About this Article
Written by: Stephanie Ego
Written on: March 1st, 2017
Tags: health & medicine, food & drink, water, lifestyle, material science, chemical engineering
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About the Author
Stephanie Ego is a senior studying chemical engineering at the University of Southern California.
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Volume XVIII Issue I > Engineering Ice Cream

The Future of Ice Cream

Innovations in ice cream technologies today cater to a market that is constantly searching for the newest and coolest scoop. In addition to inventing crazy flavors, ice cream makers have developed new ways to make and present this frozen treat.

Liquid Nitrogen

Since 1987, liquid nitrogen is making its way out of the laboratory and into the kitchen. Microbiologist Curt Jones used liquid nitrogen, which has a boiling point of -320˚F (-195 ˚C), to flash freeze melted ice cream to make what is known today as Dippin’ Dots [9]. Unlike the smooth consistency of traditional ice cream, Dippin’ Dots’ iconic round shapes are formed when drops of ice cream are exposed to liquid nitrogen and instantly freeze [8, 9]. This process is detailed in Fig. 4. Liquid nitrogen macroscopically (on a large scale) alters the structure of the ice cream, resulting in a new ice cream experience without compromising taste.
Liquid nitrogen has also been used to microscopically (on a molecular scale) influence the formation of the perfect ice cream. The extreme low freezing point of liquid nitrogen allows for faster freezing, which results in smaller ice crystals and therefore smoother ice cream. According to studies, the ideal ice crystal size for “smooth” ice cream is less than 50 µm, which can be achieved using liquid nitrogen to flash freeze any ice cream mix [1]. Smitten Ice Cream in San Francisco, California is taking advantage of liquid nitrogen’s ability to rapidly freeze by creating custom-prepared ice cream flavors for customers to enjoy in less than 5 minutes. Smitten uses a machine called the Brrr, which has been designed to effectively mix and create a fresh product without requiring emulsifiers, preservatives, and stabilizers that shelf products require. Using liquid nitrogen, the Brrr is able to consistently make dense, smooth, fresh, and flavorful ice cream creations for consumers to instantly enjoy [10, 11].

3D Printed Ice Cream

MIT engineers Kyle Hounsell, Donghyun Kim, and Kristine Bunker are revolutionizing ice cream production using a soft-serve ice cream machine and 3D printer to make edible works of art [11]. As seen in Fig. 5, 3D printer uses “fused deposition modeling” to print three-dimensional designs one layer at a time. The printer is attached to a soft-serve machine, which is guided by the printer’s software to make the desired design. The set up requires a constant stream of liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze each layer of ice cream being laid by the soft-serve machine [11]. Using this technology, the ice cream enthusiast has the power to make his or her own ice cream masterpiece at the click of a button.