Science working on solutions for ice cream melting

Photo by Elena Veselova / Shutterstock

Ice cream is the perfect summer treat. Except when it’s melting over your hands. Luckily, there’s potential good news for those of us tired of dealing with sticky fingers. Two separate groups of researchers have recently released papers on additives that could be included in ice cream recipes to keep your treats colder longer.

Stop the drip

A chemical engineer in Columbia named Jorge Velásquez Cock has been working on finding ways to recycle banana tree waste. A thick stalk attaches each bunch of bananas to the trunk of the banana plant. The cellulose-rich woody stalks are usually thrown out.

Velásquez Cock’s research developed a method to extract the cellulose from the stalks and added it to ice cream. In controlled lab conditions, the extract prevented ice cream delayed the melting by 20 minutes at 20°C.

The cellulose extraction process is too time-consuming and costly to be commercially viable for now, but Velásquez Cock and his colleagues are looking at ways to make it more efficient.

Freezer burn no more

There’s one place where your ice cream is melting that you might not expect: inside your freezer. Every time you open the door, warm air rushes in. Even when you leave the door shut, the temperature eventually starts to rise which is why you periodically hear the motor kick in.

As the inside of the freezer warms, ice crystals in your ice cream start to melt. Each time the crystals refreeze they grow slightly larger. Large ice crystals are what gives ice cream that gritty, freezer-burned mouthfeel.

Ice cream makers often add stabilizers, such as guar or locust bean gum, to the mix. A group of researchers at the University of Tennessee was looking for a better stabilizer and settled on cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs for short). CNCs are microscopic strand of cellulose.

Their initial conclusions, reported in the American Chemical Society’s Biomacromoclecules, showed that the CNC additive could significantly delay and inhibit the growth of ice crystals. Again, more research has to be done before CNCs end up in your dessert.

In the meantime, the experts at Ben & Jerry’s have several to tips on how to prevent freezer burn including stashing it at the back or bottom of the freezer underneath other items to shelter it from the warmer air.

Of course, there is an alternative solution: scarf down your cone as fast as possible and finish the whole container in one sitting. If you do that, you may want to read our Q&A in our August issue about how to cure ice cream headaches!