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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Banana plant extract could be key to creamier, longer lasting ice cream

Researchers have found that adding tiny cellulose fibres extracted from banana plant waste to ice cream could slow melting.

Image: Elena Veselova via Shutterstock

THERE’S NO DOUBT about it, ice cream is a great treat on a hot day. That is until it drips down the sides of the cone and turns to liquid.

However, now scientists have said they are closing in on a solution to this sticky problem – they’ve found that adding tiny cellulose fibres extracted from banana plant waste to ice cream could slow melting, increase shelf life and potentially replace fats used to make the tasty treat.

The researchers this week presented their findings at the 255th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

“Our findings suggest that cellulose nanofibers extracted from banana waste could help improve ice cream in several ways,” PhD researcher Robin Zuluaga said.

“In particular, the fibres could lead to the development of a thicker and more palatable dessert, which would take longer to melt. As a result, this would allow for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience with the food, especially in warm weather,” he said.

In 2016, American dairies produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of ice cream, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Every year, the average American consumes about 23 pounds of the dessert.

Problems 

Despite its popularity, ice cream does seem to have some drawbacks that food scientists have struggled to overcome.

Most obviously, it can melt when exposed to heat.

In recent years, researchers have tried using wood pulp extracts to tackle this issue. In 2017, scientists in Japan developed a melt-resistant ice cream based on polyphenol compounds found in strawberries.

Zuluaga Gallego, Jorge A Velasquez Cock and colleagues at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana have been investigating a different approach using banana plants, which are considered waste once the fruit is harvested. In particular, the researchers wanted to determine if they could slow down melting and extend the shelf life of ice cream using a fibrous extract from banana fruit stems.

Outcome

Working in collaboration with Douglas Goff and colleagues at the University of Guelph, Canada, Zuluaga Gallego and Velasquez Cock extracted cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs), which are thousands of times smaller than human hair, from ground-up banana rachis.

They then mixed then CNFs into ice cream at varying concentrations. Using a variety of analytical tools, the researchers evaluated the effects that CNFs had on the frozen treat.

The researchers found that ice creams mixed with CNFs tended to melt much more slowly than traditional ice creams. They determined that CNFs could increase the shelf life of ice cream, or at least decrease its sensitivity to temperature changes that happen when moved to and from the freezer.

In addition, CNFs increased the viscosity of low-fat ice cream, which improved the creaminess and texture of the product.

Velasquez Cock said this suggests that CNFs could help stabilise the fat structure in ice creams. As a result, CNFs could potentially replace some of the fats – and perhaps reduce calories – in these desserts.

Moving forward, the researchers plan to explore how different types of fat, such as coconut oil and milk fat, affect the behaviour of CNFs in other frozen treats.

Read: Myth debunked: Neither the low-carb nor the low-fat diet is superior

More: ‘A gender equality paradox’: Countries with more gender equality have fewer female STEM grads

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