Stabilising Experiments

A while ago, when the mandarin trees were at the end of the fruiting season, I harvested whatever I could from our trees here in Athens. They were juiced, some made into a sorbet and the rest frozen. Now that I am (still) cleaning out the freezer, I’ve come across the last of my containers of mandarin juice. Now that it is hot and perfect sorbetto time again, it seemed natural to make more, slightly modifying the recipe that I posted on earlier in my post Falling Mandarins. I also thought that this was the perfect time to experiment with different stabilisers used in producing this frozen dessert. I have three stabilisers on my pantry shelf, but I seem to use only one regularly – xanthan gum. The other two are guar gum and locust bean gum.

I made one batch with the usual xanthan gum, a light, off-white odourless powder. Second batch began with guar gum. This stabiliser is darker and denser than xanthan gum, so less volume is required to achieve the standard 5g amount in a sorbet recipe. It also has a distinct – rather musty – odour and produces a rather weak grey gel when added to warm water. It seemed rather unsatisfactory (particularly due to its odour), so before adding the mandarin juice, I abandoned this stabiliser and moved on to the next. The locust bean gum (refined from the carob bean) was the stabiliser recommended by my instructor in Lucca during my gelato/sorbetto lesson last year. It, too, was slightly more dense than xanthan gum, a bit darker beige and also had a very mild odour. I knew from Nick Palumbo’s notes in his book, Gelato Messina, that locust bean gum needs to be heated to boiling temperature to begin to gel. Both the xanthan gum and locust bean gum were used to make identical mandarin sorbetto and tested for both taste and texture. The mixing procedures and the result of the experiment are listed below with the modified recipe.

Mandarin Sorbetto – version 2
This modified mandarin sorbetto simply increases the amount of citrus juice and proportionately decreases the amount of water. The result is a more flavourful sorbetto.

  • 210g Water
  • 175g castor sugar (Sucrose)
  • 55g Dextrose
  • 55g Maltodextrin
  • 5g Stabaliser (see notes below on xanthan gum and locust bean gum)
  • 500g Mandarin juice
  • Juice from 1 small lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

Measure out your mandarin juice and add the lemon juice. Mix and keep in the refrigerator while you mix up the gel. Weigh and mix your sugars (sucrose, dextrose and maltodextrin) and stabiliser so that everything is well blended. In a separate bowl, measure your water and heat for about 30 seconds to 1 minute in the microwave.

When the water is warm, remove and whisk the sugar mixture in, making sure no gel lumps form.

Note on blending the stabilisers:
Xanthan gum will gel immediately in warm water. The locust bean gum, once the sugars and stabiliser were mixed with the warm water, needs to be returned to the microwave for about 4 to 5 minutes – stopping at each minute and whisking the mixture until a gel has formed. Or, the procedure could be achieved using a double boiler on the stove top.

Let the gel cool down and then add it to the mandarin juice. Whisk, cover and cool it in the refrigerator until quite cold. Just before putting it in your ice cream machine for churning, blend it again with a wand blender to make sure that the gel and the juices are completely mixed. Pour into your ice cream machine and churn according to the instructions.

Put the iced sorbetto in a container to freeze. Keep it in the freezer overnight before using. To scoop, take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for about half an hour before serving.

* * *

Xanthan gum
Prior to churning, the sorbetto mixture with xanthan gum was quite gelatinous. It took about 50 minutes to churn, and was a light orange colour with a lot of volume. The main benefit is its ease of use and the ingredient’s easy accessibility as it is commonly used as a gluten substitute in bread and pasta msking using gluten- free flours. The drawback is a slightly gummy – although not unpleasant – texture to the finished sorbetto.

Locust bean gum
The gelling process with this stabiliser takes a bit more work. The pre-churning mixture had less viscosity than that created using xanthan gum. It also took longer in the ice cream machine, resulting in a denser volume (less retention of air pockets created in the churning process) and had a darker orange colour. It is a specialist ingredient and not as accessible as xanthan gum. Like the one made with xanthan gum, this sorbetto also had a creamy texture, but had no descerable gummy texture. It had a more intense mandarin flavour, but tended to melt more quickly.

Conclusions: Both stabilisers tested have benefits and drawbacks. Both produced delicious creamy sorbet, although slightly different. In the end it comes down to availability of the ingredients and personal choice. My choice would be xanthan gum for ease of use, accessibility of the ingredient and the longer retention of its iced state once scooped.

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6 comments

  1. Interesting experiment. I can verify the gumminess of xanthan gum. I was in Modena and went to taste the gelato at Bloom’s, which Gambero Rosso rated top in Italy; the same review in which Cremeria Opera, where you had your class, came third. The flavours were scrumptious, but the texture was gummy. Not pleasant to me. I asked Mirko (Cremeria Opera) why. He said it’s because they use xanthan gum instead of the locust bean gum he uses. Although he does occasionally for certain flavours mix the stabilisers. I’m not yet enough of an aficionado to remember why or when. However, I’ve launched the 3-day and 5-day gelato courses, and I hope after taking them several times as translator, I’ll know all. Anyway, not much point in my making gelato when I can just stop by Cremeria Opera for theirs. Keep up the good work! Erica

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    • I agree, Erica. The xanthan gum does produce a gummy sorbet, but it is still palatable. For texture and a more intense flavour, Mirko is correct. The main benefit to xanthan gum is its availability in shops – usually found with baking supplies since it is used in gluten-free flours to produce breads. I had to mail order my specialist locust bean powder. I wish I had Cremeria Opera close by! Lucky you. Good luck with the gelato courses – they are definitely worth it for those of us who are interested in making our own.

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  2. I haven’t used any gum other than xantham so this is very interesting. I understand what you mean about the gumminess of the sorbet, but interestingly when you buy Gelato Messina’s sorbet’s in store it translates as creaminess. It may be the difference of a gram or two or maybe it domestic V super sophisticated commercial churns, nevertheless, in my opinion, using gums and simple sugars produces a much better textured sorbet. It’s citrus season, mandarin sorbet, here we come

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    • I think the xantham gum is convenient to use since it is readily available in the shops (given all those gluten free bread makers out there!). I think that I may try a mixture of both stabalisers since I find the texture from the locust bean gum to be better, but the quick gelling properties of the xantham gum to be better. Perhaps if I use the two together, it might work! That’s the fun of experimenting. The combining of the different sugars are necessary, too. I’ve found dextrose in our regular market (the bazaar) and maltodextrin in body-building sports shops (!) here in Athens. Experimenting with lemon verbena sorbet as the plant is really taking off and I’ve been cutting and drying almost on a daily basis.

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