Imagine being able to take your time eating ice cream that doesn’t melt when you’re halfway through your treat. Well, you may be able to do just that in three (3) to five (5) years if it all goes according to plan.
A team of Scottish researchers have announced that they basically invented slow melting, long lasting ice cream. While the product is not based on some new, radically different recipe, it is based on a discovery that Cait MacPhee and Nicola Stanley recently made.
The duo manage to identify a naturally occurring protein called “BslA”, which enables ice cream to melt at a much slower pace in hot temperatures. And that’s not all. The protein also reduces the number of ice crystals that start forming on ice cream when people keep it in their freezer for too long.
Cait MacPhee, field expert working at the University of Edinburgh and lead researcher on the study, offered a statement to CBS News informing that she and Nicola Stanley “are predicting that you should be able to eat an ice cream cone without the ice cream dribbling down the side”.
The reason BslA works is that it makes fat droplets and air bubbles more stable when they’re part of a food mix. The protein is very safe as several Asian countries have been adding it to various foods, including Natto, a traditional soybean dish that’s typically served at breakfast, for a while now.
MacPhee informed that microbial communities protect themselves by producing BslA and turning it into a water repellent because this “protein goes to the outer surface of this community and makes a film that we dubbed a bacterial raincoat”.
She added that when other bugs try to come into the environment by attacking the friendly microbial communities, the invading forces are unable to reach them because they instantly bounce off. MacPhee is really impressed with these organisms and believes that they have “a pretty clever strategy”.
While the discovery may change the ice dessert as we know it, MacPhee admitted that it was somewhat accidental. When she and her colleague first started studying the microbial communities that make BslA, searching for ways to make ice cream better was not an objective for them. They just wanted to find out how well the protein behaves.
But things changed when the researchers realized that these microbial communities are capable of forming the film because of an existing interface between the colony (which is wet) and the outside environment (which is air). Once they learned this, they immediately knew that BslA had the ability to stabilize air bubbles.
At the same time, the protein also has the ability to stabilize a mixture of water and oil, and is successful at coating solid surfaces. MacPhee said that this is exactly the combination that defines ice cream – presence of water and oil mixtures, presence of air bubbles, and presence of solid surfaces.
To prove their hypothesis, MacPhee and Stanley used lab equipment to make some vanilla flvored ice cream, with the slight adjustment of replacing the usual emulsifier with BslA. After analyzing the result, they concluded that the protein makes ice cream melt at a much slower pace and that it keeps ice crystals from covering the dessert as quickly.
Curiously, the duo did not think to taste the lab-made ice cream, but MacPhee is pretty sure that BslA doesn’t really change the taste or texture of the ice cream because the product’s structure is essentially the same.
If BslA is approved for use in the US, ice cream will not be the only product enhanced by it. Chocolate mousse and salad dressing will also be on that list.
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