What possible executions are there for nut-flavored ice creams?

Most ice cream flavors are vanilla or chocolate based. Within these two groups, nutmeats or nutmeat flavors with other characterizing flavors are extremely popular. Leveraging this, the variety of nutmeat flavoring options allows for new novel flavors and more creative “classical” nutmeat flavors.

Basic mixes are either “white” or chocolate. “White” mixes can be colored or flavored as desired to best match the end flavor concept, and multiple chocolate options exist. Thus, selection of the desired background ice cream is critical in using nutmeats. Nutmeat flavors can be added as fine (extracts or formulated liquid) flavors (natural or artificial; usage rate of 0.1 to 2.0%, based on the weight of the mix), compounded flavors (e.g., flavored or colored mousse bases), treated nutmeat particulate inclusions (oil roasted and salted pieces, coated nutmeats, hard candy “brittle” pieces), or as nutmeat-flavored variegating syrups.

Usage levels for particulate inclusions start at about 10%, based on the weight of finished ice cream; for variegated syrups, the range starts at about 15%. Use rates are affected by sweetness, visual appeal (color, particulate size and identity), flavor intensity desired, cost considerations, nutrient limitations (e.g., fat and sugar content) and consumer preferences, among other things.

A number of nutmeat options exist. Among popular selections are peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts and blends. Varieties can differ in terms of appearance, firmness, flavor and compatibility to ice cream versus other foods (e.g., baked goods).  The form (sliced, diced, etc.) of each nutmeat can vary as well.

Nutmeats are naturally enzyme active. Multiple natural enzyme systems may need to be inactivated (generally by roasting or other heat treatment) to prevent oil oxidation and other influences that affect flavor quality. Certainly, nutmeats formulated into any food need to be free of any rancid or other off flavors. They can be dry, oil or honey roasted, sliced or diced large to small, or salted. The amount and type of oil used for roasting is also critical to flavor stability and to total fat content of the finished nutmeat as it relates to total fat content of the finished ice cream. Further, the amount and type of nutmeat being used is critical to meeting consumer expectations.

Understanding how the textural properties of each nutmeat will translate into the high-moisture environment of ice cream is critical. Nutmeats that are normally firm or hard (e.g., peanuts, almonds) will resist moisture pickup and retain shape and eating quality. Those that are soft (e.g., pistachios) can be coated to avoid becoming too soft and mealy. Coatings can include oils, hard candy and chocolate. Some of these will add sensory qualities (flavor, color, texture) of their own.

When nutmeats are soft, mealy or expensive, nutmeat “brittles” or hard candies can be formulated to deliver the flavor profile desired. These brittles may or may not include the actual nutmeat that is intended. Such formulated brittles allow for differing colors, flavors and textures that can best meet consumer expectations. 

Formulated syrups and pastes also can be used to execute nutmeat flavors. Besides flavor, the textural and visual eating qualities need to closely match the needs of the ice cream into which the syrup or paste is being used.

As is done with chocolate chips, nutmeat-flavored chips can be added to ice cream as well. These can be formulated chips added at the fruit feeder or liquid chip, which can be added as a variegated sauce.

A number of ice cream defects can be directly related to nutmeats. Sandiness is of particular concern, for two reasons. On one hand, dust incorporated with the nuts can act as nuclei for lactose crystallization. Also, dust or the nutmeats themselves can absorb water from the unfrozen portion of the ice cream in their vicinity. This increases the concentration of lactose and hastens its crystallization. Other defects include oxidized flavor, poor compatibility with the base ice cream flavor, too salty, cooked/burnt, unnatural, weak/deficient, too sweet, dry/mealy and bitter.

When properly selected and matched with the right ice cream base, nutmeats can provide novel and exciting “old” and new flavoring opportunities. 


For more on managing heat shock, cost reduction and product quality join Bruce Tharp & Steve Young at Tharp & Young On Ice Cream, Dec. 2-4, 2009, in Las Vegas. For more go to www.onicecream.com  or call 610/975-4424 or 281/782-4536.