From the supermarket cartons to the boutique frozen yogurt shop and the classic ice cream parlor, ice cream has a taste that most people love. If you've ever heard that there was seaweed in ice cream, it's true. Both sodium alginate and carrageenan are derived from algae to help preserve the soft, creamy mouthfeel of ice cream.
Sodium Alginate and Carrageenan
Sodium alginate is a type of salt found inside brown algae. Sodium alginate has gelling and emulsification properties. Sodium alginate enables the ice cream to stay softer than it otherwise would while remaining frozen, giving a scoopable and slightly airy texture.
Like sodium alginate, carrageenan is derived from algae (red as opposed to brown). Carrageenan stabilizes the ice cream in the same way the sodium alginate does.
Traditionally, producers of ice cream relied on the fat content of the egg yolks present in the recipe to provide the right balance. If a batch of ice cream lacked enough fat, the texture would be gritty and icy. If the batch had enough fat from milk or butter fat--or from egg yolks--it would be creamy while frozen.
The advantage of using a stabilizer is that you can use less fat in your recipe since you are not relying on the reaction between the sugar and fat to provide a nice texture in your ice cream. This allows manufacturers to make lower-fat options that have the same mouthfeel as standard ice cream, and to save on the higher costs of using cream.
Preventing Ice Crystals
The stabilizers used in ice cream act to prevent the formation of ice crystals. If there were no stabilizers, ice crystals could grow from water molecules, which are present as part of the milk in the ice cream base or in a fruit or other flavoring within the ice cream. This would turn the soft texture of ice cream grainy and icy.
Can You Tell?
You can tell by the texture of a store-bought ice cream whether it has carrageenan or sodium alginate. Haagen Daaz is one of the only brands that does not use these commercial stabilizers. When you remove a pint of Haagen Daaz from the freezer, it stays incredibly hard for five or more minutes if left at room temperature. An ice cream that contains commercial stabilizers like carageenan or sodium alginate will not be rock hard when removed from the freezer, and will start to melt faster than ice cream with no stablizers.
Pros and Cons
While you may be able to feel or see the difference between ice cream that contains these products, you will not be able to taste a difference. Both carrageenan and sodium alginate are present in such small amounts in ice cream that no seaweed-like taste is detectable.
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