Low-fat whipped cream created using beer and plant waste!

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The dieter’s dream of fat-free whipped cream has become a reality — thanks to beer and plants?

University of Copenhagen researchers have replaced milk fat with bacteria to create a prototype fat-free, sustainable whipped cream.

Currently, regular whipped cream contains 38 percent saturated fat, required to provide the airy and stiff consistencies. To create an alternative, the team successfully built on their work of using lactic acid bacteria to form tiny building blocks to create food. They managed to produce both fluffy and stiff versions of the cream.

Soft and stiff foam based on hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria.
Soft and stiff foam based on hydrophilic and hydrophobic bacteria. (Credit: From the article “Lactic acid bacteria as structural building blocks in non-fat whipping cream analogues” in Food Hydrocolloids)

How did scientists make the new whipped cream?

Lactic acid bacteria are everywhere, inhabiting human and animal mucous membranes. They’re in digestive tracts, plants, and are commonly used to create cultured yogurt and cold cuts.

Though there are a number of dairy-free whipped creams on the market, they are created using saturated sources of fat imported from the tropics, such as coconut and palm fat.

Moreover, they contain at least 25 percent fat, are complicated to produce, and are filled with E-number food additives.

“The most difficult aspect of developing an alternative food is getting the texture right,” says Associate Professor Jens Risbo from the Department of Food Science in a university release.

“Whipped cream undergoes a unique transformation that occurs in a complex system where a high saturated fat content makes it possible to whip the cream stiff,” Risbo explains.

“So, how do we create an alternative where we avoid the high fat content, while still achieving the right consistency? This is where we need to think innovatively.”

“We usually associate bacteria with something to keep away from food. But here, we base a beloved food product on good bacteria found in nature. This has never been seen before,” the researcher continues.

“This is advantageous, both because it is a renewable resource grown in a tank, and because it creates a healthier, less energy dense, fat-free product.”

“Here we only use four ingredients – water, bacteria, a bit of milk protein and a single thickener. With these few ingredients, we’ve managed to make a fat-free product that can be whipped, peaks up and retains the liquid,” Risbo says.

Microscopic images of soft (left) and stiff (right) foam.
Microscopic images of soft (left) and stiff (right) foam. The green/yellow areas are networks of bacteria and milk protein. The hydrophobic bacteria adhere to the surface of the round air bubbles (red particles) in the stiff foam, while very few of the hydrophilic bacteria are shown on the bubbles in the soft foam. (Credit: From the article “Lactic acid bacteria as structural building blocks in non-fat whipping cream analogues” in Food Hydrocolloids.)

Creating a template for dairy-free food

The fat content is so high because fat globules in cream clump up as they’re whipped to create the airy foam. The foam then stabilizes to provide the necessary strength to keep it standing up, without the liquid draining out.

Researchers used two different lactic acid bacteria for the fluffy and stiff creams, both roughly the same size as the fat globules in dairy-based whipped cream.

One bacteria has a water-like surface which forms a weaker network and produces a softer foam. The second is closer to fat, forming stronger networks and a stiffer foam capable of standing in tall peaks.

Professor Risbo notes their invention is not to create a stand-alone product yet, but provide insight into how foods can be created without dairy.

“We’ve shown that bacteria can be used to create the right structure. Now that we understand the context and have learned which surface properties are important, it opens up the possibility of using many other things from nature,” Risbo concludes.

“This could be yeast residue from brewing, or perhaps small building blocks that we extract from plants. This would make the product very sustainable.”

The findings are published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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