Slow-melt ice cream could lead to lower-calorie foods

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University of Edinburgh scientists have unlocked the secret of slower-melting ice cream, thanks to a new food ingredient.

  • Newly discovered protein is more resistant to melting
  • The discovery could also lead to lower calorie foods
  • The protein has potential for use in home and personal based products

Professor Cait MacPhee CBE, from the University of Edinburgh, working with colleagues from the University of Dundee, has discovered a naturally occurring protein, known as BslA, that can be used to create ice cream that is more resistant to melting than conventional products. The protein binds together the air, fat and water in ice cream, creating a super-smooth consistency.

The new ingredient could enable ice creams to keep frozen for longer in hot weather. It could also prevent gritty ice crystals from forming, ensuring a fine, smooth texture like those of luxury ice creams.

The development could allow products to be manufactured with lower levels of saturated fat – and fewer calories – than at present.

The team have developed a method of producing BslA, which occurs naturally in some foods, in friendly bacteria. They estimate that ice cream made with the ingredient could be available within five years. The protein could soon be used not just in ice cream but for home and personal based products.

Professor MacPhee says: “The ice-cream breakthrough is a consequence of my research into protein self-assembly. The self-assembly of proteins underpins the texture of foodstuffs including egg, meat and milk products. My research seeks to understand this process of self-assembly – both to prevent or reverse disease, and to drive the development of new materials and foodstuffs.”

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The protein works by adhering to fat droplets and air bubbles, making them more stable in a mixture. Using the ingredient could offer significant advantages for ice cream makers. It can be processed without loss of performance, and can be produced from sustainable raw materials.

Manufacturers could also benefit from a reduced need to deep freeze their product, as the ingredient would keep ice cream frozen for longer. The supply chain would also be eased by a reduced need to keep the product very cold throughout delivery and merchandising.

BslA was developed with support from EPSRC and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and the team are working directly with industry partners across various sectors interested in applying this technology commercially.

BsIA came about through Professor MacPhee’s research into the behaviour of proteins – biomolecules responsible for the vast majority of functions in living organisms. She is investigating their role in health and disease, and their possible use in industry.