Apparently the future is coming, and it’s bringing gifts of high-tech ice cream. This, according to a news release from scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee.
The scoop (#noregrets) is that the researchers isolated a naturally-occurring protein BsIA from Bacillus subtilis, a bacteria found in dirt. BsIA is responsible for biofilms, which act as tiny water-repellant raincoats for bacteria, helping them shield themselves from microbes and other nasties.
What does it mean for ice cream? When combined with BsIA, ice cream’s fat and sugar remain mixed, even as temperatures rise. Normally, this isn’t the case: warming temperatures cause that fat and sugar to separate and release trapped air bubbles, causing ice crystals to melt and ultimately making your hand sticky. The Franken-ice-cream, on the other hand, scoops normally and drips more slowly as it warms.
“It’s not completely non-melting because you do want your ice cream to be cold,” Edinburgh physics and astronomy professor Cait MacPhee told the BBC. “It will melt eventually but hopefully by keeping it stable for longer it will stop the drips.”
In the release, MacPhee spoke of the potential the new ingredient has for improving ice cream, both for consumers and for manufacturers—potential which includes the creation of a smoother product with less saturated fat and fewer calories.
And the possibilities don’t stop at ice cream, either. MacPhee speculated that BsIA might also be useful in reducing sugar content in products, and for use in mayonnaise and chocolate mousse.
As for the taste? The jury is currently out on that one, as no one has yet gotten a taste of the altered ice cream, but MacPhee says BsIA shouldn’t affect the flavor much. “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.
Don’t start searching for slow-drip ice cream in your supermarket freezer section just yet—researchers speculate that it will take three to five years before the product is released commercially.