Those days of slurping up the sides of your rapidly melting ice cream cone may soon be over; researchers have discovered a naturally occurring protein that could be added to everyone’s favorite summertime snack to keep it solid for longer, according to a press release from the University of Edinburg in Scotland.
Most people know that, at its most basic, ice cream is made of milk and sugar. But it has other components that give it a solid consistency—a fat (often oil), air bubbles, and ice crystals. The protein that the researchers discovered, called BslA, coats all three of them to slow down the rate at which the ice melts and the air escapes. In one study of the protein, published earlier this year, the researchers call BslA a hydrophobic “raincoat” that can act as a film to preserve everything inside it for just a little longer. That same quality prevents big chunks of ice crystals from forming, which can happen if you leave ice cream in the freezer for too long.
BslA is found in bacteria called Bacillus subtilis that is common in soil, and is already present in some foods. So adding the protein to ice cream wouldn’t bring the same sorts of long-term health concerns as would synthetic ingredients.
The researchers note that manufacturers could also add BslA to ice cream (and other products that are often high in fat, like mayonnaise and chocolate mousse) to reduce their fat and sugar content.
Importantly, the researchers make no mention about how the new ingredient might affect ice cream’s taste–that was an issue when researchers tried to change the melting point of chocolate–or how much we might enjoy eating it. What’s the good of long-lasting ice cream if you don’t even like it? But it might not be too long before you can try it out for yourself; ice cream with BslA might be available within three to five years.