What does a stabilizer do for a sorbet?

Most of you have probably figured this is out already. Primarily, stabilizers interfere with ice crystal formation, helping to keep the crystals small and — hopefully — undetectable to the tongue. The upshot is the sorbet has a smoother texture. However stabilizers also offer another benefit. You’ll recall from an earlier post that stabilizers reduce the flow of the mixtures they’re added to, making them thicker than they would otherwise be. This added thickness helps improve the overall experience of eating an ice cream or a sorbet by slowing down the rate at which the mixtures run as they melt. The upshot is that the eater can spend more time licking the semi-solid sorbet off the sides of the scoop, and less time hunting for napkins to sop up the liquid cream or syrup that’s running down over his (her?) knuckles.

Which goes to highlight another very important fact about food additives. The standard narrative about them holds that food makers are big, greedy corporations looking to cut costs wherever they can (presumably so their executives can afford to buy more luxury yacht fuel). They’re too cheap to use “real” ingredients, so they stuff their products with cost-saving artificial substances. The fact is that in many (probably most) instances, food makers put in additives not in an attempt to substitute them for natural ingredients, but to make our experience of certain ingredients better.

Now, those sorts of attempts can be misguided to be sure. Putting additives in foods is by no means always the right thing to do. My point, however, is that the inclusion of additives usually represents an attempt to create a positive experience for a consumer, rather than to rip that consumer off. It’s a radical notion in the age of Michael Pollan, I know. Speaking of whom…

2 thoughts on “What does a stabilizer do for a sorbet?”

  1. And aren’t many food additive naturally derived from other foods? Like annato(sp?) and glutamates?

    1. Indeed so, Tonia. One person’s ingredient is another’s “additive.” There’s no real distinction between the two, and all too often the latter simply makes a convenient slur. We bakers and pastry makers are constantly making “natural” reductions, distillates, emulsions and such, then combining them with other things. If we do it at home, it’s creative. If a commercial food maker does it in a production facility it’s unwholesome. But, people are full of odd contradictions, it’s part of what makes us human. I don’t get it, but I’ll live with it! 😉

      Thanks Tonia!

      – Joe

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