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stabilizers in homemade ice cream

I did a couple tests yesterday to see the effect of stabilizers in homemade ice cream. I've pasted the results below, in case anyone is interested.

I've wondered why it's so hard to make ice cream at home that has the same creaminess & texture as store-bought premium ice cream, and whether it's possible to counteract this inexpensively. The fact is that commercial ice cream manufacturing uses better equipment to prevent ice crystals from forming and as a result homemade ice cream tastes good right when it's made but it can be brittle and icy after it's hardened in the freezer.

Stabilizers can help deal with this issue. People call egg yolks a natural stabilizer but I've never found it to be sufficient to counteract this effect. I've also tried gelatin which I've found to be disgusting in the final product.

The test below looked at the effect of guar gum and carrageenan. Both are natural stabilizers -- carrageenan is an extract of seaweed, and guar gum is the ground seed of a guar bean. I added purposely high amounts of each ingredient more to see how each ingredient affects the product rather than to try to find the exact right amount on the first attempt.

The results showed that guar gum (in excess) makes the ice cream very elastic, almost taffy-like. Carrageenan makes the ice cream more like a suspension. Either one in large doses make ice cream unpleasant, but both tests led to a hardened ice cream that was more scoopable and less icy than when just using egg yolks or no stabilizer at all. Using both in combination and in small doses could be helpful for home ice cream.

At some point I'll try another combination which uses egg yolks & a custard, and a smaller combination of these stabilizers. I also may try xanthan gum & locust bean gum to see if their effects are any different.


Ice Cream Stabilizer Taste Test

To test
Sample 1:
2 cups whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp guar gum

Sample 2:
2 cups whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/8 tsp guar gum
3/8 tsp carrageenan (iota)

Preparation method:
Heat milk and cream to near boiling, then add sugar and vanilla.
Let cool. While cooling, add stabilizer & whisk to thoroughly incorporate.
Continue cooling overnight in refrigerator, then prepare as per machine instructions

Test Results:
A. Inspection of mix right after adding stabilizer:
Sample 1 (guar gum only): taffy-like
Sample 2 (guar gum and carrageenan): gelatinous- similar to the effect of adding gelatin

B. Inspection after ice cream machine preparation is complete but before hardening in freezer:
Sample 1 (guar gum only):
- visual: very smooth, consistency almost taffy-like. Similar to some Italian gelatos, but not as dense
- taste / mouthfeel: very chewy, & elastic.

Sample 2 (guar gum and carrageenan):
- visual: smooth, consistency marshmallow-like. Reminds me of cheap supermarket ice milk
- taste / mouthfeel: soft and pliant.

C. Inspection after hardening in freezer:
Sample 1 (guar gum only):
- visual: easy to scoop. Ice cream very pliant (can push into mix & it will push back). Feels similar to plaster – ice cream crystals are held together as if by glue
- taste: Good feel on palate. some loss of taste (e.g. sugar less pronounced, ice may be more pronounced on palate)

Sample 2 (guar gum and carrageenan):
- visual: easy to scoop. Similar to store-bought hardened ice cream (although more strongly bound)
- taste: gummy. Flavor is more pronounced than with Sample 1 (can taste more milk / sugar / flavoring.)

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  1. ATK, or maybe it was Cooks Country, dealt with the texture issue by using light corn syrup. I can't recall the amount.

    1. I highly suggest you look into Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream book.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Becca Porter

        I have her book but have never made anything yet (just haven't had time, no other reason).

        But in the book she adds something like 1 Tbs of Phili cream cheese to each batch of ice cream. I have to wonder if it is a short cut to incorporating some stabilizers to the mix.

      2. Using a recipe in my molecular gastronomy kit I just made a chocolate pudding with carrageenan. The consistency was basically the same as with a cornstarch thickened pudding. The recipe also called for making a 'noodles' with a carrageenan thickened liquor. That part didn't work out, making me suspect the recipe's weight to volume equivalences.

        5 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          cold stone creamery uses pudding in their ice cream. i hear pudding makes ice cream bullet proof. like it won't melt.

          1. re: eLizard

            The base for many of their flavors is:
            SWEET CREAM ICE CREAM (Cream, Nonfat Milk, Milk, Whey, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Guar Gum, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Mono & Diglycerides, Polysorbate 80, and Annatto Extract)

            Most do not have eggs. Even in 'French vanilla', egg yolks are part of the flavoring, not the base.


