Naturally-occurring protein has melting ice cream problem licked

Scientists in Scotland have discovered a protein that helps prevent ice cream melting(Credit: Shutterstock)

There are few things that go as well together as an ice cream cone and a hot summer's day, but it can be a race against the clock to get the sweet treat down before it turns into a sticky mess cascading over your hands. Such disasters could become a thing of the past thanks to scientists in Scotland who have discovered a naturally-occurring protein that can be added to ice cream to make it melt more slowly.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee discovered that a protein called BslA can bind together the air, fat and water in ice cream, thereby slowing the melting process and creating a smooth texture and consistency like that found in expensive ice creams. The protein is a bacterial hydrophobin, which is a family of cysteine-rich proteins expressed by filamentous fungi – aka mold.

That may not sound like something you'd want added to a serving of Rocky Road, by the researchers have found a way to produce the protein using "friendly bacteria." When added to ice cream, the protein adheres to fat droplets and air bubbles, resulting in a more stable mixture that takes longer to melt.

Because of this, the researchers say the protein, which can be produced from sustainable raw materials and processed without loss of performance, would result on energy savings for manufacturers and suppliers as the ice cream would not require the same level of refrigeration throughout its supply chain.

The protein could also allow for the development of ice cream with lower levels of saturated fat and prevent the formation of ice crystals that get bigger and crunchier with every partial melt and re-freeze that currently occurs when you pull the tub out of the freezer for a serve and put it back in.

The researchers believe slow-melt ice cream made with the new ingredient could be in store freezers within three to five years.

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