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How ice cream is made?



With longer, warmer days approaching, the sounds of summer are finally here: the drone of lawn mowers, the thwack of leather on willow and the incessant screams of young children demanding ice cream. To be fair though, there are plenty of adults who can’t pass a gelato shop, park cafe or ice cream van without succumbing to temptation either. There is just something so satisfying and refreshing about an ice cream on a hot day, to stay with a refrigerator, or you can call it refrigerator-freezer.

Ice cream has been around a long time. Some sources mention ice cream-like foods originating in Persia in about 550BC. Some even believe that the Roman Emperor Nero had snow collected from the mountains and mixed with honey and wine to make sorbet. These days we have hundreds of different types of ice cream, from the usual ice cream van favourites to gourmet gelatos and experimental savoury flavours.

On the face of it, the main ingredients of ice cream as we know it are really simple using a cooler: milk, cream and sugar. But just mixing these with some flavouring and putting it in the ice cream freezer is not going to give you a good result. The secret to great ice cream lies in how the mixture is mixed, how quickly it’s frozen and some key extra ingredients that change things like viscosity and freezing point – all important for the right texture and taste.


Brent Murray, professor of food colloids at the University of Leeds, believes understanding ice cream chemistry begins with realising that it’s an emulsion and a foam mixed together. ‘Your basic ice cream mix is just milk, cream, sugar and flavourings, which gets homogenised to form an emulsion of fat droplets in water, which wouldn’t ordinarily mix,’ he says. ‘There are natural emulsifiers present in the form of milk proteins, which surround the globules of fat and aid this process.

‘Some artisan ice creams leave it there, but most commercial recipes need to add extra emulsifier, like glycerol monostearate [GMS],’ Brent continues. ‘The confusing thing is that the role of this extra emulsifier isn’t to stabilise the emulsion even further, but rather to destabilise it a bit.’

Emulsifiers like GMS replace some of the milk protein molecules that surround each fat globule. ‘These small molecules, with lower molecular weight, will always outcompete the larger milk protein molecules, partially displacing them, and this can make the droplets slightly less stable. They stick together a bit more and that, in turn, helps the mixture to stabilise and retain air bubbles of small enough size,’ says Brent.

Air bubbles

As the mixture is stirred and frozen in the ice cream machine, it is also whipped to aerate it. Most ice creams have a significant amount of air trapped in them – up to 125% of the volume of the ingredients in some supermarket ‘value’ products, though less in gourmet-style gelatos.

‘To get the right creaminess and stability, the air bubbles in ice cream need to be about 20 µm in size, and as uniform as possible,’ continues Brent. ‘An air bubble that size in water would dissolve quickly – perhaps in a couple of minutes – because air is quite soluble in water. A combination of natural foaming agents (proteins again), the aggregated fat droplets, plus freezing as fast as possible to increase viscosity, helps to trap the bubbles at that small size.’You can use one type of freezer- Curverd Glass Type Ice Cream Chest Freezer.

Ice crystals

As well as air bubble size, another factor that affects the creaminess of ice cream is the amount of fat included in the first place, says Ruben Proto, founder of Manchester-based Rogue Artisan Ice Cream, who is famous for his scientific approach to gelato. ‘The amount of fat in the mixture masks the presence of any large ice crystals, so the end product is perceived as smooth and creamy in the mouth,’ he says.

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