Man’s love of whipped cream dates back at least to the 16th century, and it’s a staple in all of our favorite holiday desserts. Is this slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie really the same without a dollop of whipped cream on top? But whipped cream also contains 38 percent saturated fat. This is one of the reasons eating bland food is so enjoyable, but it’s also not good for our health, and dairy farming is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. So food scientists at the University of Copenhagen decided to explore sustainable, low-fat alternatives. They succeeded in creating a bacteria-based, lean prototype, according to the The last paper Published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids. Someday, the authors calculate, the leather that tops holiday desserts could be made from beer-brewing waste or plants.
“We usually associate bacteria with something that should be kept away from food,” said co-author Jens Risbo, a food scientist at the University of Copenhagen. “But here, we’re basing a beloved food product on the good bacteria found in nature. We’ve never seen this before. This is beneficial, because it’s a renewable resource growing in a tank, and because it makes for a healthier, less-dense, fat-free product.”
Whipped cream is a type of liquid foam, a category that also includes hair styling mousse and shaving cream. These foams are created by beating air into a liquid formulation that contains, among other ingredients, some type of surfactant (a surface-active agent)—a group of complex molecules that bond together to stiffen the resulting foam into a large foam. A surfactant—usually lipids or proteins in edible foams, or chemical additives in shaving cream or styling mousse—maintains surface tension from collapsing bubbles by strengthening the walls of the thin liquid films that separate them. Cream, with its higher fat content, acts as a surfactant in whipped cream.
In 1948, a clothing salesman-turned-entrepreneur named Aaron (“Bunny”) Lapine figured out how to deliver whipped cream from a can and introduced the world to Reddi-Wip. The gas is mixed with the liquid formula and filled under pressure in an aerosol can. When the valve is opened, the mixture is forced out of the canister by nitrous oxide (laughing gas), and the gas rapidly expands to create a foam. In Reddi-Wip non-dairy varieties, the cream is replaced with vegetable oil, which is higher in fat, along with a host of synthetic additives (polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, sodium stearyl-2-lactylate, xanthan gum, and lecithin). ).
It’s not easy coming up with a healthy and delicious alternative to one of our favorite foods. “The hardest aspect of developing an alternative food is getting the texture right,” she says. Rispo said. “Whipped cream goes through a unique transformation that takes place in a complex system where high saturated fat makes it possible to whip cream stiff. So, how do we create an alternative where we avoid the high fat content, while achieving the right consistency? This is where we need to think innovatively. “.
Risbo and his colleagues used just four ingredients in their experiments: water, edible lactic acid bacteria, a bit of milk protein, and a thickening agent. Many types of lactic acid bacteria — the kind used by the food industry as a culture for yoghurt and to preserve deli meats — are abundant in nature, found in plants, human and animal mucous membranes, and the digestive tract. They have also been shown to be ideal building blocks for foods and are about the same size as the globules of fat in heavy whipping cream.
The Danish team made softer and harder versions of their whipped cream prototype using two different types of bacteria: Delbruecki Lactobacillus Subs. lactis (LBD) f Lactobacillus crispatus (LBC). The LBC strain is more hydrophobic, yielding a firmer cream and holding liquid better than the resulting mixture of LBD, which is hydrophilic.
These experiments were primarily for proof-of-concept demonstrations, and the resulting foams were primarily evaluated for texture and desired foaming properties—not for taste. So it’s not likely that we’ll see “Lacti-Wip” packets on store shelves anytime soon. But the experiments provided insight into how best to create a non-dairy whipped cream substitute for a similar nutritional structure.
“We have shown that bacteria can be used to create the right structure.” Rispo said. “Now that we understand the context and learn the important surface properties, it opens up the possibility of using many other things from nature. It could be yeast leftovers from fermentation, or maybe small building blocks that we extract from plants. That would make the product very sustainable.”