Powder Play: Why Chefs Use Tapioca Maltodextrin to Add Flavor and Texture to Dishes

tapioca maltodextrin

Seared salmon with red quinoa, corn, apples, shiso, and pumpkinseed powder at Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar. (Photograph by Paul Saraceno)

Fat equals flavor, the saying goes, but anyone who’s eaten a grease-laden meal knows that it doesn’t always mean a satisfying texture. As a result, chefs have turned to a powdered white starch called tapioca maltodextrin, a plant-derived product that absorbs fats (such as olive oil and butter) and transforms them into fluffy, flavorful powders that dissolve when they hit the tongue.

“If you want to add a liquid fat to a plate but you don’t want to turn people off by having something oily or fatty, you can turn it into a powder and have the same taste effect—but have something visually striking,” says Brendan Pelley, the chef at Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, in Medfield. He’s crafted powders out of rich substances such as bacon fat, brown butter, sesame oil, white chocolate, and pumpkinseed oil. Want to try this move at home? Pelley suggests blending the starch with olive oil to add modernist flair to simple salads or fish.

Tapioca maltodextrin can be purchased on amazon.com.