COLUMBIA, Mo. — A comfort food, a tasty treat, an indulgence — ice cream conjures feelings of happiness and satisfaction for millions. Ice cream researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered ways to make ice cream tastier and healthier and have contributed to ice cream development and manufacturing for more than a century. Today, MU researchers are working to make ice cream into a functional food, adding nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants and pro-biotics to premium ice cream.
“The idea of putting a functional ingredient into a food instead of just using the nutrients found in the food naturally takes a multi-functional approach,” said Ingolf Gruen, MU professor of food chemistry and ice cream researcher in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “Food provides calories and comfort — people want to indulge. We’re working on making ice cream satisfying and healthy.”
Adding nutrients such as pro-biotics, which are already found in some dairy products, and fiber to ice cream can improve digestive health. Many diseases are caused by inflammation that starts in the intestines, Gruen said. Improving digestive health with functional foods might reduce that inflammation. Although functional foods have health benefits, there are many challenges to adding nutrients to ice cream.
“Our major challenges are texture, flavor and psychological acceptance,” Gruen said. “The nutrients we add often have bitter tastes and affect the texture of ice cream that we have to mask. Flavors like chocolate are easier to work with because the flavor is so strong that it can overcome other flavors from the nutrients. Another challenge is determining whether people would be upset that we’re ‘tampering’ with a comfort food. We need to know if they would be more willing to pay for ice cream with added nutritional benefits.”
Gruen and his research team are looking at using the açai berry and remnants from grapes in wine-making to add nutrients to ice cream. They hope to have a prototype ready for tasting in the next six months.
This new research on ice cream as a functional food coincides with the 20th anniversary of Buck’s Ice Cream Parlor, an ice cream shop and research facility at MU. In 1989, Wendall and Ruth Arbuckle contributed about $160,000 to ice cream research at MU and were the namesake for Buck’s Ice Cream Parlor, previously Eckles Hall Ice Cream Shop from the 1920s to 1972. Buck’s might be best known for the invention of Tiger Stripe ice cream, a popular MU frozen treat made with French Vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate stripes, that is sent to people around the world.
MU has a long history of ice cream research that dates back to the 1920s. William Henry Eddie Reid, professor emeritus of dairy manufacturing, and graduate student Wendell Arbuckle, started the program by studying the texture of ice cream. In the 1960s, Robert Marshall, professor emeritus of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, began studying ways to make ice cream meet the nutritional needs of consumers. This work led to pioneering research of low-fat ice cream. Researchers found that replacing milk fat with ingredients made from carbohydrates and proteins created low-fat frozen desserts that were similar to high-fat desserts. The ice cream industry adapted those formulas to produce the ice cream consumed today.