London: Scientists have discovered a naturally occurring protein that can be used to create ice cream that is more resistant to melting.
The protein, known as BslA, binds together the air, fat and water in ice cream, creating a super-smooth consistency.
The new ingredient could enable ice creams to keep frozen for longer in hot weather. It could also prevent gritty ice crystals from forming, ensuring a fine, smooth texture like those of luxury ice creams, researchers said.
The development could also allow products to be manufactured with lower levels of saturated fat - and fewer calories - than at present.
Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee developed a method of producing the new protein - which occurs naturally in some foods - in friendly bacteria.
They estimate that ice cream made with the ingredient could be available within three to five years.
The protein works by adhering to fat droplets and air bubbles, making them more stable in a mixture.
"We're excited by the potential this new ingredient has for improving ice cream, both for consumers and for manufacturers," said Professor Cait MacPhee, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh.
Using the ingredient could offer significant advantages for ice cream makers. It can be processed without loss of performance, and can be produced from sustainable raw materials, researchers said.
Manufacturers could also benefit from a reduced need to deep freeze their product, as the ingredient would keep ice cream frozen for longer.
The supply chain would also be eased by a reduced need to keep the product very cold throughout delivery and merchandising, researchers said.