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

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

Increase / A pumpkin pie isn’t complete without a dollop of whipped cream. Danish scientists have invented a fat-free analogue of bacteria.

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The human love affair with whipped cream dates back to at least the 16th century, and it’s a staple of all our favorite holiday desserts. Is that piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie the same without a dollop of whipped cream on top? But whipped cream also contains 38 percent saturated fat. This is one of the reasons why it is so wonderfully fluffy and pleasant to eat, but it is not good for our health either, and dairy farming is a major source of greenhouse gases. Therefore, food scientists from the University of Copenhagen decided to investigate possible sustainable low-fat alternatives. They successfully created a bacteria-based fat-free prototype, according to a recent work published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids. One day, according to the authors, the whipped topping on our holiday desserts could be made from the leftovers or herbs that are made from beer.

“We usually associate bacteria with something we keep away from food,” said co-author Jens Risbo, a food scientist at the University of Copenhagen. “But here, we’re basing a favorite food product on good bacteria found in nature. This has never been seen before. This is advantageous, both because it’s a renewable resource grown in a tank and because it creates a healthier, less energy – thick fat-free product.”

Whipped cream is a type of liquid mousse, a category that also includes hair styling mousse and shaving cream. Such foams are created by mixing air into a liquid formula that contains, among other ingredients, a type of surfactant (surfactant) – a set of complex molecules that link together to solidify the resulting foam into a substantial foam. Surfactant—usually fats or proteins in edible foams, or chemical additives in shaving cream or styling foam—keeps the surface tension from collapsing bubbles by strengthening the thin walls of the liquid film that separate them. Cream, with a high fat content, serves as a surfactant in whipped cream.

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

Soft (left) and rigid (right) foam based on hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria.
Increase / Soft (left) and rigid (right) foam based on hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria.

Xiaoyi Jiang et al., 2022

It’s not easy to come up with a tasty but healthy alternative to one of our favorite treats. “The most difficult aspect of developing alternative foods is getting the texture right,” said Drawing. “Whipped cream goes through a unique transformation that takes place in a complex system where the high content of saturated fat allows the cream to be whipped into a stiff whipped cream. So, how do we create an alternative where we avoid the high fat content while achieving the right consistency? Here we need to we think innovatively.”

Risbo and his colleagues used just four ingredients in their experiments: water, edible lactic acid bacteria, some milk protein, and a thickener. There are many species of lactic acid bacteria – the species used by the food industry as yogurt cultures and to preserve cold cuts – and they are abundant in nature, found in plants and in the mucous membranes of humans/animals and the digestive tract. They also turn out to be ideal building blocks for food and are about the same size as fat balls in heavy cream.

The Danish team made both a softer and a firmer version of their whipped cream prototype using two different types of bacteria: Lactobacillus delbrueckii subs. of milk (LBD) and Lactobacillus curlatus (LBC). The LBC strain is more hydrophobic, creating a cream that is firmer and holds liquid better than the mixture produced with LBD, which is hydrophilic.

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

Xiaoyi Jiang et al., 2022

These experiments were primarily intended to demonstrate proof of concept, and the resulting foams were evaluated primarily for texture and desirable foam characteristics—not taste. So it’s unlikely we’ll see canisters of “Lacti-Wip” on store shelves anytime soon. But the experiments provided valuable insight into how best to create a dairy-free whipped cream alternative with a similar food structure.

“We have shown that bacteria can be used to create the right structure,” said Drawing. “Now that we understand the context and have learned what surface properties are important, it opens up the possibility of using many other things from nature. It could be leftover yeast from brewing or maybe small building blocks that we extract from plants. That would make the product very sustainable.”

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

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