Inventing a Longer-Lasting Popsicle
A British design firm has used a half-forgotten World War II technique to create ice pops that don’t melt as fast as the ordinary ones
There’s less than a month to go until the official start of fall, and it’s hot. Hot hot hot. As a heat wave rolls eastward from Chicago, 17 states are under heat advisories. The expected high today in Washington, DC is 94 degrees. In New York it’s 95. Dallas is slated to hit 97.
Sounds like time for a popsicle. But you better eat it indoors, lest you wind up with more of it melted down your sleeve than in your mouth.
Or you could try this: the world’s first non-melting “ice lolly” (British for ‘popsicle’), invented by the UK food-focused design firm Bompas & Parr.
“This has taken over a year to perfect and has involved speaking to a whole host of experts fom physicists to chemists,” says Sam Bompas, the firm’s co-founder. “While the physicists' suggestions were mostly theoretical, some of the chemists’ were far from food safe! Balancing your ingredients is even more crucial than in a regular recipe so you can hit the bliss point of flavor, savor and texture.”
The key to the popsicles’ heat tolerance is strands of fruit fibers embedded within the pop. The fibers lower the pops’ thermal conductivity, making them melt more slowly than ordinary frozen treats. Bompas & Parr say the prototype pops last “hours longer” than regular popsicles under the same temperature.
The popsicles were inspired by pykrete, a frozen composite material made from sawdust and wood pulp dispersed in ice. The substance, created by 20th-century British inventor Geoffrey Pyke, is much stronger than regular ice and melts much more slowly. Pyke envisioned pykrete as a perfect material for building gigantic floating aircraft carriers during World War II. It would save on steel, he said, which was already in high demand due to the war, and could be made more cheaply as well. Winston Churchill was on board, and the building of a secret model pykrete aircraft carrier commenced on a lake in Alberta, Canada, with the code name Project Habakkuk. The project went beyond budget and was eventually shut down. Demoralized and depressed, Pyke committed suicide in 1948.
Pykrete lived on, though mostly as a curiosity, occasionally popping up in futurism expos or on shows like "MythBusters" (they used it to build a boat; it fell apart in less than half an hour).
Pykrete is far from the only fascinating story in the history of frozen treats. The history of ice cream is a tale of creativity and innovation. Some the most interesting parts are tied to wartime. During World War II, some fighter pilots fought boredom and low morale by pouring ice cream ingredients into their planes’ ammo carriers and ascending to high altitudes to freeze the mixture. As the substance was initially too icy, they rigged small propellers to the ammo buckets to churn the ice cream as it flew. The name of the project? Operation Freeze. Then, in 1945, the U.S. Navy spent $1 million turning a concrete barge into a “floating ice cream parlor.” The sweet ship sailed around the Pacific supplying sailors with their favorite treat. Later, during the Korean War, the Pentagon made an official statement insisting soldiers got ice cream at least three times a week.
Bompas & Parr is unveiling their non-melting popsicles at "SCOOP: A Wonderful Ice Cream World," an exhibit of the British Museum of Food, itself a creation of the firm. The exhibit showcases the science and history of ice cream and other frozen desserts. Visitors can walk through a vanilla ice cream scent “cloud,” stand in a sub-zero chamber, view a vast collection of ice cream paraphernalia, and learn about the bloody 1980s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars, when rival gangs sold drugs and other contraband from ice cream vans. They’ll also have the chance to taste historically-inspired flavors like cucumber and candied fruit, as well as experience ice creams of the future, with fizzy and glow-in-the-dark versions. A special feature will look at the life of Agnes Marshall, the 19th-century British “Queen of Ices,” who patented an improved ice cream machine in 1885 and suggested using liquid nitrogen for ice cream more than a century before the technique was de rigueur in molecular gastronomy restaurants.
This is just the latest food science creation from Bompas & Parr, known for their whimsical, highly Instagrammable food spectacles, from gelatin molds of architectural wonders to flavored fireworks.
Though the non-melting pops can be made in any flavor, Bompas & Parr will be demoing an apple variety at the exhibit. If the prototypes are a success with visitors, the firm hopes to manufacture them for distribution in supermarkets.
The popsicles taste more or less like ordinary pops, Bompas says, though, due to the fiber content, “you could describe them as a tad more chewy.”