitrogen cocktails. Gaby Scanlon, 18, was out with friends when she ordered a drink made with liquid nitrogen. After drinking the liquid nitrogen cocktail, she began to complain of shortness of breath and severe stomach pains. She was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent an emergency gastrostomy following a diagnosis of a perforated stomach. Medical experts claim that this would have been fatal had the surgery not been performed when it was. Scanlon will likely be able to resume a mostly normal life, but she will have to closely monitor her diet and nutrition from now on.
Though the hospital is not commenting on Scanlon’s case, doctors surmise that the liquid nitrogen froze the stomach tissues, and quickly formed into a gas, causing tremendous pressure on the stomach walls. This combination- the force of the gas and stomach tissues unable to expand to accommodate it, would quickly cause perforation.
Liquid nitrogen cocktails have also been known to freeze the throat, upper airways, and lips when used improperly. This can compromise breathing and cause fatalities.
Liquid Nitrogen Cocktails: Why even use it?
Many bars and restaurants use liquid nitrogen cocktails to entice customers and set themselves apart from the competition. However, many bartenders using the substance are not specially trained in using such a dangerous substance or they get busy and careless while making the cocktails. Though injuries as severe as Gaby Scanlon’s are rare, rushed or undertrained bartenders often suffer minor skin burns from making liquid nitrogen cocktails.
Some chefs insist that liquid nitrogen is safe when used properly, and argue that its use should not be banned in the food service industry.