Ice cream: Science with a chocolate topping

This item first appeared in 2008

London Regional Group Event review

On 29 January 2008, in conjunction with University College London’s Chemical and Physical Society, SCI’s London Regional Group held a rewarding event revealing the secrets behind the production – and consumption – of ice cream, from the perspective of Unilever, the worlds largest ice cream manufacturer.

Unilever represents around 17% of global ice cream production, and with annual world-wide production in excess of 5 billion litres, this is big business, requiring an impressive investment in science. The methods and techniques of ice cream production were outlined, but some of the most interesting facts were the social and post-production elements.

Guest speaker Dr Andrew Cox discussed unpredictable differences between markets, such as Sweden and Spain. One might assume that Spain, with its hot climate and busy tourist industry would consume considerably more per capita than its cooler north European counterpart. However, thanks to the higher use of dairy products in Northern Europe, it is in fact Sweden that consumes a greater amount. However, no surprise that top of the ice cream league is the US, where per capita consumption is in excess of 20 litres per year.

Dr Cox also spoke about some of the unusual transport issues facing ice cream distributors in the US. For example, taking ice cream across the Rocky Mountains involves travelling at altitudes in excess of 2000 metres, which leads to the expansion of the ice cream due to reduced air pressures. Since ice cream is 50% air, a great deal of the dairy product can be spoilt in transit. Dr Cox opened this dilemma to the floor, hoping to find a solution that would not increase the cost of transportation (so no tunnels through the Rockies!). Unfortunately, the audience were stumped.

There was even time for Dr Cox to try and break the world record for ice cream production, currently held at 18 seconds, using liquid nitrogen. Although failing in his attempt, his time of 34 seconds was still very respectable and the final product looked fantastic (mostly). The event concluded with much-appreciated free samples.

This well-organised event was one of the highlights of SCI’s London Group calendar; a great example of what is on offer from your SCI Regional Groups.

David Cosway
SCI London Regional Group 

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