How To

Stabilizers in Ice Cream

Most commercial ice creams contain things like guar gum, locust bean gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80, monoglycerides, and diglycerides. What are these scary-sounding things, and why are they in our ice cream?

In the ice cream business, these are all known as “stabilizers”, and they mainly help with two things: reducing iciness, and extending shelf life.  The first time I made strawberry ice cream it came out really icy and cold because of all the extra water in the fruit.  I tried it again with a packet of powdered gelatin and it made a huge improvement.  That’s when I realized that there might be something to this stabilizer business, even in homemade ice cream.  As for the part about extending shelf life, that’s especially true when you take a pint of ice cream out of the freezer and put it back after a few minutes.  Each time it warms up a little and then re-freezes, it re-freezes at a much slower rate than when you churned it in your ice cream machine.  When you freeze it quickly, you get smaller ice crystals that taste smooth.  But when it re-freezes slowly, you get larger crystals. Your home freezer probably cycles on and off and doesn’t keep the ice cream at a perfectly stable temperature, either.  Stabilizers help with that, as well as providing a smooth texture and slowing down the melting process of ice cream.

But what are they?

Many of these stabilizers are also known as “emulsifiers”, which are used to bring together things like oil and water that don’t normally want to mix.  One of the most common emulsifiers is egg yolk, which makes things like mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauce possible.  In the case of ice cream, it’s the water (in the milk) and the fat (in the cream) that don’t want to mix together.  Most commercial ice cream mixes seem to use stabilizers instead of egg yolks — I’m not sure if that’s because of the cost, the fat content of the eggs, the risk of salmonella, or just because it’s a lot easier to deal with a scoop of guar gum powder than having to crack open all those eggs.

But what are they actually?

Ok, let’s look at each one of the scary ingredients:

  • Guar gum comes from guar beans, which are mainly grown in India. The beans are processed into a white powder and used as an emulsifier and as a thickener that’s eight times as powerful as cornstarch.
  • Locust bean gum comes from the seeds of the Carob tree, which anyone unfortunate enough to be allergic to chocolate will be familiar with, because carob is often used as a chocolate substitute (ehh, sort of, anyway).  It also has a nicer-sounding name: carob bean gum. The white powder is used as a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, and gelling agent. It’s also fairly expensive, as ice cream stabilizers go.
  • Carrageenan comes from seaweed (yep, that’s right) and is another type of thickener and stabilizer. It also helps keep milk from separating into water and solids.
  • Xanthan gum comes from glucose or sucrose that’s been fermented with a bacteria, and is then processed into a white powder and used as a thickener and stabilizer. It’s another relatively expensive stabilizer that’s not as widely used in ice cream.
  • Polysorbate 80 is derived from sorbitol, which comes from glucose, or corn sugar. It’s an emulsifier used in ice cream to provide a smooth texture and to help prevent melting.
  • Mono- and diglycerides come from vegetable fats such as soy bean, canola, and palm oils, and are another type of emulsifier.
  • Gelatin, which is found in homemade ice cream recipes more often than the ingredients above, comes from animal collagen.  I think that’s enough said on that topic.  ;-)  Moving on…

I’d been told that guar gum and xanthan gum were fairly common at health food stores, so I went to see what I could find.  I came away with a six-ounce packet of xanthan gum powder for $12, and ordered an eight-ounce packet of guar gum powder for $5.  Either one would probably last quite a while.

Time for some tests with xanthan gum.

After searching around the net a bit, I found a few articles saying a little bit of xanthan gum goes a long way.  I tried three small batches of vanilla ice cream, with 1/8 teaspoon, 2/8 teaspoon, and 3/8 teaspoon of xanthan gum powder added to one cup of ice cream mix.  The results were interesting.

First , all three ice creams were smooth, with no trace of gel blobs like I got the first time I tried gelatin (I later learned you can first add gelatin to cold water, and then heat it to dissolve it completely).  I’d read that the xanthan gum powder should be added to the ice cream mix in a blender to keep it from clumping, and that seemed to work really well.

When I made the batch with 1/8 teaspoon, I didn’t really see much difference in the thickness of the mix before churning it.  After churning it, there was a small but noticeable difference in taste compared to my normal ice cream with no stabilizers at all.  It tasted slightly less “cold”, and a little bit creamier.  It was subtle though.

When I made the batch with 2/8 teaspoon, I could see a visible difference in the thickness of the mix.  There was also a much more noticeable difference in the taste of the frozen ice cream.  It was starting to taste too creamy, like something wasn’t quite right.  It was starting to lose that fresh, homemade taste, but was much closer to what I’ve tasted at places like Marble Slab Creamery.