            Whether that base is a pudding or not is a matter of semantics. Even the Crème anglaise that some regard as the proper base for ice cream is a pudding, or an egg custard sauce to be more precise.

            But they do also sell a 'JELL-O Pudding Ice Cream' that does not melt

            1. re: paulj

              When Coldstone opened near me, I went in and asked to have a dish of two flavors of their ice cream, plain. It took five minutes of wrangling and a full-on Jack Nicholson "side of toast" before they would let me try their ice cream, plain.

              Ultimately I tasted it, and it literally (not figuratively) had no flavor except "sweet." I'm not surprised to see it's such a "product."

              1. re: paulj

                i saw it on unwrapped, so it must be true... ;o)

                1. re: eLizard

                  Where's my "Like" button??? ;-)

          2. Guar gum! When I've had Mitchell's ice cream in San Francisco, I've tried to describe it as chewy and people thought I was nuts. They must use a ton of guar gum in their ice creams. Well, at least the flavors I tried, anyway.

            1. Why not make a cooked base using eggs?

              1. I make ice cream all the time without the use of the aforementioned stabilizers - both custard and Philly style - and have never found the texture to be lacking.

                In fact I find homemade to be better texturally than most commercial prepackaged stuff in markets.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I make ice cream all the time too...completely the lazy way with no eggs/tempering and all that. I've found that if I mix up the base the night before, let it sit in the fridge, all the sugar and whatnot dissolves nicely.

                  One time, I was making it and didn't have any whole milk...just the heavy cream and some half and half. I subbed out the whole milk for half and half and haven't made it any other way since. I know...completely unhealthy, but pretty darned creamy.

                  I have to say that I feel like I've finally pretty much mastered it and never really feel the need to buy ice cream any more.

                  1. re: jbsiegel

                    Whatever works for you, but I think you should give a custard based ice cream sometime.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I definitely do need to try it. Just finished mixing up one of my "regular" batches. Next time I'll give it a whirl!

                  2. Now I've heard everything.

                    To avoid eating carageenan and guar gum is one of *the* reasons for making your own ice cream. I noticed decades ago that ice cream from half-gallons, i.e., "stabilized" ice cream, made me thirsty, but Haagen-Dazs didn't. I've avoided guar gum and carageenan ever since, and started making my own in the '80s.

                    My ice cream always turned out better than store-bought. I don't think I've heard of anyone's *adding* stabilizers to homemade ice cream before.

                    12 Replies
                      1. re: Jay F

                        Why do you avoid guar gum and carageenan?

                        Notice that the quantities are small. 3/8tsp in the OP. In the chocolate pudding I made, I use 2g along with 450g of milk, chocolate and sugar. It would have required a tablespoon or more of cornstarch to get similar consistency.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I'm mixed on this one too. There was another post about using an additive that was completely a natural ingredient albeit refined (don't remember exactly - but something like agar). . . .

                          I like homemade ice cream but it definitely doesn't have the same mouthfeel as some ice creams with a few stabilizers added. And gelato is delicious but a completely different thing too.

                          Someone should start a thread to see when people consider something an "ingredient" versus a "chemical" to be avoided.. . . . .

                          1. re: paulj

                            I've been doing it so long, it's an article of faith by now to avoid guar (or other) gum and carrageenan. It makes ice cream different, and not in a good way.

                            I didn't eat ice cream unless someone literally put it in front of me until I was in my 30s. It wasn't something I hated, or even disliked. It just made me thirsty after I ate it.

                            Then I went through a major life change, and a friend turned me on to Haagen-Dazs. The Vanilla Swiss Almond flavor was particularly lovely, and I noticed I wasn't thirsty after eating it. I practically became addicted to it.

                            Someone told me the reason H-D didn't make me thirsty is because it did not contain the guar gum and carrageenan to which I'd reacted all my life, presumably, by becoming thirsty.

                            Over time, I could often tell if ice cream had "stabilizers" in it. I knew in two spoonsful, for example, when Breyers put some in their regular, "All Natural" ice cream. It was a thing they called tara root. As "All Natural" as it may have been, it completely ruined the texture of their ice cream for me.

