Researchers with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service found freeze-dried strawberry powder is an excellent stabilizer for ice cream and other frozen dairy desserts. According to an ARS release, the ingredient is so effective that frozen desserts with freeze-dried strawberry or raspberry powder retained their shape even after reaching room temperature.
Most stabilizers commonly used today — sodium alginate, guar gum, iota carrageenan, xanthan gum and carboxymethyl cellulose — can cause negative consumer reactions when they appear on ice cream labels, the ARS said, so freeze-dried fruit powders could be a cleaner-label solution.
Ice cream made without some type of stabilizer may turn crunchy because of ice crystals, which can occur with temperature changes in the machine or freezer, the agency noted. Stabilizers are used to limit melting, keep whey from leaking out, prevent shrinkage during storage and enhance a creamy mouthfeel, ARS added.
This finding could be useful to ice cream or frozen dessert makers who would prefer using cleaner-label stabilizers. It also might appeal to consumers who don't want to see chemical-sounding names on the products they buy.
Interestingly, the ARS researchers found not all freeze-dried berry powders were equally effective at stabilizing ice cream and frozen dairy desserts. Adding 3.5% of the strawberry or raspberry variety had the best result, they said, while blackberry and blueberry powders were less effective.
Cristina Bilbao-Sainz, an ARS research food technologist, said in the release that fibers in some freeze-dried berry powders become totally hydrated, increasing their viscosity and helping to resist melting.
The benefits of using freeze-dried fruit powders in ice cream have been known for some time, especially to at-home ice-cream makers, but their potential applications hadn't been technically quantified before, ARS said. The researchers began looking into how the powders could be used to stabilize ice cream after an all-natural dessert maker asked for some scientific information about them.
Although the agency didn't share the company's name, it could be one of many ice cream and/or frozen dessert manufacturers looking for ways to get to cleaner labels in this increasingly competitive space.
There doesn't appear to be commercial ice cream products containing freeze-dried fruit on the market, but there is freeze-dried ice cream — so-called astronaut ice cream — and freeze-dried fruit snacks. It's hard to believe nobody has combined the two and scaled up to meet potential market demand, but that could happen now that this ARS research is out there.
Some ingredients companies are already making and marketing freeze-dried fruit powders, though. Mercer Foods in California offers a range of 20 types of them for applications such as baked goods, confectionery, beverages and nutrition bars. The company touts their contribution to flavor, nutrition and shelf life as major selling points.
Similar to most ingredients, however, freeze-dried fruit powders have limits to their food and beverage applications. ARS noted the strawberry variety would also contribute additional strawberry flavoring, so it wouldn't be appropriate in all recipes. In addition, freeze-dried strawberries have a lot more sugar than fresh — 71% compared to 4.9%, respectively, according to The Conversation. Freeze-drying also can reduce certain nutrients in berries, particularly vitamin C.
Still, the possible benefits could outweigh any potential negatives. Mordor Intelligence said the global freeze-dried food market is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 7.23% between 2016 and 2021, hitting $66.53 billion by next year. Fruits have the largest piece of the freeze-dried market, the report said, followed by vegetables and beverages. As more ice cream makers look for ways to clean up their labels and include more premium ingredients, freeze-dried fruits could become a more attractive option.