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Freezer-free: Owner of Ben & Jerry's launches room-temperature ice cream project

The freezer aisle may not be the only place to find your favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the future. In fact, Turtle Soup, Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl and Cake Batter could someday be found on shelves right next to canned soup, peanut butter and cake mix.

The giant multinational company Unilever—owner of Ben & Jerry's, among other ice cream–makers—has been on the hunt for carbon-friendly improvements to its production of the summertime favorite. “We have to look at a really radical solution,” Gavin Neath, Unilever’s senior vice president for sustainability, told the Times of London.

One of the proposed possibilities: ambient ice cream. Now, in addition to upgrading the energy-efficiency of two million chilled cabinets they supply to retailers, the company has taken on the task of perfecting an ice cream that consumers can buy at room temperature, thereby eliminating the energy costs associated with refrigerated transport and storage. Although consumers would bear the costs of freezing the treat, the overall energy used would be reduced. The project is being carried out in Unilever's own laboratories, with help from the Cambridge University, according to the Times.

Matching the "microstructure" of the new ice cream to the prefrozen variety will be the greatest challenge. As Chris Clarke notes in his book, The Science of Ice Cream, "the microstructure of ice crystals, air bubbles, fat droplets and matrix is central to the physical and hence sensory properties of ice cream." And these components can change with warming and cooling.

Unilever is not the first to look into the chemistry of ice cream. Freeze-dried, or "space," ice cream has been around for decades. And the Cold Stone Creamery chain is now offering a new "dripless" ice cream, according to New York Magazine. "Ice cream is like Play-Doh for scientists," the magazine reported last month, "it practically begs to be manipulated."


Picture by Shoshanah via Flickr

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