Ice Cream with a Twist: Liquid Nitrogen

Move over, Ben and Jerry's: There's a new ice cream team in town with an unconventional method of making the delicious summertime treat. Liane Hansen talks with chemical engineer Will Schroeder about his liquid nitrogen ice cream booth at the Iowa State Fair.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Everyone has a favorite ice cream flavor. Coconut mango tango, toffee mint banana, guava orange crunch, bubblegum humpty dumpty, each has its fans. This past week, chemical engineer Will Schroeder's true love is good old-fashioned vanilla. It's the only flavor he and his partner are scooping at the Iowa State Fair. And according to a story in The New York Times, even plain vanilla has people lining up to try liquid nitrogen ice cream. We reached Will Schroeder at the ice cream booth this weekend and asked him what liquid nitrogen ice cream is and how they make it.

Mr. WILL SCHROEDER (Chemical Engineer): Well, liquid nitrogen ice cream actually has been around for quite a while. But how we do it is take the bench-top physics class model, where you mix nitrogen and ice cream in a bowl and stir it up with a spoon. And we made it a continuous process, did a little chemical engineering on it. And the way we did it, we realized we could make a super smooth, creamy product that was the best ice cream we had ever tasted.

HANSEN: How similar is your process to the one that's used for those very cold pellets they sell in a dish at ball parks?

Mr. SCHROEDER: I can give them a plug. You're talking about Dippin' Dots. The only similarity is that we use liquid nitrogen. What ours can do is we stop the freezing process at the perfect temperature to scoop. And so we don't take it down to, you know, negative 320 degrees. We stop it at about 12 degrees and scoop it right on site. And so we can make cups and cones and sundaes, and we don't have a problem to have it too cold.

HANSEN: Will, of all the things you could do with a PhD in chemical engineering, why'd you choose ice cream?

Mr. SCHROEDER: This was kind of one of those accidental discoveries. We did this for a spring festival project, my business partner and I. We just thought it would be fun to make a continuous liquid nitrogen ice cream. And like I said, it was the best ice cream we'd ever tasted. So all of a sudden, we were at the Iowa State Fair and forming a business and franchising. So it was kind of not planned.

HANSEN: You're only scooping vanilla at the fair.

Mr. SCHROEDER: Oh, yes. And we've always done that. A couple reasons. One is we are introducing the product to a lot of people for the first time, and the vanilla is the best flavor to taste the texture with. The other one is simplicity and speed. We get so many people that we want to make sure that they all get to try our ice cream. And so when you have one flavor--we have toppings and get to get them through and have them try it. And we always have our ice cream shops to try different flavors.

HANSEN: Is vanilla your favorite flavor?

Mr. SCHROEDER: Let me think. I like--the cappuccino actually is my favorite, but vanilla's pretty good.

HANSEN: Will Schroeder joins us from his booth at the Iowa State Fair.

Will, thanks a lot.

Mr. SCHROEDER: Oh, I appreciate it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: I'm your ice cream man. Stop me when I'm passing by. I'm your ice cream man. Stop me when I'm passing by. I'll cool you off, little girls. I'll guarantee I'll satisfy.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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