In the Lab

by Emily J. Becker

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

What do the ice cream flavors rocky road, cookies and cream, and butter pecan have in common?
Aside from being treats that can satisfy even on the hottest days of summer, all three contain inclusions — the irresistible bits and pieces and ribbons and swirls of fruit, candy, nuts and baked goods that take ice cream from ordinary to extraordinary. While ice cream, in some form or another, has been around for centuries, it has only been in the last 50 years, mostly in the last decade, that we have decided two (or three or four) flavor combinations are better than one.  
Ice cream inclusions delight the senses; aside from the flavors they impart, they also contribute visually and texturally. Whose eyes don’t light up when they see chunk after chunk of their favorite cookie or brownie swimming in a bowl of rich, creamy ice cream? And who doesn’t love the contrast between the crunch of nuts or pretzels and the smoothness of the cool dairy dessert?
Fortunately for ice cream indulgers — and there’s a lot of us out there, with 90 percent of American households purchasing ice cream each year — ice cream will only become more decadent and more creative as manufacturers respond to our ever-expanding desires. Additionally, the market for trans-fat-free, organic and fortified ice cream inclusions is expected to grow in order to accommodate today’s health-minded consumers.  
Just like choosing which of the countless ice cream flavors to treat yourself to, formulating an ice cream inclusion to maintain its integrity throughout the manufacturing process and storage at below-freezing temperatures is no easy feat. The processing capabilities and intrinsic and extrinsic properties of the inclusion must be fully considered in order to have an acceptable final product in terms of flavor, texture, color, overall appearance and cost.
Recognizing the importance of and identifying ways to overcome issues such as moisture migration, color bleed, breakage and dispersion into the base is the charge of R&D and manufacturing. Moisture migration from the ice cream base to the inclusion, a concern from a textural and quality standpoint, is addressed by coating a baked inclusion with oil or even chocolate for added pizzazz. The temperature of the inclusion at the time of mixing with the ice cream base is an important processing consideration; an inclusion that is too warm may clump together and clog equipment or may melt the surrounding ice cream, resulting in undesirable ice crystal formation.  
Working with smaller, specialty suppliers such as Richmond Baking, a family-owned manufacturer of cookie and graham cracker crumbs for the ice cream industry, has several advantages. Focused on quality and dedicated to meeting customer needs in an efficient manner, Richmond Baking can both create and match inclusions in a variety of size, flavor and nutritional attributes.  
While creating innovative ice cream inclusions and technologies is complex, eating your favorite ice cream or novelty is not. So sit back, relax and enjoy the simpler things in life.  
Emily J. Becker is technical service manager for Richmond, Ind.-based Richmond Baking.