How science is making ice cream melt-resistant

A naturally occurring protein can create a 'bacterial raincoat' for ice cream, say Scottish researchers, making it melt-resistant and lower in fat.

Tony Melville/Reuters/File
A couple poses with their ice creams in southwest England. Scottish researchers have discovered a protein that increases the melting resistance of this popular frozen treat.

Want a lower-fat, melt-resistant ice cream that can even lower your electricity bills? Researchers in Scotland may have found the answer.

A protein, known as Biofilm surface level A or BslA, found in Bacillus subtilis, is common in soil and may hold the key to better ice cream, according to an article published in the current Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

"This is a natural protein already in the food chain," explained Prof. Cait MacPhee from University of Edinburgh, a co-author on the study, in an interview with BBC Radio. "It's already used to ferment some foods, so it's a natural product rather than being a 'Frankenstein' food."

The protein bonds with fat and air to create a moisture-resistant film, which ultimately means your ice cream could take longer to melt – resulting in a more leisurely snack and fewer sticky fingers.

Professor MacPhee said the protein is formed by microbe communities as a defense mechanism: "That protein goes to the outer surface of this community and makes a film that we dubbed a 'bacterial raincoat' – it becomes basically water repellent," she told CBS News. "That means if there are any other bugs in the environment that want to attack our friendly bacteria, they can't get through because they bounce off. It's a pretty clever strategy."

And it even makes ice cream better for you.

"By using this protein we're replacing some of the fat molecules ... but it shouldn't taste any different," Dr. MacPhee told the BBC. The development could extend to other high-fat food products as well, such as mayonnaise and chocolate mousse.

"We haven't actually tasted it yet. But what we are replacing is a small molecule that is there in a small amount," she told CBS. "There won't be any impact on the way it feels in your mouth either, because the structure is the same."

The development could also save energy. 

It reduces the amount of refrigeration needed to transport, deliver, sell, and store the ice cream, according to a press release from the University of Dundee. This could have a huge impact for manufacturers, distributors, and consumers at home.

“Freezers set five degrees lower than needed can increase energy use by as much as 20-25 percent,” according to Michael "Mr. Electricity" Bluejay

But don't run out to check your grocery store shelves just yet. This ice cream won’t be commercially available for at least three years, say researchers. Then, digging into a tub of BslA-enhanced Rocky Road could save you fat, calories, and energy costs.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to