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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Composition of and Ingredients in Ice Cream

Today's ice cream has the following composition : a) greater than 10% milkfat by legal definition, and usually between 10% and as high as 16% fat in some premium ice creams; b) between 9 and 12% milk solids-not-fat, the component which contains the proteins (caseins and whey proteins) and carbohydrates (lactose) found in milk; c) 12% to 16% sweeteners, usually a combination of sucrose and glucose-based corn syrup sweeteners; and d) 0.2% to 0.5% added stabilizers and emulsifiers, necessary components that unfortunately have unfamiliar sounding names that occupy three-quarters of the space of the ingredient listing and that will be described subsequently. The balance, usually 55% to 64%, is water which comes from the milk. Ice milk is very similar to the composition of ice cream but contains between 3% and 5% milkfat by definition. Light ice cream contains between 8% and 10% milkfat.

The ingredients used to supply this composition include: a) a concentrated source of the milkfat, usually cream or butter; b) a concentrated source of the milk solids-not-fat component, usually evaporated milk or milk powder; c) sugars including sucrose and "glucose solids", a product derived from the partial hydrolysis of the corn starch component in corn syrup; and d) milk.

The fat component adds richness of flavour, contributes to a smooth texture with creamy body and good meltdown, and adds lubrication to the palate as it is consumed. The milk solids-not-fat component also contributes to the flavour but more importantly improves the body and texture of the ice cream by offering some "chew resistance" and enhancing the ability of the ice cream to hold its air. The sugars give the product its characteristic sweetness and palatability and enhance the perception of various fruit flavours. In addition, the sugars, including the lactose from the milk components, contribute to a depressed freezing point so that the ice cream has some unfrozen water associated with it at very low temperatures typical of their serving temperatures, -15o to -18oC. Without this unfrozen water, the ice cream would be too hard to scoop.

Freezing point depression of a solution is a colligative property associated with the number of dissolved molecules. The lower the molecular weight, the greater the ability of a molecule to depress the freezing point. Thus monosaccharides such as fructose or glucose produce a much softer ice cream than disaccharides such as sucrose. This limits the amount and type of sugar which one can successfully incorporate into the formulation.

The stabilizers are a group of compounds, usually polysaccharides, that are responsible for adding viscosity to the unfrozen portion of the water and thus holding this water so that it cannot migrate within the product. This results in an ice cream that is firmer to the chew. Without the stabilizers, the ice cream would become coarse and icy very quickly due to the migration of this free water and the growth of existing ice crystals. The smaller the ice crystals in the ice cream, the less detectable they are to the tongue. Especially in the distribution channels of today's marketplace, the supermarkets, the trunks of cars, and so on, ice cream has many opportunities to warm up, partially melt some of the ice, and then refreeze as the temperature is once again lowered. This process is known as heat shock and every time it happens, the ice cream becomes more icy tasting. Stabilizers help to prevent this.

Gelatin, a protein of animal origin, was used almost exclusively in the ice cream industry as a stabilizer but has gradually been replaced with polysaccharides of plant origin due to their increased effectiveness and reduced cost. The stabilizers in use today include: a) carboxymethyl cellulose, derived from the bulky components of plant material; b) locust bean gum which is derived from the beans of exotic trees grown mostly in Africa (Note: locust bean gum is a synonym for carob bean gum, the beans of which were used centuries ago for weighing precious metals, a system still in use today, the word carob and Karat having similar derivation) ; c) guar gum, from the guar bush, a member of the legume family grown in India for centuries and now grown to a limited extent in Texas; d) carrageenan, an extract of Irish Moss or red algae, originally harvested from the coast of Ireland, near the village of Carragheen; or e) sodium alginate, an extract of another seaweed, brown kelp. Often, two or more of these stabilizers are used in combination to lend synergistic properties to each other and improve their overall effectiveness.

The emulsifiers are a group of compounds in ice cream which aid in developing the appropriate fat structure and air distribution necessary for the smooth eating and good meltdown characteristics desired in ice cream. Emulsifiers are characterized by having a molecular structure which allows part of the molecule to be readily solubilized in a polar compound such as water, and another part of the molecule to be more readily solubilized in non-polar solvents such as fats. As a result, emulsifiers reside at the interface between fat and water, and lower the free energy or tension associated with two immiscible liquids in contact with each other. Their action will be more fully explained in the section below on emulsions and foams.

The original ice cream emulsifier was egg yolk, which was used in most of the original recipes. Today, two emulsifiers predominate most ice cream formulations: a) mono- and di-glycerides , derived from the partial hydrolysis of fats or oils of animal or vegetable origin; and b) Polysorbate 80, a product consisting of a glucose molecule bound to a fatty acid, oleic acid. Both of these compounds have hydrophobic regions ( the "fat loving" part), the fatty acids, and hydrophilic regions ( the "water loving" part), either glycerol or glucose. All of the compounds mentioned above are either fats or carbohydrates, important components in most of the foods we eat and need.

Together, the stabilizers and emulsifiers make up less than one half percent by weight of our ice cream. They are all compounds which have been exhaustively tested for safety and have received the "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS status.

Prof. Douglas Goff, Ph.D.