                            1. re: Jay F

                              Stabilizers ruin ice cream for me, also.

                          2. re: Jay F

                            Actually the reason I did this was because I had a cup of Italian gelato recently, and wanted to recreate it. The texture of gelato is different from even Haagen Dazs. The texture of hardened homemade ice cream is one the other end of the spectrum from that of most gelato.

                            As much as the marketing will say otherwise, almost all gelato you buy at gelato shops contain stabilizers. The commercial mixes that are sold to most gelateria contain a stabilizer blend.

                            As for why to avoid eating them, I don't understand the logic. Carrageenan has a specific issue when heated which can cause a reaction for some people, which is why it's better to add while cooling. Other than that, these are natural ingredients. I don't see why someone would be fine with egg yolks in ice cream but not guar gum.

                            1. re: calumin

                              I should look into using things like this in a sorbet. When made with just a sugar syrup and flavorings, mechanical action (with an immersion blender) is the only thing that keeps it from freezing into a solid block of ice.

                              1. re: paulj

                                I like to just add a little bit of booze to sorbet. It does wonders.

                              2. re: calumin

                                Here's what you're looking for: http://www.pregelamerica.com/en/produ...

                                I'd contact PreGel and ask them for a sample.

                                The other two biggest factors in gelato's texture that you like so much are the relatively ultra-low overrun and the relatively high temperatures it is served at - gelato is typically served at 5 -10 degrees F whereas ice cream is often served at -10 degrees. The higher temperature yields fuller flavors and a softer, smoother texture.

                              3. re: Jay F

                                Your reasons for refusing to use them don't make a great deal of sense to me.

                                If it is to avoid 'additives' or 'chemicals', that's a pretty arbitrary distinction: if you were to make ice-cream using creme anglaise, you would be performing the same bit of kitchen chemistry, albeit that the proteins in the eggs, when heated, would act as the gelling agent.

                                If it is (as it seems to be) that you associate them with poor-quality ice-cream, then that is more the result of all of the other substitutions and omissions in industrial ice-cream. I'm not surprised that yours is better than store-bought: it isn't hard to better something when it is constructed from vegetable oils, flavourants, starches and stabilisers. The important factors are the recipe and ingredients, rather than the gelling agent - with a good recipe and proper ingredients, modern gelling agents very probably would yield a superior texture to ice-cream made from creme anglaise.

                                1. re: mugen

                                  You, sir, get two points for using facts and logic.

                              4. Kudos to you and thanks for doing this. Most of the so-called authoritative books on the subject don't really address this issue and it's good to see someone taking a scientific approach to this so we can decide whether we wish to use these ingredients to adjust the texture of our mixes.

                                1. If you can get hold of ingredients, Modernist Cuisine lists a pistacho gelato with the following stabilisers/gelling agents:

                                  Locust bean gum (0.44%)
                                  Carrageenan (0.3%)
                                  Polysorbate 80 (0.12%)
                                  Glycerol monostearate (0.02% by weight)

                                  Also, xanthan and LBG in combination produce a unique effect, so perhaps add that to the list of experiments.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: mugen

                                    Yes I have that book, it is really good!

                                    I was going to try making the pistachio gelato but then when I looked at the recipe there is no dairy! I may try it anyway.

                                    They also talk about the PacoJet. That would be the best way to deal with the ice crystals -- they say with the PacoJet you don't even need the gums. But at $4000 that's just too much.

                                    1. re: calumin

                                      I think your dedication is lacking - is any amount too much for ice-cream!?

                                  2. Experimenting is fun, and I appreciate your approach. If you want to go the easy route, you can just buy some Cremodan: www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Stabilizer-C...

                                    Also, if you can get your hands on Francisco Migoya's book 'Frozen Desserts', he describes uses and characteristics of various additives and ingredients in ice cream formulation.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: babette feasts


                                      Is also very popular with pastry chefs nowadays as well because it works so well on both ice cream and sorbet.

                                      Also have to agree about "frozen desserts". Migoya's books are all fantastic.

