The Future of Ice Cream

The future of ice cream is happening right now. Ice cream flavors, textures, and ice cream’s health benefits are ever-changing in today’s society.

When it comes to flavor, ice cream is no longer just about vanilla and chocolate. Flavors like, “salted caramel chocolate pretzel,” “red velvet cheesecake,” and even alcohol-flavored ice cream like “grasshopper” (brandy and crème de menthe) are appearing on grocery store shelves.

Chocolate covered potato chips and popcorn are just a few of the “snack ice cream” flavors that are emerging.

Other atypical flavors like green tea, avocado, ginger and veggie-centric flavors like beet and vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt drizzled over the top are no longer so unusual. Seasonal menus and produce are no longer just for savory items, ice cream flavors based on seasons like hot chocolate mint and sugar & spice evoke memories of the holidays.

In a little shop near the Louvre Museum in Paris, a very strange type of ice cream is being sold. At the counter, customers don’t order cups, cones or shakes; here, they ask for WikiPearls, little donut hole-sized balls of ice cream that are covered in a flavored, protective skin.

“People come in and say, ‘What’s this all about?’” says David Edwards, the mastermind behind WikiPearl and the newly opened WikiBar. It’s a very good question, actually. Much like Dippin’ Dots, the pearl-like ice cream that blew kids’ minds in the ‘90s, WikiPearls is angling to change the way we eat ice cream. But it’s not just frozen snacks that Edwards is looking to revolutionize—the Harvard bioengineering professor has bigger plans than that.

Back in 2009, Edwards and French designer Francois Azambourg began developing a new technology to eliminate packaging from foods. Called WikiCells, the edible soft skins are made from natural food particles that are bound together by nutritive ions.

The goal was to reduce plastic waste while improving human health through portion control and vitamin supplemented skins. WikiPearl is the first commercialized product born from the technology, mainly because ice cream is delicious, and it’s the least weird form his WikiCells could possibly take. “Some products are a more radical departure from what people are used to than others,” he says. “But ice cream and frozen yogurt in the WikiPearl form is really easily understood. It’s sort of very intuitive.”

Three 50-calorie balls roughly equals a cup of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, and so far they come in three flavors: mango with a coconut skin, chocolate with a hazelnut skin and vanilla with a peanut skin. An added bonus: they melt a lot slower than regular ice cream.

Put a few balls inside a specially-designed cooler that’s sold at WikiBar and Edwards says they can last up to eight hours (good news for those of us who’ve been trying to bring ice cream for lunch).

But WikiPearl is really just the beginning for Edwards. He estimates that by this year wiki vending machines, where customers can make their own combinations of filling and skins, should be available to use at the WikiBars. “You could say I want an orange soda with a French fry skin, or whatever it is,” he explains, “And then it’s made there in the machine.” Long-term, he envisions wiki technology in the home where parents could customize the fillings and skins to make their children a package-free lunch. “It’s completely, completely doable,” he says. “And something that we’re working on.”

Of course, technology is nothing without adoption. And the fact is, when you’re used to drinking a soda from a can or eating yogurt from a plastic cup, it’s weird to pop a little food ball in your mouth and call it a meal.

Edwards acknowledges that the adoption curve is going to take some time, but he figures starting with ice cream, yogurt and cheese should lessen the strangeness of wiki-eating. “The reality is we’ve been eating the same way with the same instincts for a very long time, and changing that is not easy,” Edwards concedes. “Even if it makes sense on paper, really changing your habits is a big deal.”

Still, he’s optimistic that the wiki revolution is going to happen– mainly because it has to happen. “Just think, all those little ketchup things or the little mustard or mayonnaise things that are plastic, plastic, plastic. Those should be edible, right?” he says. “There’s so many things to do here.” svm