When I made the batch with 3/8 teaspoon, the mix was so thick it almost looked like pudding even before I churned it.  It was very sticky coming out of the machine, and the taste was almost chewy.  Interesting, but I didn’t want more than a spoonful.

Final thoughts.

I could happily eat the batch with 1/8 teaspoon per cup, although it’s hard to say if I actually prefer it to the version without stabilizers.  The batch with 2/8 teaspoon per cup would be ok too, especially if you like commercial ice creams that use a lot of stabilizers and taste fairly soft and sticky.  But the batch with 3/8 teaspoon per cup was clearly too much.  I’ll probably stay with one teaspoon or less in a full quart of ice cream.

The sweet cream base I use has a very high butterfat content, plus it has eggs, so adding stabilizers didn’t make a big difference — it was already smooth and creamy.  Next time I’ll try it in something more icy, like ice cream with a lot of fruit in it, or maybe even a sorbet, which is basically just fruit juice.  I think it could be especially interesting in Philadelphia style ice creams, which don’t contain eggs.  I also want to try experimenting with lowering the butterfat content of the base mix, and then compensating with stabilizers.  I think I finally understand now why commercial gelato doesn’t taste icy even though it has such a low butterfat content.

Watch this space for followup posts on the subject.  Clearly, more experimentation is needed.  :-)

If you’ve tried stabilizers in ice cream, feel free to post your comments below and let me know what you found.

See also: Stabilizers in Ice Cream Part 2: Strawberry Ice Cream


31 comments for “Stabilizers in Ice Cream”

  1. Wayne wrote:

    Gelatin makes delicious grape sorbet when you follow the instructions for heating 3/4 of the mix. The ice crystals are just the right size and it scoops easily after setting up.

    September 15, 2009, 9:53 am
  2. Kelvin wrote:

    Great article and website! Lots of good info :) Please do keep posting.

    I tried a combination of Guar gum and Xanthan, roughly 1/8 teaspoon each for a recipe that would yield 1 liter. It turns out okay even if I took out the eggs. It’s less rich/dense compared to my original recipe which uses 6 egg yolks. In my opinion the guar/xanthan recipe sans eggs is better since most people don’t want to have that heavy feeling after eating a few scoops of the very rich ice cream.

    I’d like to know if you can experiment with heavy cream substitutes :)

    December 9, 2009, 10:06 am
  3. nilesh wrote:

    i want to know about veg. origin stabilizer.
    would u like to help me know about that.
    how many veg. stabilizer are discovered?
    and guvar gum stabilizer how it works in ice cream?
    tell and give some details about all…….

    November 1, 2010, 2:42 am
  4. Jennifer wrote:

    After tiring of homemade ice cream that didn’t have the consistency of store bought, I tried adding a couple pinches of cream of tartar. Worked like a charm.

    November 24, 2010, 1:17 pm
  5. Anna wrote:

    How much Xanthan would you recommend in an eggless base mix? My base mix consists of milk, sugar, cream and cornflour; would I still use the cournflour with the Xanthan? Thanks

    January 16, 2011, 11:31 am
  6. amy wrote:

    i makes icecream with milk,cream,milk powder,sugar,GMS, CMC , cornflour and liquid gloocose in an icecream maker … but it has a little prob with ice crystals .. what can i do for eradicating the ice crystals from my icecream recipe … awaiting reply ..

    May 13, 2011, 6:02 am
  7. Rick Shultz wrote:

    My family has been in the ice cream business for nearly 100 years. I’m writing a book about it now. Most of our recipes are ‘custard’ based. We served over 100,000 ‘frozen desserts’ to Korean War troops, using mostly government surplus materials.

    We use a very small amount of cornstarch 1 tsp per quart in our recipes. The real issue is ‘shelf-life.’ Premium ice creams are meant to be created and consumed … not stored indefinitely in a freezer. I’ve never made or served a scoop made with anything ‘artificial,’ with one exception: I have a diabetic son. That’s a problem … custards made only with Splenda don’t thicken properly … substituting with gelatin powder changes the taste (and texture,) … blasphemy to a 4-generation family business!

    We found an accommodation … replacing 80% of natural sugar, and introducing a very small amount of gelatin works very well! We also learned that we can use small amounts of dry milk powder to replace about 20% of the whole cream … without affecting taste. In the end, we create an approx. 16% butter-fat, low sugar treat that diabetics can tolerate, and all can enjoy! But there will never be anything that includes the word ‘gum’ in our product.

