Frantically devouring your ice cream in hot weather as it starts to drip on your hand could soon be a thing of the past. Scientists have developed a way to keep ice cream frozen for longer in high temperatures, helping it retain its smooth texture. The product could be available to consumers in three to five years.
The breakthrough comes in the form of a naturally occurring protein called BsIA that can bind together air, fat and water. The protein is found in so-called “friendly bacteria” and is already part of the food chain. The research was conducted by teams at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dundee.
“We’re excited by the potential this new ingredient has for improving ice cream, both for consumers and for manufacturers,” said Professor Cait MacPhee of the University of Edinburgh in a statement. The ice cream will still melt eventually, but will remain stable for longer; the researchers estimate it will buy consumers a few minutes extra.
The protein helps ice cream keep its shape by binding droplets of fat – commonly oil in ice cream – to air bubbles. This makes the fat more stable, keeping the ice cream frozen for longer. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year said that the protein acts as a hydrophobic (water-repelling) “raincoat.” Doing so would therefore preserve key components of ice cream, and also stop ice crystals from forming, helping the ice cream stay smooth.
There are other benefits, too. As the ice cream can be eaten at warmer temperatures, it means manufacturers won’t need to add as much sugar as normal, which is necessary to make flavor noticeable in very cold food items. It could also reduce the fat content of ice cream, but MacPhee notes that it will not do so at the expense of taste.
“By using this protein we're replacing some of the fat molecules that are currently used to stabilise these oil and water mixtures so it can reduce the fat content, but it shouldn't taste any different,” she told the BBC.
So get ready for summer 2018. Going to the beach could get a whole lot less messy.