                                    2. I make ice cream and sherbet all the time. Several times a month. Ice cream I make is almost always a yolk-based whole milk only mixture -- and the "secret" ingredient I always find works well as a stabilizer/smoothing ingredient is corn starch. Can't give you precise amounts -- I don't measure anything -- but I'd say for 1 yolk, 1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp of corn starch, sugar and as I said ... I only use whole milk. It's always better when I make it up with half whole milk and half "half and half." But I rarely go get half and half and the resulting ice cream is still excellent. And I refrigerate the hot mixture until it's at least for an hour or two. And I cook the custard with vanilla bean and scrape the seeds after the mixture is cooled a bit. And often add a splash of pure vanilla extract as well. Hope this helps. Give it a try and post your results.

                                      1. Another thread was complaining about tara gum in Beyers. I hadn't heard of that, so did a bit of search. It's a gum from a Peruvian bush. Apparently food manufacturers, including dairy desserts, are trying this gum as a replacement for guar gum. Guar gum prices have risen substantially in the past couple of years, in part because of increased demand. It is used in fracking


                                        These gums are all hydrocolloids

                                        1. I'm not sure you have enough fat to duplicate premium ice cream. You appear to have about 12% milkfat (unless my calculation is off) where most premium ice creams have 14-16%. I try to do at least that. I never have grainy ice cream. I used to have an issue with "hard" ice cream when it was frozen. It is better now that I cool the mixture as cool as I can get it for 24 hours, then pop it into the freezer for a bit before pouring it into a running ice cream maker.

                                          For me it is very hard to get enough air into the mixture as I live at 8500feet and the air is much thinner up here. Creamy ice cream needs air and cream (and real sugar).

                                          Here is a good thread on ice cream technique http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838932

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: travelerjjm

                                            Interesting, I will try that.

                                            I've seen that thread as well. In a past life I've made ice cream in a commercial setting, with a big Emery Thompson & commercial blast chiller, plus tempering cooler. I've come to the conclusion that while you can make good ice cream at home, you can't make ice cream that matches what you can get from premium brands at a few bucks per pint. On the other hand, you can make the flavors you want so that's where the trade off exists - and if you eat it right when it's made, there's no trade off at all.

                                            I think the exception might be the PacoJet -- which I've never used, but solves the problem in a totally different way. If anyone has any experience with that, would be great to hear.

                                          2. After reading through this discussion I have looked at a lot of ice cream recipes. A small number seem to whip the cold base with an immersion blender before freezing it in the ice cream freezer. Has anyone tried that? Does it make the ice cream creamier because of more air?

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: travelerjjm

                                              I suppose it is a matter of taste, but one of my primary "look down my nose" factors for ice cream is "overrun," which is the industry term for "churn longer to increase the amount of air in the ice cream, thus lowering costs and stretching product."

                                              You'll have a "creamier" mouthfeel, but you may also enjoy it less because it'll be softer, less intense, and come across to you as more "store brand" than, say, Haagen-Dasz or Ben & Jerry's.

                                              My understanding is that for high-end ice cream, creamy mouthfeel comes from three things: quality cream; allowing the fat to crystallize in the base by letting it "cure" before churning, and fast churning to reduce size of ice crystals. Liquid Nitrogen is a solid, if nerdy, bet.

                                              Try eating store-brand and H/Dasz side-by-side, and you'll instantly and memorably learn overrun.

                                              1. re: enhF94

                                                I agree. I don't like much overrun either. Most commercial store brands have about 100% overrun (half air). Some brands such as Bryers seem to fall near this number. Super-premium ice cream has less than 50% overrun, 35% or so seems common. Some premiums are in-between. The idea for adding more air, and thus increasing overrun, was to more closely approximate some of those products. Home freezers that use the frozen inserts can have as low as 20% overrun, it seems, especially if the blades move slowly. Increasing the overrun may make the product taste like a commercial one. I prefer the low overrun of the home version, myself.

                                                Here is an interesting article about some experiments with overrun and reducing air and crystal size. http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2010/07...

                                                1. re: travelerjjm

                                                  I see you know what you are talking about. Politely and educationally worded. (I'm new to the Home Cooking board and recalibrating my teaching tendencies from the whoppingly educated Boston board.)

                                                2. re: enhF94

                                                  Does overrun affect taste, or just your perceived value? What if ice cream was sold by weight rather than volume? Would you care about the overrun?

                                                  The nutritional facts block should give enough info. My container of TJ vanilla gives a serving size as 1/2c 105g. If it was water, is should be 120g.

