N2O (nitrous oxide) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) cartridges will fit soda siphons, whipped cream dispensers, and espresso machines. The screw-on fitting of the cartridges is the same.
However, what is different is how these two chemicals react with water and cream. They both have their uses in the kitchen.
Since their cartridges look identical, it is easy to mistake one for the other. It is also tempting to use one for the other if you do not know its consequences.
Please continue reading to learn the difference between nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide and why they are not interchangeable.
Are N2O and CO2 chargers interchangeable for culinary purposes?
N2O and CO2 chargers will both fit the same fitting on soda siphons, whip cream dispensers, soda machines, and espresso machines. However, when carbon dioxide (CO2) mixes with water (H2O), you get carbonic acid (H2CO3), more commonly known as seltzer water. It has a slightly acidic flavor and works fine in some drinks. However, mixing it with cream may produce unsatisfactory results and this is why N2O and CO2 chargers are not interchangeable.
Carbon dioxide and soda siphons
Soda siphons have been used in restaurants and homes since they were invented. The original invention of 1829 was developed to keep sparkling wine from going flat.
In the roaring 1920’s they were popular in the parlors of speakeasies when alcohol was prohibited in the United States. Soda siphons are still used today in some businesses and homes.
Aerosol canisters were introduced a few decades before the siphons. However, their advent made the soda siphon and cream charger possible. The modern soda siphon still uses CO2 cartridges to turn flat water into sparkling water.
The acidity goes well with a scotch and soda; however, using CO2 with cream can give you less than stellar results. If you have ever mixed orange juice with milk, you will understand why the acidic result of mixing CO2 and H2O will not work.
When combined, the resulting product has a pH between three and four, which is acidic. When you mix acid with milk, you get curdled milk, which tastes sour.
Soda makers use CO2 to make large batches of canned and bottled soda and have huge tanks to make their products.
In addition, soda fountains at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants use bulk tanks of CO2 to carbonate your beverage as it is being made.
The only difference between the soda factories, soda fountains, and your use of a CO2 cartridge is scale.
Nitrous oxide and cream chargers
How the cream charger came about is elusive. However, an industrious cook likely looked at a soda siphon, a batch of cream, and thought, why not?
However it came about, the advent of this tool has aided many a chef, and fresh whipped cream is always superior to premade products.
Nitrous oxide combines with the cream, making it light and airy instead of changing its chemical composition. Unfortunately, CO2 mixed with cream does not have the same effect and will ruin your batch of cream.
Under pressure in a charger, nitrogen oxide mixed with cream offers the same result as hand or machine whipping. The beauty, though, is you get it on-demand, with less work.
Nitrous oxide binds with the cream
Whipping cream is nothing more than adding air to the cream to create a light, creamy, air-filled product. Although whipping cream cannot be accomplished with carbon dioxide, it can be done with nitrous oxide.
Unlike carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide is neutral, which means it is neither acid nor base. Therefore, it does not affect the flavor of the items mixed with, nor does it become acidic when mixed with fluids.
When nitrous oxide is released under pressure into cream, with a fat content above 27 percent, it will combine with the molecules of the cream, thus fluffing it up. Pretty cool, huh?
Will nitrous oxide give me fizzy water?
It will, but it is not the same. However, a few manufacturers are infusing water with nitrogen.
Nitrogen oxide in water will make it slightly bubbly. Still, it doesn’t have the same chemical reaction as water does with carbon dioxide.
The acidic bite of water carbonated with CO2 blends well with drinks but not with cream. Although you can get the fizz with the N2O, the lack of acidity makes it taste a bit flat.
Frequently Asked Questions about N2O and CO2 cartridges
How many grams of nitrous oxide is in a cartridge?
A nitrous oxide cartridge used for cream chargers holds eight grams of gas. Once its seal is broken, the gas is released into the cream charger.
How many grams of carbon dioxide is in a cartridge?
CO2 cartridges hold eight grams of gas, and once punctured, they release all of their gas into the container of your soda siphon.
How long will soda water stay bubbly in a soda siphon?
Water in your soda siphon will stay bubbly for about two weeks.
Are CO2 and N2O cartridges refillable?
Not these small containers, as they are made to use once and throw away. They are recyclable, though.
Do espresso machines use nitrous oxide?
Some cold brew beer is infused with nitrous oxide, which makes it frothy and creamy.
Can N2O and CO2 cartridges be interchanged?
If you use CO2 in your cream charger, you will get buttermilk. If you use N2O in your soda siphon, the water will not have the tang that it brings when mixed with CO2.
The next time you are at an event and do not have the correct cartridge, you know that you can’t use CO2 in the place of N2O and why.