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North Hills Monthly

Nitro Foods Growing in Popularity in Pittsburgh

Apr 02, 2017 12:05PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange

Playing around with nitrogen sounds like something you might do in chemistry class, but today you are likely to find nitrogen in the kitchens of some of your favorite area eateries.

Nitro coffee is trending throughout the country, and locals can find it at Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange in the Strip District. It is made when gas nitrogen is infused into cold brew coffee. Served cold from a tap, nitro coffee pours from a keg like beer, and even resembles that libation, but the coffee taste is unmistakable.

Manager Derek Eichler said that they have six different taps of nitro coffees, including several flavored options, and even one tea on tap. Eichler recommends trying the coffee straight even if you are accustomed to adding sugar and creamer because of the reduced acidity and smoothness of the brew.

Eichler said that the trend began in the Pacific Northwest, noting that Pittsburgh was a bit slow to catch on. Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange added nitro coffee to their menu a few years ago, one of the first coffee shops in the city to do so. 

“It has been growing in popularity for us ever since,” he said, adding that he believes the trend is here to stay. The company’s product is also on tap at several different bars and restaurants around the city.

While nitro coffee is made with the nitrogen in a gas form, Lyllian Rose has found success making frozen yogurt with liquid nitrogen. Rose is the owner of Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt in Mt. Lebanon. Though their self-service store offers many flavors of organic yogurt and ice cream, using liquid nitrogen has made it possible for Rose to take her business on the road to catering events and outdoor festivals. “We pour the yogurt into a standing mixer and start churning it; after about 90 seconds, you have frozen yogurt,” she said.

Rose explained that using liquid nitrogen to make yogurt eliminates the extra air and ice crystallization that often occurs when something freezes. “You get a really super creamy product using this method; our yogurt tastes more like ice cream than yogurt,” she explained.

Although the staff may use goggles and gloves when handling the product, liquid nitrogen is relatively safe for consumption as it evaporates entirely during the freezing process.

Rose said that kids love to watch it being made because the process produces a big cloud of fog. People are also adding Piccadilly’s flash frozen yogurt to dessert tables. “It jazzes it up a bit and brings that element of pizzazz to a buffet,” she said.

Another company using nitrogen in their desserts is Bella Christie and Lil Z’s Sweet Boutique, with locations in Aspinwall and Lawrenceville. At catering events, the bakery uses liquid nitrogen at various stations to enhance such desserts as frozen Nitro Pops, in which marshmallows, bananas or brownies can be dipped in various flavors of Nitro Dips (i.e., chocolate, caramel, Nutella).  

“Liquid nitrogen enhances the pops because it produces a different flavor and texture. Instead of a regular chocolate-covered strawberry, it’s cold. It’s a different taste that people haven’t experienced before,” said Catering Manager Amanda Byrne.

Other delicacies are frozen cocktails, such as mudslides or cosmopolitans. Byrne said that they take a cocktail of the drinker’s choice and mix it with fresh crème anglaise base, then flash freeze it with liquid nitrogen. They also offer a liquid nitrogen ice cream station.

The bakery has been using liquid nitrogen in their desserts with great success. In addition to the delicious textures and flavors, guests are wowed when watching the process, temporarily turning a traditional food station into dinner theater.

“It’s completely jaw dropping to the guests, and people talk about it for weeks,” said Byrne.