MU food scientists experiment with dual-flavored ice cream

Friday, September 9, 2011 | 6:18 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Researchers in MU's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have developed an experimental ice cream that provides two flavors in every bite.

Graduate-level food science student Elizabeth Fenner used a process called "micro-encapsulation" to create an ice cream that changes flavor after being in the mouth for one to two seconds. Fenner spent a year developing the product.

Micro-encapsulation, a 20-year-old process, involves covering flavor compounds in miniscule wax gelatin or protein casings, according to a release from the MU News Bureau; it's typically used in long-lasting chewing gums and microwave cooking, Fenner said in the release.

Fenner did encounter some difficulties, because the micro-encapsulation process hasn't been used successfully in foods that are cold or swallowed instantly. She said the experimental ice cream must rely on heat from the mouth to break down the casings to release the second flavor.

Ingolf Gruen, Fenner's research advisor, came up with the idea for this type of ice cream. Gruen, an associate professor and chair of food sciences at MU, described food scientists as "opportunists." He said he was inspired by chewing gum that changes flavors in the mouth and that he thought applying this principle to another food — like ice cream — would be "a nice, unique challenge."

It was Fenner who ultimately brought Gruen's idea to life. But the graduate student's invention is still in the testing stages. Without a large-scale process of production, this food can't yet be sold commercially.

“Manufacturing micro-capsules is small-scale,” Gruen said. “It takes about half a day to make enough of them to make a quart of ice cream.”

In addition to the dual taste, encapsulated ice cream has a longer shelf life than the traditional dessert, the news release stated.

Gruen described the feeling of finally finding the right process of making this two-flavor ice cream as one of “relief and elation.”

Fenner added: "It's a good thought that I am going to be making people happy with something I invent."

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