EDINBURGH, Scotland, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Eating an ice cream cone on a hot afternoon is a race against time. But soon, scoop lovers may be able to savor their favorite treat, despite the heat.
Researchers have discovered a protein that makes ice cream more resistant to heat, slowing the melting process. The protein, called BslA (Bacterial Surface Layer A), could also enable food scientists to create products with few saturated fats (and fewer calories).
The protein is found naturally in and on colonies of the friendly bacteria Bacillus subtilis. It serves as a raincoat-like film, protecting the bacteria from the elements. BslA is present in foods that naturally contain the bacteria, including a fermented soybean product called natto, which is eaten for breakfast in Japan.
Researchers in Scotland, at the University of Edinburgh and Dundee University, have shown that the bacterial biofilm could also be used to protect and bind the three elements that form ice cream -- air, fat and ice.
"We're excited by the potential this new ingredient has for improving ice cream, both for consumers and for manufacturers," Cait MacPhee, a material scientist at Edinburgh, said in a press release.
Just as the protein protects the bacterial colonies, it binds to the fat droplets and ice bubbles in ice cream, keeping the mixture more stable and less vulnerable to heat.
"It has been fun working on the applied use of a protein that was initially identified due to its practical purpose in bacteria," said Nicola Stanley-Wall, a researcher at the University of Dundee.
Scientists say the technology could be in the freezer aisles of local grocers in three to five years. Until then, grab extra napkins.