                                                  Beyers Orginal Natual Vanilla has 66g for 1/2c.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    For me it's both - value and taste. The value issue speaks for itself.

                                                    The taste issue is complicated. In general, ice creams with high overrun don't taste as good to me. Problem is that in general, ice creams with higher overrun also tend to use more additives, and possibly lower quality ingredients. So it's hard to run the experiment of comparing the exact same ingredients and methods, with the only difference being overrun. I do think that higher overrun means less product on the spoon, so a bite of high overrun ice cream means less ingredients in that bite than if it were a low overrun ice cream. If we're talking about high quality ingredients, I'd probably rather have more falvor molecules per bite than fewer.

                                                3. re: travelerjjm

                                                  The reason some recipes call for whipping the base before freezing is to emulsify the mix by decreasing the size of the milk fat globules. That's what leads to it being creamier -- not more air.

                                                  There is a side effect in that it could lead to higher overrun, although you could compensate for that by mixing it less while freezing.

                                                  I think it's a worthwhile step.

                                                  1. re: calumin

                                                    I mix the "non-cream" liquid into the base first (with as much vigor as I want because it's not generally going to whip up). Then, I gently stir the whipped cream in. I then refrigerate overnight and churn in the morning.

                                                4. The Ben and Jerry Ice Cream cookbook does not reccomend a cooked custard prior to freezing. You simply whip the eggs, sugar and cream base (and whatever flavouring you require) and straight into the ice cream maker.

                                                  Works a charm and I have great results, won contests and praise of family and friends for years now.

                                                  As the end product contains raw (albeit frozen) eggs, I do not serve to the elderly or immuno-compromised. But so far, so good. And I live in the country and know my chickens and their farmer!

                                                  1. Hi Calum,

                                                    You really don't need stabilisers to make ice cream that is 10 times better than anything you can buy in a supermarket. In fact, I think it is sacrilege to put stabilisers in homemade ice cream! :)

                                                    Companies put stabilisers in their ice creams so that they can store them in supermarkets for longer. When in the freezer, ice crystals in ice cream grow. The longer you leave ice cream in the freezer, the bigger these crystals grow ad the sandier the texture. Stabilisers try to counter this by retarding, though not completely halting, ice crystal growth.

                                                    You can make excellent ice cream with excellent texture at home and keep it for about a week, maybe 2, before you notice the growth in ice crystals.

                                                    For vanilla ice cream, try the following recipe:

                                                    If you are using cream at 36% fat:
                                                    Cream 474g
                                                    Semi-skimmed milk 413g
                                                    Sugar 141g
                                                    Egg yolks 72g
                                                    1 whole vanilla bean

                                                    It's really important to heat the mix to 71.4°C and keep it there for 60 minutes, yes 60 minutes! This is crucial for promoting reversible unfolding in the proteins, which contributes significantly to creamy texture.

                                                    Let me know if you try the recipe.

                                                    All the best, Ruben

                                                    3 Replies
                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        2% milk in the US would approximate semi-skimmed (which I think is a UK term, if I'm not mistaken).

                                                        1. re: nofunlatte

                                                          Thanks. Makes sense, since whole is 4%.

                                                    1. The stabilizers you describe are no more "natural" than McDonald's 100% beef claim. They are highly processed and the hallmark of crappy, low quality ice cream. Sadly, they are also included in what used to be better quality products.

                                                      Your ice cream would be be vastly improved if you increased the fat content with more cream and eggs. Also, if you aren't using top quality pasteurized (not UHT/ultra) switch to those. It makes a huge difference.

                                                      [eating homemade ice cream as I post]

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                        "The stabilizers you describe are no more "natural" than McDonald's 100% beef claim. They are highly processed and the hallmark of crappy, low quality ice cream."

                                                        Are you referring to guar gum and carrageenan? I'm not sure why you refer to those are un-natural. People have been using seaweed extracts (which carrageenan is) for centuries to add texture to foods. Guar gum is a ground nut.

                                                        I use carrageenan to make my own cheese block for my mac and cheese, essentially mimicking velveeta, but using high quality cheddar and gouda. The recipe is from Modernist Cuisine, and I wouldn't call anything in there "crappy, low quality".