Electron micrograph of a milk fat globule. Here’s where the action is.
If you’re interested in making egg-free ice creams with the best possible texture, or are just a glutton for minutia, read on.
Emulsifiers in Ice Cream
Thanks mostly to the casein, milk and cream are already pretty stable emulsions—so why are emulsifiers so important in an ice cream recipe?
The reason is that the milk and cream emulsions are a bit too stable. A big part of making ice cream involves the same process as making whipped cream, which requires destabilizing the emulsion. As long as the emulsion is stable, those fat globules can’t join to create a foam network. With traditional methods, you can only whip cream containing over 30-something percent fat. With lower fat percentages, there’s enough water between the fat globules to keep the emulsion stable. Ice cream usually has far too little fat.
Ice Cream Emulsifying Ingredients
Egg yolks may be the most familiar emulsifier in the kitchen; they hold together mayonnaise, hollandaise and béarnaise family sauces, Caesar’s salad dressing, and chocolate marquises.
Yolks are usually cooked to a custard consistency, which also thickens the water portion of the ice cream (as a stabilizer—see the post on Ice Cream Stabilizers). Yolks are occasionally used without taking advantage of their thickening ability, but they must at least be cooked to the point of pasteurization.
Yolks contain a number of proteins and lipids that work as emulsifiers. By far the most important among these is lecithin. For adequate effect on ice cream emulsification, the mix requires 0.5% to 1% egg yolk. This equals 1/3 to 2/3 yolk per liter of mix, so a single yolk is more than adequate. 2 yolks (3 to 4%) are necessary to get significant thickening / stabilization. For the richest French custard-style ice creams, 4 to 6 yolks per liter is more common, with 8 to 10 being close to the outer fringe.
Because they naturally form together, the mono- and di- versions are usually used together and packaged together. The monoglycerides, however, are thought to be the functional component. These typically make up about 40% of the blend. It’s also possibly to use monoglycerides by themselves which are usually isolated to glycerol monostearate (GMS) or occasionally glycerol monooleate. These work in much smaller quantities but are more expensive than the usual mono- / di- mixture.
|3-D diagram of a ß-Lactoglobulin whey molecule.|
When it denatures (cooks), it unwinds.
Denatured Whey Proteins
What’s the optimum time and temperature to get these effects? It’s somewhere between 60°C and 90°C, half a minute and 90 minutes. There is no published definitive research on this, and what exists probably expresses ranges with varying characteristics and tradeoffs.
Back when Jeni’s made their egg-free bases in-house, in a big batch processor (as opposed to a continuous processor, which is more common in dairies and manufacturing plants), they cooked it at 75°C for an hour. That’s a relatively low temperature and a very long time.
• fresh milk and cream that have been low-temperature pasteurized
• nonfat dry milk that’s been spray dried at low temperatures
And you may need to cook different portions of the whey at different times and temperatures, to optimize them as both stabilizers and emulsifiers.
This is good news for the citizens of Philadelphia, since the name is rather slanderous. Philly-style ice cream can have vibrant, clean flavors, but it pays for them with a litany of texture defects: it’s icy, it rapidly gets icier, it whips poorly, the foam structure lacks smoothness (it can be grainy) and lacks stability (it deflates). Some people champion this style, and they’re lucky, because it’s easy to make. But I can’t think of other reasons to recommend it.
Egg yolks work really well. If you don’t want the flavor of eggs, or the flavor-dulling of heavy custard, you can use just a couple of yolks, or as little as half a yolk. If you really want to banish egg entirely, lecithin works nicely. I make eggless ice cream bases for flavors like chocolate and nut butters, where the flavor ingredients add tons of their own fat. In these cases a bit of lecithin (equal to what’s in two or three eggs) and a bit of extra stabilizer takes care of the emulsion perfectly.
If you want to delve into the more efficient manufactured ingredients, there’s a world of glycerides and polysorbates to play with. See the ingredient sources listed in the Stabilizers post. If you find any advantages to these ingredients in Artisanal ice cream, I’d like to hear from you.
You can also take advantage of the natural emulsifying power of cooked whey proteins. The whey’s already there, and you’re already cooking the mix, so why not take advantage? Generally, the emulsifying and stabilizing power of these proteins will be enough to supplement the more conventional ingredients, rather than replace them.
3Ice Cream By Robert T. Marshall, H. Douglas Goff, Richard W Hartel, p.85
For further reading:
Oil-in-Water Emulsions Stabilized by Whey Protein—Effects of Heat Treatment and High Pressure Homogenization
Instability and Partial Coalescence in Whippable Dairy Emulsions (abstract)
Studies on heat-induced interactions and gelation of whey proteins
The Effects of Polysorbate 80 on the Fat Emulsion in Ice Cream
Hydrocolloids as Emulsifiers and Emulsion Stabilizers
Ice Cream. Robert T. Marshall, H. Douglas Goff, Richard W Hartel
Emulsifiers in Food Technology Robert J. Whitehurst.
The Science of Ice Cream. Chris Clark