    My grand-father did not invent the ice-cream ‘cup’ … but he improved on it, and received 2 patents for his work. The design one commonly sees is a take-off on ‘torsion-box’ design … an enabler in warm weather.

    I’m committed to advancing the art and science of frozen treats … thanks for your web-site. (Mine won’t be launched, until the ‘book circuit’ begins.)


    June 25, 2011, 1:27 am
  8. Colleen wrote:

    Please let me know when your book is published. Will buy!

    July 14, 2011, 7:48 pm
  9. Marcello wrote:

    Very informative post thanks! Getting that smoothness is something that’s quite hard to achieve i feel especially with dark chocolate ice-creams…think I’ll try gelatin…but glucose, and dextrose and the types of sugar can also make a big difference…

    July 31, 2011, 6:50 pm
  10. Ploi wrote:

    I am making a coconut ice cream, most of the ingredient base are coconut milk+ some heavy cream. But I had a problem of it being so icy and super hard!!! I try to sell it to the restaurant, but now I can’t. Do you know what is my “coconut ice cream “problem? Thanks,

    December 11, 2011, 8:22 am
  11. tom perry wrote:

    is it possible, to purchase in one order all of the ingredient’s that premium ice cream makers use and still make it at home.thanks

    July 14, 2012, 3:48 pm
  12. Todd S. wrote:

    What do you estimate the shelf life of ice cream that is made with liquid sugar, guar gum and carrageenan to ice cream?? All natural ice cream probably has shorter shelf life than normal commercially made ice cream?


    September 4, 2012, 5:42 pm
  13. ryan wrote:

    very informative, thanks to all. I’m trying to develop a decent rich low carb ice cream similar to haagan daas! I’ll let you know how i get on.

    September 25, 2012, 11:11 pm
  14. Tim wrote:

    do you know or have a real ice cream recipe using all the exact ingredients that say a ice cream manafacture would use, its driving me nuts im a diabetic to and are sick to death if rock hardice cream???? even using xanthan gum or gelatin ??????

    September 27, 2012, 11:24 pm
  15. Steph wrote:

    Fun read. I myself am in the midst of researching gelato… UGH!!!!

    Of the 6 gelaterias I have contacted, 5 out of 6 use the PreGel America bag of ingredients. One uses something similar.

    They ALL CLAIM TO USE NATURAL INGREDIENTS. Hmmmm last time I checked, mono/diglycerides were not natural!!!!! And yes many claim “no HFCS”. But then why all the dextrose??

    Once again, I return to a TRUSTED, DELICIOUS STANDBY OF Breyers Vanilla Bean, Coffee and Strawberry.

    As far as I am concerned, it’s all about $$. If you do Indeed locate a TRUE gelateria, without preservatives, please let us know!!!

    October 26, 2012, 9:30 am
  16. gretaG wrote:

    I make a very soft creamy ice cream in my food processor. I cut frozen mango puree in small pieces put them into the food processor with a generous amount of powdered skim milk and process to the desired consistency. The powdered milk and frozen mangoes do not need any sugar. I use a brand of milk from Ireland, but I imagine a local brand will work just as well. This is great to eat immediately, but when put into the freezer the consistency gets too hard. I plan to experiment with a very small amount of Xanthan gum and use a regular ice cream freezer.

    May 9, 2013, 10:33 pm
  17. Elena wrote:

    I make ice cream with 500ml milk (I use partially skimmed, I guess full fat is even better), 90g golden sugar, 2tsp powdered milk, 1.5tsp dextrose (which is glucose in powder form) and 1 heaped tsp of carob bean powder. I love pistachio, so I add 80/90g pistachio paste or ground pistachio. I heat the milk in a saucepan, add the sugar, dextrose, carob bean powder, powdered milk and whizz everything. Then I add the pistachio paste (it could be strawberries or 100g dark chocolate) and whizz again. The carob bean powder thickens after a few minutes in boiling milk. The result is like a thick custard, which I chill before placing in the ice cream churner.
    The original recipe is by an Italian ice cream maker. This is my version for home freezers, which have lower temperatures than those of ice cream parlours.

    June 10, 2013, 8:00 am
  18. Dick Sanders wrote:

    I see that people are concerned about creaminess and fat content. But the real concern should be sugar, since that’s the main culprit in all of the degenerative diseases. For this reason, I developed a very low sugar vanilla recipe that’s quite rich and creamy. I offer it here for those who might be interested in a healthy ice cream that’s rich, creamy and delicious.

