With longer, warmer days approaching, the sounds of summer are finally here: the drone of lawn mowers, the thwack of leather on willow and the incessant screams of young children demanding ice cream. To be fair though, there are plenty of adults who can’t pass a gelato shop, park cafe or ice cream van without succumbing to temptation either. There is just something so satisfying and refreshing about an ice cream on a hot day, to stay with a refrigerator, or you can call it refrigerator-freezer.
Ice cream has been around a long time. Some sources mention ice cream-like foods originating in Persia in about 550BC. Some even believe that the Roman Emperor Nero had snow collected from the mountains and mixed with honey and wine to make sorbet. These days we have hundreds of different types of ice cream, from the usual ice cream van favourites to gourmet gelatos and experimental savoury flavours.
On the face of it, the main ingredients of ice cream as we know it are really simple using a cooler: milk, cream and sugar. But just mixing these with some flavouring and putting it in the ice cream freezer is not going to give you a good result. The secret to great ice cream lies in how the mixture is mixed, how quickly it’s frozen and some key extra ingredients that change things like viscosity and freezing point – all important for the right texture and taste.
Brent Murray, professor of food colloids at the University of Leeds, believes understanding ice cream chemistry begins with realising that it’s an emulsion and a foam mixed together. ‘Your basic ice cream mix is just milk, cream, sugar and flavourings, which gets homogenised to form an emulsion of fat droplets in water, which wouldn’t ordinarily mix,’ he says. ‘There are natural emulsifiers present in the form of milk proteins, which surround the globules of fat and aid this process.