There was a super cool hip hop song called “Ice Ice Baby” that I used to groove and bob my head to in the 90s back when I was in high school. Sadly, the song rarely hits the radio waves these days. But whenever I do hear it, it reverberates through my headspace and it’s such a blast from the past.
Much as I’d like to next tell you all about the American rap artist responsible for the song (yours truly, Vanilla Ice), I think I’ll hold back and save myself the embarrassment! For one, hip hop today just ain’t what it used to be. And two, I think we’re all better off if I discuss something’s that not dated… something that you and I are more likely to squirm in delight over.
So I’m going to talk about “ice cream!” (Yummy!) and how with a blast of liquid nitrogen, ice cream parlours around the US are able to whip up custom-made treats in a flash! All that in just a bit, but first, the lowdown on liquid nitrogen…
Nitrogen makes up a whopping 78% of the air we breathe. When it is turned into liquid form, it becomes incredibly cold (I kid you not!) and can instantly freeze tissues including fingers, hands and eyes (it burns!). So you must be really careful when handling liquid nitrogen.
It is colourless, freezes at a -210oC and boils at -196oC. At room temperature, exposed liquid nitrogen will almost instantly vaporise. This quick transition from liquid to gas can quickly generate a lot of pressure. Hence, liquid nitrogen must never be stored in a sealed container as this may result in an explosion.
Also, the release of a lot of nitrogen can result in asphyxiation. Cold nitrogen gas is heavier than air, so the risk is greatest near the ground. Liquid nitrogen must only be used in a well-ventilated area.
Understanding these properties of nitrogen, opportunistic shops like Sub Zero Ice Cream in the US are giving their customers a chance to customise their food. How so? Well, customers first choose the dessert base—a selection from premium cream to low-fat cream to custard, yogurt or dairy substitutes made of soy or rice.
They then add to the base a choice from 36 flavourings that include cake batter, eggnog, lime, bubble gum, sweet chocolate, etc. Customers get one mix-in such as candy bar pieces or fruit (similar to the mix-ins offered by ice cream shops in Singapore like Cold Stone Creamery).
The base, flavouring and mix-in is all combined in a bowl and then instantly frozen with a spray of liquid nitrogen. When the liquid nitrogen is sprayed on the mixture, it creates a cool cloud. “Is it safe to eat?” you may ask. The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Not only is it safe to eat, it arguably tastes better now! Apparently, one of the advantages of freezing with liquid nitrogen is that the faster you freeze ice cream, the smoother and creamier it is! This probably has to do with the fact that when you freeze the mixture instantly, you avoid ice crystals so it is a smoother, denser finish on the tongue.
Some customers even say that they can taste the flavours better than with traditional ice cream. Can that really be true? The only way to find out really, is to try it! One thing’s for sure though, it definitely gets people excited to watch instant ice cream being made.
Sadly, we don’t have any ice cream parlours that involve liquid nitrogen in Singapore. But what’s cool is that here in the Science Centre, we offer an outstanding hands-on enrichment programme to allow students to tinker with “nitro” ice cream-making. The Science Centre will be having a booth at the Kidz Academy from 25-27 March 2011 at Suntec Singapore where there will be a stage performance from 12.30-1.30 pm themed, ‘Have fun with Liquid Nitrogen’. Look out for it!
No doubt the enrichment programme’s open solely to students. But who says they get to have all the fun! The next time you travel to the US, just waltz into a Sub Zero store and sink your teeth into that yummy stuff or just start-up a new business of your own that does instant ice-cream in Singapore!
And the ice-cream innovation doesn’t end here. Apparently, some entrepreneurs in the UK are researching glow-in-the-dark ice-cream and ice-cream noodles using piping bags. But hey, that’s a story for another day. Thanks for reading!