Ice cream with a twist: 1 bite, 2 flavors

U. MISSOURI (US) — Food scientists have taken a technique commonly used in chewing gum to create a flavor-release ice cream—in this case vanilla with a burst of cherry.

The two-flavor, or “flavor release,” ice cream is an experimental product being tested by researchers at the University of Missouri.

Using a process known as “micro-encapsulation,” Elizabeth Fenner, a food science graduate student, and Ingolf Gruen, associate professor and chair of food sciences, developed the ice cream that starts as one flavor and—after immediately breaking down inside the mouth—releases a second flavor.


“The process is commonly used in long-lasting chewing gum and microwave cooking, but it really hasn’t been tried successfully in anything cold or food that is swallowed quickly,” Fenner says. “We did face some challenges. Obviously, ice cream doesn’t stay in your mouth as long as gum, so we had to rely on the heat of the mouth to break down the coating in order to release the second flavor.”

Micro-encapsulation of food is a relatively new science that is less than two decades old. It involves covering flavor compounds in a wax, gelatin, protein, or other type of casing just millionths of a millimeter in size.

In addition to chewing gum, the process is used to coat probiotic bacteria for protection from gastric activity or to delay premature flavor release in food during microwaving. Many long-acting pharmaceuticals use this technology, Gruen says.

While taste tests have been favorable, the micro-encapsulation also has other benefits for the ice cream. Volatile flavor compounds in conventional ice cream might start breaking down after about six months of storage, leaving ice cream somewhat tasteless, and food coloring darkens over time.

Fenner found that the encapsulated ice cream can potentially last twice as long in original taste, texture, and color.

“While we don’t have plans to make this commercially available just yet, that possibility is always open,” Gruen says. “We’ve had other products open to the commercial market in the past, such as our new pro-biotic ice cream that was introduced to a limited audience this month. Taste testers also indicated that they would consider buying the flavor-release product and many wanted more samples.”

According to the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, ice cream consumption grew nearly 25 percent last year. Ice cream and frozen desserts are consumed by more than 90 percent of households.

Sales of ice cream and frozen desserts top $20 billion annually, according to the International Dairy Food Association. That equals about 1.6 billion gallons per year or 23 quarts per person per year. America’s top five individual flavors are: vanilla, chocolate, nut/caramel, Neapolitan, and strawberry.

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