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Slower-melting ice cream? Scientists may have it licked

Scientists work to conquer the problem of gooey ice cream dripping on your hands, with a protein that makes it more melt-resistant.

Eating an ice cream cone is often a matter of timing. You need to snarf it down fast enough to avoid the sticky mess of melting frozen dairy product encroaching on your fingers, but slowly enough to stave off the painful brain-freeze phenomenon. If only science could help us out. Oh wait, it can.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are looking into using a naturally occurring protein called BsIA to slow down the melting process in ice cream.

"The protein works by adhering to fat droplets and air bubbles, making them more stable in a mixture," notes a news release from the university. When used in the frozen dessert, it creates a smooth texture and prevents ice crystals from forming. It may also let manufacturers create products that are lower in fat and calories than regular ice cream, but still have a desirable creamy consistency.

© The Food Passionates/Corbis

Though the concept of using BsIA in ice cream is new, the protein was described in a scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal back in 2013. It had the snappy title "BslA is a self-assembling bacterial hydrophobin that coats the Bacillus subtilis biofilm," but "slower-melting ice cream" is a much catchier phrase for the general public to get excited about.

Researchers estimate the new ice cream could be on the market within three to five years, which could mean less mess. There would be no rush to prevent melted ice cream puddles from invading your cake. Kids' hands will stay cleaner.

But it's not just ice cream eaters who could benefit. Manufacturers and retailers wouldn't have to fret so much about deep-freezing the product during transportation and storage.

Scientists and inventors have been busy dreaming up creative ice cream makeovers in recent years. In 2014, a physicist unveiled a color-changing ice cream that shifts hues when licked. The Zoku ice cream bowl is a gadget you keep in your freezer to make ice cream on demand. Put it all together and someday we may be able to make our own instant, melt-proof, disco-color-changing ice cream. Sweet.

(Via ScienceAlert)