Summer days are upon us and the ice cream temptation rises with the temperature. Meeting the consumer's desire for the perfect texture and mouthfeel has led food manufacturers on a quest for the best. Scientist in Spain are now in on the act.
A research team from CEIT and university staff from TECNUN - Escuela Superior de Ingenieros de la Universidad de Navarra - are currently investigating the optimum conditions for the crystallisation of ice at the time of its manufacture, with the aim of obtaining ice creams that have a better texture on contact with the palate.
The research - in conjunction with the food multinational Unilever - will see scientists analysing the behaviour of small ice particles - in the order of a tenth of a millimetre each - when subjected to extreme temperature conditions.
The objective is to find the optimum temperature at which these ice crystals, in industrial processes, do not increase in size or stick to each other. By doing this, scientists would avoid ice particles that make up ice-cream from having excessive dimensions which spoil the taste of the food product.
According to the researchers, the problem lies in the fact that ice cream may be stored for several months, in which time the tiny crystals grow and may join up to form a block, or they could break and the ice cream may lose its consistency.
This is echoed by the use-by date for ice cream that is not based on the product 'going off', or unfit for consumption, but because of the growth in these small crystals which can change the consistency of the product - removing the guarantee that the ice cream stays creamy.
The project - undertaken by the Department of Materials at CEIT - is an extension of another study carried out by materials engineer, Javier Aldazabal, that managed to reproduce the evolution of the structure of ice cream at various pressures, temperatures and storage times - 40 million particles in each cubic centimetre of ice cream.