Ice Cream Chemistry | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Ice Cream Chemistry

Ice cream is the Madonna of desserts

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Indulge me in a dubious metaphor: ice cream is the Madonna of desserts. Unlike chocolate chip cookies, or brownies, which rarely get wilder than the addition of chopped nuts, ice cream seems to beg for constant reinvention, with ever-more- bizarre flavors and strange textures (think Dippin' Dots). I don't know why that is, but maybe it has to do with the fact that it is one of the few foods eaten frozen.

Well, usually.  New York magazine has an article this week about some of the latest wacky things being done to ice cream by chemistry-adept cooks. One of the most surprising, I think, is the hot ice cream developed by experimental chef H. Alexander Talbot, who writes a blog with his wife, Aki Kamozawa, called Ideas in Food. By adding a chemical called Methocel food gum, Talbot was able to create a banana split-like dish with the texture and flavor of ice cream that could be poached and served warm. The expectation of ice cream to be cold is so strong that the first person Talbot served it to didn't even register that the dish was the wrong temperature until he pointed it out.

Also in the "Is it still ice cream?" category: Last month, Cold Stone Creamery introduced a pair of Jell-O pudding-based flavors that are purported to never melt. If that sounds like something you want to try, sorry—yesterday, July 28, was the last day for the limited-time product. Personally, the idea doesn't sound that appealing to me anyway. Part of the fun of an ice cream cone is having to eat it before it drips down your arm.

Ice cream experimentation has been going on for decades, at least. I remember the first time I encountered deep-fried ice cream on the menu of a Mexican restaurant, when I was a kid. I was amazed and perplexed by this feat of ice cream wizardry—why didn't the ice cream melt? But I never bothered to find out how it was done, until now. It turns out not to require any magic skills: you just freeze crunchy-coated scoops of ice cream until they're hard, then quickly fry them before the ice cream inside has a chance to melt. Emeril Lagasse has a recipe, if you want to try it yourself.

Perhaps the strangest ice cream innovation, though, was the freeze-dried version developed for NASA astronauts to bring into space in the late 1960s. It's still the top-selling product at the Smithsonian stores, though apparently it wasn't very popular with the actual astronauts. In space, I guess, no one can hear you scream for ice cream.

Would you try hot ice cream?
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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