They say that, for dessert, Alexander the Great used to have snow mixed with honey; but the history of ice cream (well, ‘ice with stuff’) is much older. There where there was a civilization with access to snow or icethere we have news of its consumption mixed with juices, fruits or things like that.
However, the ice cream boom (wisely refined over the centuries by the Italians) came with the boom in refrigeration technologies: we have been eating industrial ice cream for 75 years, yes; It’s possibly the world’s most popular frozen dessert, too; but our history with him has only just begun. Or, at least, that’s what all these companies think.
Brief (technological) history of ice cream
In short, something similar happens with ice cream with pasta or pizza: nobody is very clear about where it came from, or how it got to Italy; but what is clear is that once it arrived, the italians revolutionized the product. It is often said that the recipe for ‘sorbet’ came from China at the hands of Marco Polo, but there is not much evidence (it could well have been the Arabs who introduced it to Sicily).
Be that as it may, once it came into the hands of Cosimo I de Medicis, things changed. He was responsible for it becoming popular throughout Europe and becoming one of the great inventions of the Renaissance. That yes: it remained as something expensive, rare and geographically localized.
It was the nineteenth century that, as with so many things, was responsible for popularizing it. Italian immigrants took them to the entire industrialized world and that same industry was in charge of getting the most out of it. And it is that, although many of us are familiar with the operation of refrigerators, industrial ice cream requires a huge number of processes (mixing, homogenization, pasteurization, aeration or freezing) and, although with the passage of time technology allowed the use of more and more ingredients, the great ice cream revolution occurred less than a century ago.
In recent years, ice cream makers have developed new approaches, of course: low temperature extrusion, ultra high pressure homogenization, cryogenization or pre-aeration. However, as always the best (hopefully) is yet to come.
The future of ice cream
Today, innovation in the world of ice cream focuses above all on achieving better flavors and, above all, on improve refrigeration processes to make them more economical and sustainable. In a situation like the current one, with skyrocketing inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, this type of innovation is more necessary than ever, but there are much more striking things to talk about.
The first thing that strikes you when you look at current trends in the evolution of ice cream is the strength of plant-based formulations. Unlike the market for “fake meat” which, after the initial boom, has collapsed: ice cream without animal components continues to grow at a good pace and this has meant that in recent years manufacturers have had to develop new techniques in which milk and its derivatives are missing.
Secondly, robotization is playing a huge role not only in the development of new types of ice cream, but in allowing greater customization. Unilever, one of the world’s great ice cream giants, explored just before the pandemic with trucks that, thanks to this new approach, could offer a very wide variety of ice cream to consumers (much larger than what we are used to).
However, and being interesting, the area that is of most interest is clearly the development of ice creams that do not get fat (or that use better fats), but keep their organoleptic properties intact. A close example is Qubiq Foods, which has spent years trying to get the most out of vegetable oil: its ‘smart fat’, an emulsion of water and oil, allows maintain the textures and characteristics of ice cream with healthier fatslike olive oil.
But the palm is run by a small Swedish startup, Lub Foods, which uses a plant-based oil (EPG) whose molecular structure resists the action of human digestive enzymes and, for that reason, cannot be absorbed. In other words, it is a fat that generates the sensation of fat in the mouth, but does not get fat because it cannot be metabolized.
Image | Michael Fallon
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism