Cool ice cream innovations

Unilever has found a way to make ice cream healthier as well as really tasty. It has all been possible thanks to a new ice cream ingredient discovered by Unilever's ice cream scientists.

A family enjoying ice creamLess fat, more fruit

The new ingredient is called ‘ice structuring protein’. This protein allows us to make ice cream and ice lollies which are lower in fat, sugar and calories and at the same time include more fruit. We can also now make ice creams and ice lollies which better hold their shape and are less messy to eat. Combining ISP with stabiliser technology allows us to make products that additionally don’t melt so easily – great for small children and for hot countries.

Ice structuring 

How was the ‘ice structuring protein’ discovered? Ice structuring proteins are widely found in nature in, for example, fish, carrots and grass. They allow fish to survive in freezing arctic waters. The protein works by changing the shape of the ice crystals. Unilever’s ice cream scientists took this idea from nature and have applied it to ice cream with great success. It only takes tiny amounts of ISP to have the desired effect.

Baker’s yeast

As sourcing ice structuring protein from a crop or a fish is not environmentally or economically sustainable, ice structuring protein (ISP) is prepared with a genetically modified baker’s yeast using a fermentation process  - which is similar to that used to make other food ingredients such as flavourings, vitamins, enzymes - and chymosin, which is found in vegetarian cheese. To ensure that the ISP is as pure as possible the yeast cells are removed through several stages of fine filtration at the end of the process.

Safety & approvals

ISP is a new ingredient so safety has been Unilever’s number one priority. The company’s safety specialists have conducted exhaustive tests to demonstrate the safety of ISP. The results of these tests have been reviewed by a panel of independent world experts including allergists, toxicologists and paediatricians. The safety of ISP has also been adopted by the US Foods and Drug Administration and endorsed by the European Food Safety Authority and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

ISP technology was submitted to the EU regulatory body for clearance for use as a novel food in 2006. After nearly 3 years of consultation, approval was given for the use of ISP in all EU member states in April 2009. Unilever plans to sell Europe’s first ISP containing ice creams in 2010. All products containing ISP will include ISP in the ingredient list and information will be made available via customer carelines and websites. Low fat products and novelty ‘popsicle’ products have been on sale, and enjoyed, in the USA, Mexico, China, Philippines and Australia for several years.

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