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‘Lick it and it lights up!’: The jellyfish ice cream that glows

By Fiona Barry , 05-Nov-2013
Last updated on 05-Nov-2013 at 15:23 GMT2013-11-05T15:23:27Z

Caption: “It tastes pretty good and I don’t seem to be glowing anywhere,” said the ice cream’s inventor.
Caption: “It tastes pretty good and I don’t seem to be glowing anywhere,” said the ice cream’s inventor.

Lick Me I’m Delicious has created a glow-in-the-dark ice cream made from jellyfish proteins, which costs £140 ($225) a scoop.

The inventor, Charlie Francis, owner of the UK firm, told DairyReporter.com the dessert lights up when licked. “It reacts with your tongue at neutral pH,” said Francis, and “as you agitate it”. The result is an “eerie green glow”.

Some types of jellyfish give off a green bioluminescence thanks to a natural protein. Lick Me I’m Delicious worked with a Chinese laboratory to synthesize the proteins into an edible powder.

‘Random’ discovery

The luminous brand’s origins were “random,” said Francis, and came during a different experiment.

I was searching for ‘Miracle fruit’ [Synsepalum dulcificum – a West African berry which makes sour foods taste sweet] when I came across a research paper on jellyfish luminescence.

I tracked down this guy in China who worked out a way of synthesizing the luminescence from jellyfish in a lab. He showed me all these amazing videos.

The entrepreneur described the natural taste of the synthesized jellyfish as faint and slightly sweet. The company added vanilla flavouring to the ice cream. Tarter citrus flavours like lemon were not possible because they would alter the ice cream’s pH, Francis added.

A bright future?

At £140 per scoop, even the inventor admits it’s expensive: “four times the cost of gold!”

The reason, Francis claims, is the production process. “To get it to market it needs to go through organisations [like the FDA]. But the toxology is really low. People are eating jellyfish every day in China.”

He thinks we’ll see mass-produced glow-in-the-dark ice cream “probably in a year and a half,” and jellyfish luminescence could expand beyond ice cream.

“You can do lollipops too – as soon as they get the regulatory sign-off I think we’ll see it everywhere.”

‘World’s first ice cream buggy’

The company’s experiments were unsuccessful, said Francis, until “a friend of mine who was a chef said ‘Did you try liquid nitrogen?’

Liquid nitrogen, at temperatures around -200°C, is famously used in “molecular gastronomy” by chefs like Heston Blumenthal to freeze ice cream very rapidly, in around 45 seconds. 

So I built our first contraption, a portable ice cream parlour,” said Francis.

We also made the world’s first ice cream buggy – it’s electric and drives around making liquid nitrogen ice cream under its own steam.

A portable Nitro Ice Cream Parlour

‘Dismembered gingerbread men’

The company has experimented with other dairy concoctions, manufacturing beer-, cheddar- and roast beef-flavoured ice cream for clients.

The entrepreneur created a “malted milk baobab biscuit sandwich” for charity The Eden Project, and an ice cream containing “dismembered gingerbread men” to celebrate the British Museum’s exhibition on 19th Century grave robbers.

UV lamp with your gin and tonic?

Lick Me I’m Delicious is not the first inventor of luminous food. Quinine, an ingredient in tonic water, glows under UV light, and has been used to make fluorescent sorbets. But this latest ice cream glows without the use of a light, said its makers.

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