Ice cream is simple to make but extremely hard to perfect. If you take the base ingredients of ice cream and replace them with non dairy alternatives, the challenges compound. The fat of the cream is replaced with coconut oil or other fats. The milk is replaced with soy, oat or nut milks. As the water content increases the harder it is to achieve that smooth rich texture we desire in ice cream. Even if the ratios of fat, water, and sugar are perfect for a non-dairy ice cream it may not work. The method could turn the batch into a crystalline mess that’s more reminiscent of a snow cone than an ice cream cone. The best way to aid a non-dairy ice cream is to add a stabilizer. There are a number of stabilizers that can help everything from ice crystal formation, emulsification, and textural improvements. But it hard to know what stabilizer would work best for your non-dairy ice cream?
“What are the best stabilizers for non-dairy ice cream?”
Thankfully there are many ingredients that will help non dairy ice creams. A variety of ingredients prevent ice crystal formation which is the biggest culprit in poor ice cream texture. Other ingredients are strictly emulsifiers, and some add textural improvements. So let’s tackle them in two sets. The first being emulsifiers.
Why is an emulsifier important in an ice cream? Well first things first we are trying to recreate cream and milk. Both of which are emulsions. Both contain a homogenous mixture of water and fat. So by adding an emulsifier you are creating a bond similar to the one found in milk and/or cream. But what emulsifier is the best to use and how do they differ? An ingredient such as polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier that has no thickening power but will quickly emulsify the fats and liquids in a non-dairy ice cream. This is generally done by blending the ingredients together, whether it be in a blender prior to churning or during the churning process. An ingredient such as Mono & Diglycerides Flakes is a fat based emulsifier and should be melted into the fat in a recipe before mixing. A unique attribute of mono and diglycerides is that it is used to thicken fats. This can add to the texture of fats as well as adding emulsification properties. The emulsification coats the water droplets in a thin layer of fat the stronger the emulsion the smaller the droplets of water will be. The smaller the frozen droplets of water, the smoother the texture of the finished ice cream will be. Other ingredients can be used in place of emulsifiers but to be honest they mostly fit into the next category of thickeners.
The common thickeners in non-dairy ice creams are guar gum, xanthan gum, acacia gum, carrageenan, and locust bean gum. These ingredients are added to enhance the texture of liquid to mimic the viscosity of a rich creamy ice cream. Guar, acacia, and xanthan gum can all be added to a recipe while cold. They can be blended into a recipe without needing to heat for them to activate. These ingredients are all similar in that they are thickener but they all have slightly different thickening properties. Guar creates a smooth creamy texture. Xanthan gum has a slick, mouth coating effect but if used in too high of a ratio the ice cream can become chewy. Acacia gum is a low viscosity thickener and is best used for minor adjustments in texture and mouthfeel. Locust bean gum and carrageenan are thickeners/gelling agents. When blended into a recipe they will slightly thicken the ice cream base, but the real magic comes when they are heated. Carageenan is a gelling agent that comes in a few different forms. The two we will focus on are Kappa and Iota. Kappa carageenan forms a firm brittle gel and iota forms a soft creamy gel. Each of these can work in non-dairy ice cream or they can be combined to melt the two textures to perfect them for your recipe. Locust bean gum will gel if it is added to a recipe that contains guar gum and then is heated. This is a special synergistic effect that happens between these two ingredients. This will give the ice cream a rich, dense texture. All of these thickeners can be combined to create the perfect gelato or ice cream texture. This issue is getting the ratio correct between these ingredients can be very tough. So thankfully we have done the work for you, Our Perfect ice cream, Perfect gelato and Perfect sorbet all work with non-dairy frozen treats. Perfect ice cream allows for good “overrun” a term used for the addition of air to the ice cream for a smooth light texture. Perfect gelato creates a rich, dense texture. Perfect sorbet covers the ice crystals like a boss for the smoothed fat free frozen treats. We suggest giving these all a try and sharing your results with us. So the next time you are looking to improve your non-dairy ice cream look to this guide as a way to find the best stabilizer for the job.