Fat is what makes ice cream taste rich and creamy. It’s called ice cream, after all, not ice skim milk. So how have some manufacturers managed to make reduced fat ice cream that does a decent job of matching the real stuff? The answer, it turns out, is in fish blood.
The ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the Arctic Ocean, has a special protein in its blood that keeps it from freezing in sub-zero waters*. This natural antifreeze also happens to be perfect for preventing jagged, unappealing ice crystals from forming in low-fat frozen desserts. Rather than relying on the expensive, unsustainable process of extracting the protein from the fish on an industrial scale, Dutch food giant Unilever turned to a more vegetarian-friendly solution. Scientists at the corporation genetically manipulated brewer’s yeast to manufacture the antifreeze protein during fermentation.
Though it caused a stir in 2006 when it was introduced, tasters showed clear preference for low-fat ice cream enriched with the antifreeze protein over standard low-fat treats. Not to mention the fact that the pout’s protein makes it easier to ship ice cream in environments where it may thaw and refreeze many times. Next time you scoop up some reduced fat ice cream, remember that its fake fatty taste is thanks to transgenic fungi and a deep-sea fish.
*The story of the pout’s exceptional blood doesn’t stop at ice cream. Remember the GM salmon that grows twice as fast as normal fish? The pout’s cold-resistant genes allow the salmon to grow during the cold season, when wild-type salmon conserve their energy.