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Oct 26, 2012 03:52 PM

What does "stabilization" mean?


In food terms what does it mean exactly that something is stable and what does it mean to stabilize?

I've read about stabilizing whipped cream so it lasts longer and adding cream of tartar to meringue to make it stable but what the heck is it all about?

I'm hoping our resident brainy sciency types can help out.

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  1. Stabilization means to hold the characteristics with minimal change over time. Acid, such as cream of tartar or lemon juice, helps stabilize by reducing the negative charge at the surface of molecules, lowering the repulsive for e. This helps things stick together. That explanation is from Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GH1618 I have a new book to buy. Thank you um...GH1618...can I just call you 18 or do you prefer GH?

    2. Sometimes binding available water, sometimes helping keep things emulsified. Whipped cream will "weep" over time, adding gelatin or starch binds with the water and prevents it from separating. In ice cream, stabilizers also bind with the water, preventing frozen water molecules from migrating and merging into larger crystals that make the product icy.

      4 Replies
      1. re: babette feasts

        Thanks Babette! I was wondering what stabilized ice cream was. I didn't realize it'd do that (it's never in the house long enough to get firm in the freezer...let alone make ice!)

        1. re: Aabacus

          You can overdo that. We were in the sampling crowd for a Top Chef Just Desserts show, and two of the ice creams that were presented were so overstabilized - partly because the contestants were more worried about its melting than anything else - that they had a really unpleasant cold-gumdrop quality. That was too bad, because their flavor was good and the desserts very nicely conceived and made.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Yes, you can definitely over-do it, you are only supposed to use a small fraction of stabilizer. Many pastry chefs use Cremodan, which is a blend of various gums and starches, all having different properties. With ice cream, softening and re-freezing is the big problem, because the water melts out of the delicate balance of fat and solids and sugar syrup, and re-freezes in bigger crystals aka ice chunks. So really, you should eat the entire pint of ice cream at once, and not subject it to mistreatment.

            1. re: babette feasts

              That's just what I need - an ice-cream enabler!

      2. Hervé This, a French food scientist, likes to write about foams and other mixtures that need some sort of stabilization. I've found several of his books in the library.