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Can Wheat Make for a Smoother Treat?

Scientists use winter wheat proteins to make ice cream creamy

MONDAY, Feb. 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Here's a cool scoop about some smooth operators.

Canadian scientists say they may have found a way to keep ice cream smoother during long periods of freezer storage by adding special ice-modifying proteins extracted from winter wheat.

Don't think adding these winter wheat proteins will turn your cone of chocolate fudge ice cream into a health food. The only potential benefit here is the smoother ice cream may make you smile more while you're eating it.

"The concentrations [of winter wheat proteins] involved are small, so we're not doing anything to affect the overall nutritional properties of ice cream," says Douglas Goff, food science professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

He and his colleagues are studying ways to improve ice cream by introducing new ingredients, and manipulating its structure.

Goff presented the research yesterday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston.

The session featured a group of ice cream experts talking about the science, technology and cultural trends associated with ice cream, one of America's favorite treats.

Annual ice cream consumption in the United States works out to almost six gallons per person, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Goff did the winter wheat protein research in collaboration with Ice Biotech Inc., a Hamilton, Ontario-based company that developed and patented the proteins.

Winter wheat is a cereal crop that's planted in the fall, goes dormant in winter and resumes growing in spring. To survive, it has to withstand frigid winter temperatures. There's been a great deal of research in the last 10 to 15 years to understand the "antifreeze proteins" that give winter wheat and other plants this special ability, Goff says.

"What these proteins do in their natural form is to promote the formation of ice crystals at temperatures just below zero (degrees Celsius), and then limit the growth of those ice crystals to the point where they're very small," Goff says.

Limiting the growth of ice crystals prevents cellular damage, which would kill the plant.

"When you think about that, that's exactly what we want to do in a product like ice cream -- create lots and lots of ice crystals, and maintain them very, very small," Goff says.

"So the concept is that by extracting these [proteins] and using them in an ice cream formulation, we can get an incredibly smooth product by maintaining the ice crystals very, very small, and maintaining that over a long shelf-life period."

He notes ice cream is a complex product to manufacture, and it's a challenge to keep it smooth while it's being shipped long distances and in storage for extended periods. He adds these proteins also may prove useful in a variety of frozen foods.

No, Goff doesn't get to do countless taste tests to gauge the smoothness of the ice cream. That's done by microscopic analysis of the ice crystals.

While the use of winter wheat proteins shows great promise, Goff says it will be some time before it shows up in the ice cream at your supermarket.

What To Do: If you're screaming for more information about ice cream, go to the University of Guelph. Here's another site that's loaded with ice cream facts and trivia.

SOURCES: Interview with Douglas Goff, Ph.D., professor, food science department, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Feb. 17, 2002, presentation, annual meeting, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston
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