Having your stomach removed is not the best way of celebrating your birthday. This, nevertheless, was how 18-year-old Gaby Scanlon spent her coming of age.
Out on the town in Lancaster, northwest England, last weekend, Scanlon perforated her stomach wall after drinking a cocktail prepared with liquid nitrogen.
Liquid nitrogen was once just an obscure chemical used in a completely different context by high-end chefs such as Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. They used it to flash-freeze food — a technique now mimicked in restaurants across the UK.
Nitrogen boils at minus-196oC — so once it is released from its container, it turns immediately into a vapor, before disappearing completely. The vapor is extremely cold — when sprayed on food, the food freezes in an instant.
In this context, liquid nitrogen is still dangerous — it can be too cold to touch — while one German amateur lost his hand after lighting it by mistake, but because the chemical is used as a tool rather than an ingredient, diners do not have much to worry about.
That is not necessarily the case in some bars.
It is not yet known what kind of cocktail Scanlon drank, but Colin McGurran, chef proprietor of Winteringham Fields, Lincolnshire, northeast England, advises against drinking anything mixed with liquid nitrogen or containing nitrogen ice cubes.
The icy liquid might corrode your insides directly — or start to boil, expand rapidly, and then put too much pressure on your stomach.
As for Scanlon, happily she has survived — probably with her esophagus sewn directly to her intestine. She can still eat normally, just in smaller portions.
“Maybe ‘stay off the liquid nitrogen’ is not a funny thing to say to me,” she tweeted. “I nearly died.”