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Future Ice Cream Might Not Melt Thanks to One of Japan's Weirdest Foods

Researchers have figured out how to use natto—the much-reviled dish of gooey fermented soybeans—to make ice cream unmeltable.
August 31, 2015, 5:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Neil Conway

It takes a hell of a lot of unmitigated gall (or a pretty serious neurological disorder) to claim you can take the world's single greatest foodstuff—ice cream—and actually make it better in some sort of tangible way. After all, the cold, creamy treat has distinct variations of some sort in pretty much all of the world's cuisines. And they're all good.

In fact, the only problem with ice cream (aside from its hefty calorie count) is that it melts quickly, causing stainage and, worse, loss during the process of consuming the frozen nectar of Gods.

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Well, friends, that problem may become a thing of the past very, very soon.

Enter natto. That's right. Arguably one of the world's most disagreeable foods is coming to the rescue of one of the world's most agreeable ones.

Natto, of course, is the traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. Often eaten for breakfast atop rice or bread in Japan, it is definitely an acquired taste thanks to its funky smell—some compare it to cheese—and slimy, stringy, downright weird texture. Eaters of the stuff can attest that its cat-food-like qualities can definitely grow on a person—after repeated gagging, that is. Admittedly, it ain't ice cream.

READ: Jellyfish Stings Might Make You Allergic to Natto

But here's the thing: Scientists have just discovered that a compound found in natto can firm up ice cream and keep it frozen for longer.

According to a recent study, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dundee—and may we say thank you to these noble sirs of scoopage—have found that a naturally occurring protein in natto can bind together the air, fat, and water in ice cream.

Perhaps in even better news for mankind, this natto protein will prevent ice cream from crystallizing and will keep it smooth. Surely we can all agree that crystallized ice cream is a scourge to humanity that needs to be eradicated immediately. And now it has! (Take a breather, CERN. There's a new leader in the world of earth-shattering scientific breakthroughs and it's totes these dudes.)

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The good news keeps coming (ice cream always strikes twice, duh): before this development, the addition of saturated fat was all we had to keep our ice cream frozen and non-crystallized. This new discovery could also mean less saturated fat—and fewer calories—in your ice cream henceforth.

The helpful protein at hand is called Biofilm surface level A (BslA), which the study shows can can help food stay frozen longer by helping to bind air and fat. This discovery could be a boon to the food manufacturing business at large in myriad ways.

Previously, researchers had found that BsIA was good at waterproofing and could keep bacteria "in perfect conditions without any liquid permeating its surface." But the ice cream discovery excited both Professor Cait MacPhee, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the project, and Dr. Nicola Stanley-Wall, of the University of Dundee. Dr. Stanley-Wall said, "It has been fun working on the applied use of a protein that was initially identified due to its practical purpose in bacteria."

Unfortunately, it will likely be three to five years before we see this new natto-enhanced ice cream on the market. But with its potential for creating a lower-fat, lower-calorie, longer-frozen, non-crystallized ice cream, we think you'll agree that it is well worth the wait.

Now to find a cryogenics chamber within walking distance and bide my time, Demolition Man-style.