Saturday, August 18, 2007

What is ice cream?

This may seem like a stupid question, but it's actually pretty complicated trying to define ice-cream. At first I figured ice cream was just a mixture of cream or milk, sugar and flavouring that has been frozen. I was wrong! While researching I've found that the science of how to make ice cream is pretty interesting stuff.

What is ice cream?
In terms of specific ingredients, the recipe for ice cream is simple. But in scientific terms, it's complicated stuff. Ice cream is a colloid, a type of emulsion. An emulsion is a combination of two substances that don't normally mix together. Instead, one of the substances is dispersed throughout the other. In ice cream, molecules of fat are suspended in a water-sugar-ice structure along with air bubbles. The presence of air means that ice cream is also technically a foam.

In addition to milk fat, non-fat milk solids, sugar, and air, ice cream also contains stabilizers and emulsifiers. Stabilizers help hold the air bubble structure together and give the ice cream a better texture. Although gelatin was originally used as a stabilizer, xanthan gum, guar gum, and other compounds are used today. Emulsifiers keep the ice cream smooth and aid the distribution of the fat molecules throughout the colloid. Egg yolks were once used, but ice cream manufacturers now tend to use other chemical compounds. These stabilizers and emulsifiers make up a very small proportion (less than one percent) of the ice cream. - Taken from

According to HowStuffWorks there're specific rules and criteria that define the difference between Ice Cream and Sorbets, Frozen Deserts, etc. In fact, to be classified as ice cream the substance must be at least 10% milk fat, and a minimum of six percent non-fat milk solids. Also a gallon has to weigh at least 4.5 pounds. I suppose this is to stop companies marketing their product as ice cream when it's poor quality.

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