    I use the Cuisinart Ice 21 Ice Cream and Sorbet maker, which uses a freezer bowl, available at Amazon and also Williams Sonoma (the latter providing two bowls).
    Start with 1 3/4 cup whole milk in a sauce pan and add 2 tablespoons and one teaspoon of sugar, plus about 1/8 teaspoon of Kal Pure Stevia Powder (must be this brand or it won’t work), and 1/2 teaspoon of gourmet sea salt (do not use table or Kosher salt). Heat this mixture until bubbles form around the edges, being careful not to boil. Turn off heat and transfer 1/2 cup to measuring cup and let all milk cool 10 minutes.

    Next, beat 3 extra large egg yolks (no whites) in stainless mixing bowl, and then slowly introduce the warm 1/2 cup milk while whisking. Next, add this egg/milk mix to the sauce pan of milk, while stirring. Turn on low heat and stir constantly until it thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon (do not overheat or over thicken). This is your custard mix.
    Put this mix into a stainless mixing bowl, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate from one to several hours (whatever is convenient for your schedule).

    Next, pour 1 3/4 cup cold regular whipping cream into second stainless mixing bowl, add 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Next, strain cold milk/custard mix into this whipping cream mix, pushing it through with a rubber spatula. Whisk thoroughly, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate in coldest spot in refrigerator for 3 hours or more.

    Next, make sure your freezer bowl from your Cuisinart 21 machine has been frozen for at least 24 hours in a very cold freezer. Turn on Cuisinart machine, pour in ice cream mixture, and churn for 18 to 20 minutes. If it takes longer, your bowl and or mix is not cold enough. When the ice cream is no longer moving around inside the machine, it’s done.

    This makes a delicious rich and creamy completely natural ice cream that’s also healthy because it has very little sugar in it. Again, it’s the sugar that you should be concerned about, not the fat. The Kal Pure Stevia powder is not only the best tasting stevia, but it’s the most potent, so it replaces a lot of sugar and does not hinder the flavor (no stevia bitterness). And of course it’s a natural healthy product.

    Now, because this machine makes a fairly small batch you can serve 2 to 4 people and eat the whole thing. If you save leftovers, it will turn into a delicious ice-milk product the next day. I actually like that, but if you insist on always having rich creamy ice cream, just eat the whole batch. And you can always make a slightly smaller batch, too. Or… if you need more, Williams Sonoma has a special on this machine with two bowls, so you can make two batches or two flavors, or make another batch before waiting a whole day for the freezer bowl to freeze again.

    Clean up is really easy with this machine, but wash out bowl with lukewarm water. Do not use hot water on freezer bowl, and never put in dishwasher, as you’ll weaken its gel freezing agent. Also, use a hard silicone spoon or spatula for digging the ice cream out of the bowl, never a metal tool will scratch and ruin the surface.

    Try this recipe; you’ll be surprised how well it works, and just how delicious the ice cream is! If your mix is really cold and your freezer bowl well frozen, you’ll get a thick, firm, soft-serve ice cream. If it’s too soft, or even soupy, then your bowl and mix aren’t cold enough. Turn the dials up on both refrigerator and freezer.

    Finally, if you like a sweeter ice cream, follow the same instructions, but use 3 tablespoons of sugar. Since most recipes this size call for 3/4 cup sugar, you’ll still be saving 9 tablespoons of sugar, which will save on calories and even more important, save your health. Good luck and enjoy!

    June 11, 2013, 5:14 pm
  19. Dawaija wrote:

    Tom Perry,

    Did you ever get your answer? If so, I’d love to see it.

    Great name, by the way. Have you googled your own name?

    August 18, 2013, 6:29 pm
  20. Jason wrote:

    Hi Russell, thank you for this amazing blog, very informative. I have seen quite a few gelato recipes that use 2 to 3 types of stabilizer. Why the fuss? Are they all doing the same thing of emulsifying everything together?

    September 13, 2013, 2:23 am
  21. apeksha.goswami wrote:

    Dear sir/ Madam.

    Gud wishes. We are from ATB Group, Jodhpur (Raj.) we are one of the best suppliers in Guar gum powder in all over India. Also we are supplier and exporter of Xanthan Gum Powder, Henna Powder, Xanthan Gum Food, Carboxyl Methyl Cellulose, Sodium Carboxyl Methyl Cellulose & Guar Gum Powder, etc.

    We are dealing in both Food & Industrial grades in Guar gum, Xanthan gum & SCMC etc.

    In case of any enquiry & requirements pls contact on given number which is mentioned below.

    Mobile no-1. Mr. Samitha goswamy (Sales Director) (9660049081.)

