Nestlé scoops ice cream rivals with avalanche research

By Joe Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Photo copyright sgillies/Flickr
Photo copyright sgillies/Flickr
Nestlé scientists are working with an avalanche and snow research team to identify the main mechanisms which alter ice creams texture and structure.

The research, using the same technology avalanche experts use to study snow, aims to slow down the growth of ice crystals in ice cream and improve taste and texture for the consumer during the product’s shelf life.

Nestlé scientists partnership with the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland (SLF), enables them to look inside an ice cream sample without destroying it for the first time.

The scientists are looking at maintaining ice cream’s quality for longer by using an x-ray machine to record the size and shape of ice crystals and air bubbles under home-freezer conditions.

They identified temperature fluctuations can cause part of the product to melt and re-freeze, resulting in it becoming chewy due to loss of water or air or icier and harder to scoop.

Innovative research

Dr Hans Jörg Limbach, a scientist at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland told that linking two very different fields of research requires an open mind and an out-of-the-box way of thinking.

Our collaboration with the SLF gave us a unique opportunity to study the microscopic structure of snow and ice-cream.

“[The] main aim of our research is to identify factors that alter ice creams texture and structure.​ 

However, the consumer benefit is not an extended shelf life, but rather an improvement in the taste and texture of ice cream during the entire shelf life​.”

They are using the only x-ray tomography machine that can observe tiny particles of a substance for a sustained period of time at zero to minus 20 degrees.

Commercial potential

Dr Jörg Limbach added: “We are exploring how we can use the results from this study as the scientific basis for product development, with a timeframe of another three to five years before commercial implementation​. 

Although, we are interested in practical applications of our research findings, we also consider that it is important to publish our data in scientific journals to make them available to other researchers in this field​.”

The SLF work focusses around understanding avalanche formation by monitoring ice crystals in snow and how this affects its properties.

The study, completed last year, found that as some ice crystals grow in size they fuse together, creating bigger crystals which cause the texture of the ice cream to coarsen.

A follow-up study is underway with the SLF aimed at examining the microscopic ice cream particles in higher resolution images and will continue until 2013.

Nestlé’s scientists’ findings can be found HERE​.

Related topics: R&D, Nestlé, Ice Cream

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