Strawberry is already a popular ice cream flavour, but it could now have an additional use.
Scientists at the Biotherapy Development Research Centre in Japan have discovered by chance that adding polyphenols from the fruit to fresh cream creates an ice cream that doesn't melt.
The extract also acts as a preservative by slowing down the formation of ice crystals, extending the shelf-life of ice cream, and could add a health halo to a traditionally indulgent food category: Biotherapy's strawberry polyphenal extract has a number of patents for weight management, allergy prevention and
“Strawberry polyphenols are materials that are compatible with both water and oil," president of the Biotherapy Development Research Centre Takeshi Toyoda told FoodNavigator. "By suppressing the separation of water and oil contained in ice cream, ice cream which is difficult to dissolve is made."
In laboratory conditions, Biotherapy scientists created an ice cream that lasts for three hours at a temperature of 40°C but Toyoda said commercial batches are being made with smaller quantities that improve the taste, meaning at room temperature the ice cream will not melt for one hour.
“You can take it home like a cake,” he said.
Dubbed the Kanazawa ice cream after the location of the laboratory, it now comes in six flavours - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, matcha tea, mango and coffee – and the scientists are investigating how the same polyphenols could be used with other ingredients used in non-dairy frozen foods.
As consumers increasingly want clean food labels, is there a demand for a non-melt food additive in Europe? It all depends how it’s marketed, according to global food science analyst at Mintel, Stephanie Mattucci.
“Although there are other stabiliser and emulsifier ingredients which are widely used by ice cream manufacturers, the new strawberry polyphenol could potentially be used as a natural alternative, considering the origins of the ingredient," she wrote in a Mintel blog post.
“All that said, more research about the functionality of strawberry polyphenol, as well as information about how the ingredient is processed and how it would be labelled on a finished product, is still needed.”
The way the polyphenols are processed is a company secret but Toyoda said they come entirely from strawberries and can be listed as ‘natural strawberry extract’ in Japan. He expects they will be labelled this way in Europe too.
Asian countries are the fastest growing markets for ice cream consumption, with India recording a strong compound annual growth rate of 13% over the past five years, closely followed by Indonesia (11%), Vietnam and Turkey (both at 9%) and Malaysia (8%).
It seems, however, that scorching hot summers are not a pre-requisite for tucking into a tub of ice cream. In terms of individual, per capita consumption, Norwegians are the biggest ice cream eaters in the world, getting through 9.8 litres individually in 2016, followed by Australians at 9.4 litres and Swedes at 8.9.
Less sugar, more spice and all things nice
In any case, there is an appetite in Europe for innovative ice cream flavours.
Almost one quarter (24%) of French ice cream aficionados are interested in seeing more spices such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg added to recipes, according to a Mintel survey.
Meanwhile, UK shoppers got a chance to try traditional Japanese dessert moochi - squidgy balls of rice dough filled with either bean paste or ice cream - with the entrance of Little Moons onto the retail scene in 2015.
Experimenting with flavours could also allow manufacturers to mask less sweet flavours – tapping into the sustained trend of healthier, sugar-reduced foods.
In this respect, food manufacturers would do well to take some cross-category inspiration, according to analyst Alex Beckett. “Using spice in this way seems to be already happening in the drinks category, where herb and spice flavours have risen in profile among new low sugar launches over the past few years, mainly because of the exotic flavours and perceived links with cleansing and detoxing,” he said.
This is not the first time scientists have developed an ingredient to slow down ice cream melt. In 2015, Scottish researchers discovered a naturally occurring protein that could be grown in bacteria that slows ice cream melt, but they estimated it would take between three and five years before it was available to food makers.