Ideas in Food in Ottawa: Intro to Activa
But don’t call it that in front of Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. He has two objections to the expression: first, it’s unprofessional. And second, it’s inaccurate.
Transglutaminase is a naturally-occurring enzyme that helps the amino acids lysine and glutamine bond to each other. What this means in practical terms is that you can take nearly any protein-rich ingredient and, with the right preparation of transglutaminase, bond it to itself or another protein-rich ingredient. Once the bond is complete, the final product doesn’t look like it’s been glued together: it looks like it grew that way.
After the Intro to Sous Vide class, and a quick break for a snack and for some participant changeover (though many participants, like myself, stayed for both classes), Alex launched into Intro to Activa.
Intro to Activa was, in some ways, more interesting than Intro to Sous Vide, because I had less experience with the subject matter. After describing the history and different types of Activa available, Alex demonstrated several different preparations using the different versions of the product. For Activa GS, which is applied as a slurry, he showed us how to bond chicken skin to a block of sweetbreads, as well as how to bond halibut fillets into a roulade. Activa RM, which is sprinkled directly onto proteins or pureed with them, was used to make an elk roulade and to make the sweetbread block that had the chicken skin bonded to it. Finally, Alex made mozzarella sheets using Activa YG. Unfortunately, because Activa takes time to do its work, we didn’t get to see the final result of some of these preparations, but it was still interesting to see how to use the product.
And yet, despite all the fascinating possibilities Activa opens up in the kitchen, I won’t be using it any time soon. Not because it’s difficult to apply or doesn’t fit in with my culinary philosophy, but rather for the simple reason that it’s expensive and doesn’t have a long shelf life: only about a month. The standard Activa package is 1 kilogram, which is too much even for many restaurants. As a home cook, I have no hope of getting my money’s worth out of it.
Still, I think this made it all the more worthwhile for me to attend the demo, since it allowed me to see Activa in action. And if Ajinomoto ever starts releasing it in smaller packages, I’ll already know how to use it.
“Ideas” for Activa
- Contrary to popular belief, Activa can be used to bond previously cooked protein
- Once your Activa package is opened, your best bet for prolonging shelf life is to break it down into smaller packages, vacuum seal them, and store them in the freezer
- Allow 6 hours to overnight for Activa GS and RM preparations to bond completely; Activa YG takes 24 hours to bond
- The bonding process operates fastest between 52°C and 55°C: to bond a preparation quickly, cook it sous vide at 55°C for a couple of hours (but keep in mind that this will cook the proteins, too!)