    Thanks & Best Regards.

    (Sales Executive)
    All that Glitters ‘is’ Gold!
    T: – +91 291 3980112, 111,114.

    October 3, 2013, 4:59 am
  22. Anie wrote:

    I prefer Jeni’s recipe for ice cream as I try not to use egg in ice cream. But it so hard aft take out from freezer and it melt quickly. I want to know when in the process of ice cream making should I put the xantham gum? During, after the ice cream mix?

    October 23, 2013, 4:43 pm
  23. Alan wrote:

    Stabilizers are not required in real ice cream and in my opinion no commercial ice cream should be labeled as “premium” if it has carrageenan or any of the gums in it. Not surprisingly they make the ice cream “gummy” your mouth feel dry and cottony.

    It was a sad day when Breyer’s was sold and they started putting gum in it. It completely ruined the taste and texture. It is now pretty much indistinguishable from most store brands.

    I am still shocked at how many so call premium brands use these unnecessary short cuts. Haagen Dazs seems to somehow make one of the best ice creams in the world without these fillers and stabilizers. Unfortunately they are the last hold out. I hope they never change!

    October 29, 2013, 10:18 pm
  24. Arja wrote:

    I love this sight and info… I’m trying to make a rich ready ice cream that will not melt fast… I want an egg base and I want to know how to incorporate the “stabilizers”…. I will be doing desserts at a restaraunt and need help fast…
    What is the difference with an eggless base?

    November 12, 2013, 10:54 am
  25. Gerard Pinzone wrote:

    I’m reading “Ice Cream” by Goff and Hartel and here is what they say about xanthan gum:

    “While it is common in products like salad dressings where its pseudoplasticity characteristics are highly desirable, it is not used frequently in ice cream.”

    I might be tempted to buy Cremodan 30, which is a combination of gum based stabilizers. However, I’d prefer to use an unflavored gelatin instead. Does anyone know how much to use or any other tips?

    January 4, 2014, 9:51 pm
  26. Cristy wrote:

    Thanks so much for this very informative post. Can’t wait to try adding the carob gum. But I think I will try with the gelatin first.

    January 11, 2014, 4:23 pm
  27. Star Gum wrote:

    Guar Gum, xanthan gum and another alternative are known as stabilizer for the ice cream. These are reducing iciness and extending self life. Xanthan gum and guar gum are mixing with different another chemical in the ice-cream. This blog provides literally more information about Guar Gum, xanthan gum and carrageenan etc.

    May 26, 2014, 5:32 am
  28. Dave wrote:

    My Own Gelato Recipe with Guar and Xanthan – no eggs!

    375ml full cream milk
    40ml thickened cream
    40ml full cream milk powder
    60gms caster sugar
    10ml mild honey (you don’t want too much honey taste)
    1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract or vanilla bean
    1/4 teaspoon guar gum powder
    1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum powder

    Scale up as required for larger batches.

    Just mix all together apart from honey, guar and xanthan, if you are using a vanilla bean scrape the seeds into the mix. If you want to use the flavour in the pods as well chuck those in and fish them out before the mix goes to the ice cream maker.
    Very gently heat in microwave until just warm add honey and stir mix until sugar and honey dissolved. Now put into blender, now you want to keep the blending as short as possible so get your guar and xanthan ready. Start blender and slowly sprinkle guar into blend mix and then slowly sprinkle xanthan in then let it blend for about 30 seconds more at high speed. Allow to cool and then put in deepfreeze for about 45 minutes. Then add to ice cream maker – voila beautifully textured and tasty gelato!!

    You can tweak the recipe from here to your own personal likes. Please don’t ask me for conversions to cups or whatever – this is a precise recipe! Just Google or Bing for the conversions.

    August 16, 2014, 8:17 pm
  29. Jäätisest. Ausalt. | Sepa mahetalu wrote:

    […] Mõtlesin siis, et äkki ma lihtsalt ei oska seda kasutada ja guugeldasin natuke. Jõudsin mõne üsna informatiivse leheni. Näiteks see ja see ja see […]

    October 24, 2014, 2:37 pm
  30. Surbhi wrote:

    Hey! I know it’s a bit off track but can Guar gum be used in chocolates too ?

    January 12, 2015, 7:50 am
  31. Tina wrote:

    Hi Russell,

    I can’t believe I stumbled upon your blog. I love it!

    Regarding stabilizers have you ever tried tapioca starch. I’ve seen it as an ingredient on some artisanal brands.

    January 13, 2015, 1:46 pm

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