Danish scientists produce fat-free whipped cream from lactic acid bacteria

The human love affair with whipped cream dates back to at least the 16th century, and it’s a staple of all of our favorite Christmas 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% saturated fat. It’s one of the reasons it’s so deliciously chewy and a pleasure to eat, but it’s also not good for our health, and dairy farming is a major source of greenhouse gases. Food scientists from the University of Copenhagen therefore set out to explore possible sustainable low-fat alternatives. They succeeded in creating a fat-free bacteria-based prototype, according to a recent article published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids. One day, according to the authors, the whipped cream in our holiday desserts could be made from leftovers from beer fermentation or plants.

“We usually associate bacteria with something to keep 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 naturally occurring good bacteria. This has never been seen before. This is beneficial, both because it’s a renewable resource grown in a tank and because it creates a healthier, less energy-intensive environment. dense and fat-free product.”

Whipped cream is a type of liquid mousse, a category that also includes styling mousse and shaving cream. These foams are created by churning air into a liquid formula that contains, among other ingredients, a kind of surfactant (surfactant) – a collection of complex molecules that bind together to stiffen the foam resulting in a firm foam. The surfactant — usually fats or proteins in edible foams, or chemical additives in shaving cream or styling mousse — prevents surface tension from collapsing the bubbles by strengthening the thin walls of the liquid film that separates them. Cream, with its high fat content, acts as a surfactant in whipped cream.

In 1948, a clothing salesman turned entrepreneur named Aaron (“Bunny”) Rabbit figured out how to deliver whipped cream out of a box and introduced the world to Reddi-Wip. The gas is mixed with the liquid formula and packaged under pressure in the spray can. When the valve is opened, the mixture is expelled from the jar by the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and the gas rapidly expands to create a foam. In the non-dairy varieties of Reddi-Wip, the heavy cream is replaced with vegetable oil, which has an even higher fat content, along with a range of synthetic additives (polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, sodium stearoyl-2, lactylate, gum xanthan, and lecithin).

It’s not easy to find a tasty yet healthy alternative to one of our favorite treats. “The hardest part of developing an alternative food is getting the texture right,” Risbo said. “Whipped cream undergoes a unique transformation that occurs in a complex system where a high content of saturated fat helps whip the cream. So how do we create an alternative where we avoid the high fat content, but still get the right texture? This is where we need to think innovatively.”

Risbo and his colleagues used just four ingredients in their experiments: water, edible lactic acid bacteria, some milk protein, and a thickening agent. There are many types of lactic acid bacteria – those used by the food industry as a yogurt culture and to preserve cured meats – and they are abundant in nature, present in plants and mucous membranes and in the human/animal digestive system. They also prove to be ideal building blocks for food and are roughly the same size as the fat globules in heavy whipping cream.

The Danish team created both soft and stiffer versions of their whipped cream prototype using two different strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus delbrueckii under. of milk (LB) and Lactobacillus curatus (MLC). The LBC strain is more hydrophobic, produces a stiffer crema and holds liquid better than the blend made with LBD, which is hydrophilic.

Microscopic images of soft (left) and hard (right) foam.  The green/yellow areas are networks of bacteria and milk proteins.

These experiments were primarily aimed at demonstrating proof of concept, and the resulting foams were primarily evaluated for texture and desirable frothy characteristics, not taste. So we probably won’t see containers of “Lacti-Wip” on store shelves anytime soon. But the experiments provided invaluable insight into how best to create a nondairy whipped cream alternative that has a similar food structure.

“We’ve shown that bacteria can be used to create the right structure,” Risbo said. “Now that we understand the context and have learned which surface properties are important, it opens up the possibility of using many other things from nature. It could be brewer’s yeast residue, or it could be small bricks that we extract from plants. make the product very durable.”

DOI: Food Hydrocolloids, 2022. 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2022.108137 (DOI information).

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