Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sticky Business

I got to thinking about food stabilizers today. You know the backlash about unpronounceable words on the ingredients lists of certains food products. I got to thinking about this while reading the ingredients list of a certain brand of commercial ice cream that I really like. The list states that the ice cream contains guar gum and carob bean gum.

And this got me to thinking about the xanthan gum that I keep on hand in the kitchen for certain sauces. The tiniest amount of xanthan gum in a tomato sauce can bind the water in the sauce and keep it from bleeding all over the plate. So what role do the guar and carob bean gums play in ice cream?

It turns out that these stabilizers, including locust bean gum, sodium alginate, and carrageenan, do the same thing for ice cream that xanthan does for my tomato sauce. They bind the water and reduce water mobility, so that when the ice cream goes through temperature fluctuations, there are no big pockets of water to form the large ice crystals that we don't like in ice cream.

These stabilizers are all naturally derived from various plants. So I wonder sometimes what the fuss is all about. If we can make a better product using them than we can without them, why not? Food for thought.


  1. But what about "van-eel-a?" :)

    Chemistry in a Cone

  2. Josh,

    Great article. I think this school of cooking represents much that I am not as a chef. I would rather spend my time trying to blow you away with the depth of fresh peach flavor in my peach ice cream, than to try to re-engineer it and serve it to you hot.

    Paradoxically, some of the techniques that I use to achieve the depth of fresh fruit flavor involve the use of some of these same additives and hydrocolloids.

    Where I differ is that I use these newer technologies to improve classic recipes, rather than to turn these recipes on their heads.