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

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

Pumpkin pie isn't complete without a dollop of whipped cream.  Danish scientists have concocted a fat-free analogue from bacteria.
Enlarge / Pumpkin pie isn’t complete without a dollop of whipped cream. Danish scientists have concocted a fat-free analogue from 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 of our favorite holiday desserts. Is this slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie really the same without a dollop of whipped cream on top? But whipped cream is also 38% saturated fat. It’s one of the reasons it’s so deliciously chewy and enjoyable to eat, but it’s not good for our health either, and dairy farming is a major source of greenhouse gases. Food scientists from the University of Copenhagen therefore decided to explore possible sustainable low-fat alternatives. They managed to create a fat-free bacteria-based prototype, according to a recent paper published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids. One day, according to the authors, the whipped topping in our holiday desserts could be made from beer brewing residue or from 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 good bacteria found in nature. It’s never been seen before. It’s beneficial, both because it’s a renewable resource grown in a tank, and because it creates a healthier, less energy-dense, 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 beating air into a liquid formula that contains, among other ingredients, some kind of surfactant (surfactant) – a collection of complex molecules that bind together to stiffen the resulting foam into a substantial foam. The surfactant – usually fats or proteins in edible foams, or chemical additives in shaving cream or styling foam – prevents the surface tension from collapsing the bubbles by strengthening the thin walls of the liquid film that separate them. Cream, with its high fat content, serves as a surfactant in whipped cream.

In 1948, a clothing salesman turned entrepreneur named Aaron (“Bunny”) Rabbit figured out how to deliver whipped cream from 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 propelled out of the can by the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and the gas expands rapidly to create a foam. In non-dairy varieties of Reddi-Wip, the cream is replaced with vegetable oil, which has an even higher fat content, along with a range of synthetic additives (polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearates, stearoyl -2 sodium, lactylate, xanthan gum, and lecithin).

Soft (left) and rigid (right) foam made from hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria.
Enlarge / Soft (left) and rigid (right) foam made from hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria.

Xiaoyi Jiang et al., 2022

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 saturated fat content helps whip the cream stiff. So how can we create an alternative where we avoid the high fat content, while still getting the right consistency? That’s where we have to think innovatively.”

Risbo and his colleagues used only four ingredients in their experiments: water, edible lactic acid bacteria, a little 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 cold cuts – and they are abundant in nature, found in plants and in human/animal mucous membranes and digestive tracts. They also turn out to be ideal building blocks for food and are about the same size as fat globules in heavy whipping cream.

The Danish team created both soft and stiffer versions of their prototype whipped cream using two different strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus delbrueckii under. of milk (LB) and Lactobacillus curatus (MLC). The LBC strain is more hydrophobic, producing a stiffer cream and retaining liquid better than the concoction 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.
Enlarge / 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 aimed at demonstrating proof of concept, and the resulting foams were evaluated primarily for texture and desirable frothy characteristics, not taste. So we probably won’t see canisters of “Lacti-Wip” on store shelves anytime soon. But the experiments provided valuable insight into how best to create a non-dairy whipped cream alternative with a similar food structure.

“We showed that bacteria can be used to create the right structure,” Risbo said. “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 brewer’s yeast residue, or maybe small blocks of construction that we extract from plants. make the product very durable.”

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

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