2 Spherical Ice Makers: MoMA vs. MUJI (+ Expert Tips) Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

published Apr 1, 2011
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Spherical ice doesn’t just look great in a drink, it has practical advantages too. Today we’re going to look at two trays that can be used for making spherical, er, “cubes” at home. And as an added bonus, we’ll be talking to cocktail ice expert Camper English as well.

Why Use Spherical Ice?
Before we get started testing spherical ice makers, it’s worth stopping a moment to consider the benefits of using the round stuff in the first place. Of course there’s the obvious aesthetic appeal. An oversized crystalline sphere can be quite mesmerizing to look at nestled in a tumbler of whiskey, spinning slowly as you turn the glass this way and that. But there are practical advantages to this shape too. Because a sphere has the smallest surface area of any shape relative to its mass, a ball-shaped piece of ice will melt more slowly, keeping things cool but producing less watery dilution during the time it takes you to finish your drink.

Which Ice Maker to Choose?
Spherical ice first took off as a cocktail-bar trend in Tokyo, so it should come as no surprise that two spherical “trays” currently most readily available on the U.S. market are of Japanese origin (MUJI is a no-frills Japanese design brand; the tray stocked by the U.S.-based Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) gift shop is Japanese-made). This week I test-drove both and found advantages and disadvantages to each.

MoMA’s Spherical Ice Tray Set
Price: $16 for a set of 2 double-sphere trays online (Note: I purchased a single double-ball tray for $8 at MoMA’s brick-and-mortar store in NYC)
Size of Ice Spheres: 2-inch diameter
Dishwasher safe?: Yes
Freezing time: approx. 4-5 hours (in my freezer, anyway)
(Side note: I don’t know if you’ll consider this a pro or a con, but this particular model is a little bit anatomically suggestive, don’t you think? Glad we got that out of the way.)
Pros: Makes 2 spheres at once. Quick and easy to fill. Hard plastic is less likely to absorb odors.
Cons: A little messier to fill as water sometimes sloshes over the edges (it’s best to perform this operation in the sink). Top and bottom pieces sometimes separate during the freezing process, creating an extra ridge of ice around the equator of the sphere. Must bring to room temperature – or run under cool water – to release frozen spheres from mold.

MUJI Silicone Ice Ball Maker
Price: $11.75 for a single sphere
Size of Ice Sphere: 2 1/4-inches diameter
Dishwasher safe?: Yes
Freezing time: approx. 4-5 hours (in my freezer)
Pros: The silicone “lid” peels off quickly and easily, and the ice sphere releases cleanly with less risk of cracking.
Cons: Makes only one sphere at a time. The directions that come with the product say not to fill the mold up all the way, but to leave some room for expansion of the ice. This involves some guesswork. I haven’t used this particular model long enough yet to determine this for sure, but know from experience with other silicone ice trays that the material will sometimes absorb unpleasant food odors from the freezer.

My Take-Away
I’m completely sold on the spherical “cube” concept. The rye whiskey I tested them out with stayed cool without getting too watery, and there was even a fair-sized piece of ice left in the glass when I finished (something that rarely happens when I use regular cubes). Although both the MoMA and MUJI models have their pros and cons, I’d consider either one a good choice for regular home use.

One thing I was frustrated with on the aesthetic side, though, was the lack of clarity in the ice. With high (and naive) hopes of attaining a perfectly clear crystalline form, I tried the standard trick of using filtered water to remove impurities and boiling it before putting the trays in the freezer so that it would take longer to freeze, allowing the air bubbles more time to escape. But it was all to no avail. Frustrated, I decided to consult an expert on cocktail ice: Camper English

Camper’s Method
Journalist and founder of the cocktail blog Alcademics.com Camper English knows a thing or two about ice. In a quest to produce a perfectly clear block, he spent nearly a year experimenting with the stuff, testing and re-testing, filtering and refiltering, freezing and refreezing.

I asked him: What am I doing wrong? How can I make a perfectly clear sphere of ice?

Well, to make a long story short, it turns out there is a way, but it doesn’t involve using either of the molds I tested. Camper explained that the problem with the molds is that the ice will begin to form on the outside first, driving air bubbles and impurities to the center of the sphere, where they’ll inevitably stay trapped.

Camper did, however, discover a way to make a perfectly clear block of ice in his home freezer. You can read all about his ingenious method on his blog, Alcademics.com here. Hint: “It’s all about controlling the direction of the freezing.”

Okay, so far so good. But, in the absence of advanced ice-carving skills, how can you possibly go from a block to a sphere? Well, there is one way…

Once one of his blocks was ready, Camper brought it over to a bar across the street from him and tried out one of these astounding – albeit pricey – machines that reshape ice using pressure and heat. The final result? A beautifully clear, seamlessly shaped sphere. Okay, maybe not the most accessible option for most of us, but nice to know it can be done.

Have you ever had a drink with spherical ice? Ever made it a home?

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Further Reading:

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf.

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

(Images: Nora Maynard)