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Ice Creamier: Edible Antifreeze

Puts the Smooth in Smoothie - It’s Friday night, and the movie’s already running in the DVD player. You run to the kitchen to grab some ice cream and a spoon, but you find the tub nearly empty.

What’s left is an icy mess that crunches unappetisingly when you poke your spoon into it. If this has happened to you, then Srinivasan Damodaran has good news. The University of Wisconsin-Madison food science professor has discovered an edible antifreeze that can preserve ice cream’s smooth, silky texture. Colourless and tasteless - you’d never know you were eating it - the antifreeze employs a cocktail of small gelatin proteins to slow the growth of ice crystals, which over time form in ice cream and other frozen foods, ruining texture and overall quality.

The multinational food company Unilever, for example, sells ice cream in the United States, the Philippines and Mexico that includes an antifreeze protein derived from fish. The additive is pending approval in Europe, but strong consumer sentiment against genetic engineering may prevent it from being widely accepted. Damodaran says he believes Europeans and other consumers may take more favourably to a gelatin-based antifreeze, which comes from animal collagen, the same protein source tapped for gelatin desserts. To create the new antifreeze, Damodaran mixed gelatin with papain, a natural enzyme from fruit that cuts proteins into smaller pieces. When blended into ice cream, a group of truncated gelatin proteins worked to keep the frozen treat smooth even after researchers exposed the samples to repeated fluctuations in temperature, designed to mimic the variances of a typical home freezer. “We used ice cream as the model to show that this antifreeze works,” says Damodaran. “Now it’s up to the companies, manufacturers and the consumers to decide if they want to have it in their products.”