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Which Would You Rather Melt: Your Ice Cream or the Planet

Will dripless ice cream keep the world from melting? Nothing encapsulates the taste of pre-industrial cooking-handmade, small-scale, local-more...

Will dripless ice cream keep the world from melting?

Nothing encapsulates the taste of pre-industrial cooking-handmade, small-scale, local-more than an old-fashioned, churned ice cream with an egg custard base. Especially if it's salted caramel made with cream-top milk. But eat it while it lasts.

(Quick non sequitur: "When Frosty Boy goes down, it's a crisis for the community." -A young cook in Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, describing an ice cream machine in an Antarctic research station (via SEED).)

Chances are, a few summers from now, it will be the only old-fashioned ice cream you can get. Currently, ice cream comes out of an electricity-sucking appliance in the kitchen. And before the freezer, ice cream has to be stored and travel frozen, at huge environmental cost. On top of that, dairy is a close second to meat when it comes to agricultural inputs, making for a giant scoop of bad eco-credibility.

But what if the corner store sold ice cream that didn't melt, thereby reducing its threat to global meltdown? It sounds like science fiction, but it might not be that far off.

Last month, The Times of London reported that Unilever, the world's largest producer of ice cream (of which Ben & Jerry's is a division), wants to develop an ice cream that can be shipped and stored at room temperature, in an effort to curb transportation and refrigeration costs. The climate change-friendly ice cream would reduce the company's overall carbon footprint.

They're not alone. In June, Cold Stone Creamery released two flavors of dripless ice cream. The melt-free ice cream was discovered when an experimenter left a Jell-O flavored mix out overnight and found that, rather than melting, the ice cream held its form and developed a mousse-like texture.

Here's where the potential problems come in with ambient ice cream. Unlike ice cream made the traditional way or even the stuff made with liquid nitrogen (which comes out creamy), Unilever said it was working on "the right microstructure to produce a fantastic consumer experience." So, in other words, picking up lukewarm Hubby Hubby might be right around the corner, but unless Unilever gets that microstructure exactly right-as anyone who has ever tried to refreeze the ice cream they left out on the counter overnight knows-the ice cream might develop freezer burn right away.

For much of the last two centuries, food scientists have imagined a future of bigger harvests (genetic engineering), cleaner meat (irradiating), or convenience (canned, dehydrated foods). Companies promise that new models will not only feed the world better, but also save money and protect the environment. Maybe it's time for a little innovation in the ice cream aisle. Let's just hope ambient ice cream doesn't taste like glue.

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