Why the Creamiest Ice Cream is Made with Nitrogen

Nitrogen ice cream. It might sound like a strange combination, and you may not think that nitrogen would help to create some of the creamiest, densest ice cream you’ve tasted, but you’d be wrong. Nitrogen ice cream is more than just a passing Instagram trend, it’s an ingenious way to create fresh ice cream to order, with an extra dose of showmanship.

To make nitrogen ice cream, shops start with a fresh ice cream base in a stand mixer, and as they blend, pour in a slow but steady stream of liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen freezes to -321 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in a frozen ice cream in under a minute. Aside from just a speedy process, this quick freezing leads to smaller ice crystals, which in turn produce an incredibly smooth, dense ice cream. It’s also a pretty dramatic process, as a dry-ice sort of fog flows out of the mixer as the cream churns. (Watch this video to see how it’s made!)

I went to my first nitrogen ice cream shop in Irvine, California — Cauldron Ice Cream — where they’ve become pretty popular across Instagram for their “puffle” cones and rose-shaped scoops.

But I’d have to say my favorite has been Smitten Ice Cream in San Francisco due to their innovative flavors and toppings. While at Smitten I chose a passionfruit ice cream with roasted dates and a spicy caramel sauce that was incredibly tangy and delicious! 

After trying out a couple of nitrogen ice cream shops, I decided to do a little research on the product. Aside from the textural differences between standard ice cream and ice cream made with nitrogen, I found out that nitrogen ice cream actually has far fewer ingredients. Because it’s instantly frozen and served, most nitrogen ice creams only contain cream, milk, sugar (usually less than average), flavoring and salt, while standard ice creams typically contain eggs, gums and other stabilizers to hold their shape and preserve them while they’re sitting in the freezer. Plus because nitrogen ice cream is extra rich, you may need less of it (not the case for me but you do you).