The Science of Sustainability

Smitten Ice Cream: Old Fashioned Ice Cream in Sixty Seconds

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Photo by Sarah Deragon, PortraitsToThePeople

I am lucky enough to live in Hayes Valley, I’ve been living here for about four years now and have been privy to great community engagement; especially around the park at Hayes and Octavia. There is such a diversity of people that congregate in the park and one of the new neighbors has definitely added to the charm of the environs – Smitten Ice Cream.

The first flavor I tried was salted caramel, and it was hands down the best ice cream I had ever tasted. Since then, when I have guests visiting, I make sure that one of the local stops is Smitten. The ice cream is made to order only using the freshest local ingredients and it is frozen within 60 seconds using liquid nitrogen with a freezing point of -321 degrees F or 76 degrees Kelvin giving it a unique texture.

I heard Robyn Sue Goldman, owner of Smitten and Cory Bloome, the engineer responsible for fine tuning Robyn’s first prototype to mix the ice cream, speak about Smitten on Wednesday, January 18th at Nerd Nite. Smitten’s story from wagon to the Hayes Valley location is a great blend of quality and innovation. Robyn’s initial vision with Smitten was to get closer to the cow. With traditional ice cream that is frozen with conventional techniques, the texture is often stabilized with additives, emulsifiers or preservatives which mask natural ingredients. Old-fashioned ice cream in contrast has a few simple ingredients but takes quite some time to freeze. Introducing liquid nitrogen enabled Robyn to create ice cream the old fashioned way without the wait time.

The first ice cream machine was created and tested by Robyn through trial and error over many years. One of the major hurdles was to create a mixing apparatus that could properly and consistently mix the ice cream, without over-freezing or under-freezing any portion of it, which is easy to do with liquid nitrogen. She developed and later patented her creation of two swirling mixing arms with a helix design. She named the unique, patented mixer "Kelvin," giving tribute to the measurement of intense cold. Kelvin’s design, with the help of liquid nitrogen, creates a lower ice cream-freezing temperature while perfecting the mixing technique, resulting in the formation of smaller ice crystals in the finished product. These exceptionally small ice crystals are the reason why Smitten Ice Cream is so intensely creamy. To test her invention, Robyn initially hit the streets of San Francisco with Kelvin strapped on top of a Radio Flyer wagon and made incredible ice cream to-order. Popularity for Smitten Ice Cream grew, and the need for a store became tangible.

Before a store could be created, Kelvin needed to be refurbished and approved by UL, the regulatory agent. That is where Cory Bloome came in, affectionately dubbed “The Kelvin Doctor. Cory was the engineer who took Robyn’s prototype and list of improvements and fabricated the next generation of Kelvin’s for the store.

The four Kelvins are now busy mixing at the Smitten storefront at 432 Octavia St. (@ Linden St.). Try it for yourself if you find yourself in the neighborhood. Ice cream is served each day starting at noon. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, the ice cream is put away at 9pm; yet, Friday and Saturday you can come as late as 10pm for your fix.

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Category: Chemistry, Engineering, Food

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Cat

About the Author ()

Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division. Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.
  • Mike

    I had heard of this before and was wondering what the environmental footprint of this ice cream is relative to a traditional process. Energy use? Natural resources consumed? etc.
    Thanks,
    Mike