Ice Cream Science!

September 04, 2023 4 min read

Ice Cream Science!

Uncovering the Science Behind Ice Cream Making

Hi friends, science doesn’t always have to be boring, especially if ice cream is involved, we’ve thought of a lesson that is bound to catch your sweet interest. If you haven't guessed by now. We’re talking about the Science Behind Ice Cream Making.

You’ve probably wondered what goes into making rich, creamy, and delicious homemade ice cream? We didn't go to Penn State's Ice Cream Short Course for nothing, so we have the answer for you! 

When you create ice cream, what actually happens is the delicate balance of fat, air, and ice crystals. This is supported by things like stabilizers (commonly known as gums) and emulsifiers (like eggs) that prevent crystal formation and maintain quality. Bring this up next time you share a delicious treat with your friends, they'll be impressed for sure!

Let's dive into some chemistry (eek - don't be scared!) basics behind ice cream and explore the unique properties that make it such a beloved treat.

What are the basic components of ice cream?

In 2015, when we entered our first class in ice cream at Penn State University. We learned that ice cream is a unique composition of several different elements, each playing a crucial role in creating its smooth and creamy texture. 

The primary components of ice cream include:

  • Ice crystals: Ice crystals are the solid part of ice cream that gives it its structure and texture. Generally, the smaller the ice crystal size, the smoother the texture of the ice cream.  
  • Fat: Fats, such as cream and/or milk, contribute to the smooth and creamy texture of the ice cream. The higher the fat content, the richer and creamier the ice cream will be. Too much fat in ice cream can leave a greasy feeling in your mouth and even taste 'warm.' 
  • Sweeteners:Sweeteners, such as sugar, provide the sweetness and flavor of the ice cream. If you add too much sugar, your ice cream won't freeze properly as sugar depresses the freezing temperature. Soggy, overly sweet ice cream is a big no-no. 
  • Air: Air is a crucial part of ice cream that gives it a light and airy texture. The incorporation of air into ice cream is known as overrun, and a higher overrun means a fluffier ice cream. Fluffy ice cream is prone to melting quickly, so it's best to find the right overrun. 

Additional items like cocoa powder, fruit, spices, or cookies will add flavor and texture to the ice cream, but again - it has to balance out the overall equation so your scoops come out perfect. 

Mixing all the elements together with stabilizers and emulsifiers... 

Mixing all of the different elements together can lead to crystal formation, resulting in a gritty and icy texture. To prevent this, stabilizers and emulsifiers, such as milk proteins and cellulose gum, are added to maintain smoothness and prevent crystal formation. Emulsifiers help prevent ice cream from separating, while stabilizers allow air to be incorporated smoothly into the ice cream.

The basic steps of ice cream making! 

The process of making ice cream follows a series of well-established steps. These steps include:

  • Preparing the ice cream base: The ice cream base typically consists of milk, cream, sugar, and flavorings.
  • Pasteurization: The ice cream base is heated to a temperature of 165°F(73.9°C) for 30 minutes to eliminate any harmful bacteria.
  • Homogenization:The ice cream base is then passed through a homogenizer, which breaks down the fat particles into smaller size so they are evenly distributed and contribute to a smooth texture.
  • Aging: The ice cream base is then aged in a refrigerator for a specified period of time, usually 4-24 hours. This aging process enhances the flavor of the ice cream.
  • Freezing: The ice cream mixture is then placed in a churn, which aerates the mixture and freezes it simultaneously. The freezing process is crucial, as it affects the size of ice crystals, the texture of the ice cream, and the perceived sweetness.
  • Hardening: After churning, the ice cream is usually stored in a freezer to harden to a scoop-able texture.

Make your own ice cream at home!

After 15 years of combined ice cream making experience, we’ve learned to respect the chemistry that goes into mixing together ice cream. As you’ve learned today, the science behind ice cream making is incredibly complex, requiring a delicate balance of ingredients and processes to create the perfect frozen treat.

From the precise balance of ice crystals, fats, and sweeteners, to the importance of emulsifiers and stabilizers in preventing crystal formation, every step is crucial. Additionally, temperature, time, and the use of certain ingredients play a role in the final product's quality and shelf life. Understanding how these factors work together can help you appreciate the science behind  frozen dessert, and perhaps even inspire you to try making our ice cream mix at home!

Still scratching your head? 

Good news, we have taken all the ice cream chemistry and all of our ice cream successes and failures and made an easy-to-make ice cream mix called True Scoops for you to make at home without an ice cream maker! It's a "Betty Crocker" style shortcut mix that requires only half & half and takes 5 minutes to prepare with an electric mixer. Customize it with flavors and mix-ins to create the ice cream pint of your dreams. The base mixes come in Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, and Strawberry! All gluten-free certified, Kosher, and peanut-free. 

And then go ahead and brag to all your friends that you made it from scratch, we won't tell. 

Stay cool,

Shelly & Kelly

Leave a comment