When the weather gets hot, there's no treat that satisfies quite like ice cream. Ice cream is typically stored in the freezer, but you may wonder if you can keep ice cream in the refrigerator. Well, we've done the research, and here's the scoop:
Ice cream will melt in the refrigerator. The average fridge temperature is around 37º F, and ice cream should be stored at 0º F or colder. It will still be safe to eat, but it will be a liquid mess and is likely to leak in your fridge.
You can put ice cream in the refrigerator briefly to soften it before serving it.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what temperature you should store ice cream. We'll also take a closer look at how to soften ice cream, both in the fridge and with a microwave, how vegan and dairy ice cream differ for storage, and more! Read on to learn all about it!
What temperature should you store ice cream?
When it comes to storing ice cream, the colder, the better.
We all know that water freezes at 32º Fahrenheit and will remain frozen if kept below that temperature. Ice cream is a different beast, though.
Because ice cream is a complicated mix of fats, proteins, water, air, and more, it is much less stable than water. It has a lower freezing point than water, although the exact degree depends on the type of ice cream.
Ice crystals in your ice cream start quite small but grow over time. You've likely seen this yourself if you've ever opened a long-forgotten carton of ice cream at the back of the freezer. The creamy delicacy will be covered in brittle ice crystals that are far from delicious.
The colder you store your ice cream, the slower these crystals will develop, and the longer your ice cream will stay tasty. Researchers found that reducing temperatures improves the longevity of ice cream up to -50º C (-58 F). This is far colder than the standard freezer, which is around 0º F (-18º C).
As long as you don't leave your ice cream for too long, the standard freezer temperature should be plenty to keep it cool.
Should you store vegan ice cream at the same temperature as dairy ice cream?
Whether your ice cream is vegan or dairy, you'll want to store it in the coldest spot of your freezer to keep it lasting a long time (or at least as long as you can resist it).
Of course, it's not always possible to store everything in the coldest part of the freezer, so compromises must sometimes be made.
In this case, vegan ice cream seems to need the cold more than dairy ice cream.
In a study in 2020, researchers put three dairy ice creams and two vegan ice creams in an environment where the temperature fluctuated between -6º C (21º F) and -18º C (0º F) for 14 days.
The dairy ice cream held up better in this environment. It maintained a more regular crystal size and better behavior during melting when compared to the vegan ice cream.
What this means for you at home is that if you buy dairy ice cream, it should be fine anywhere in your freezer if you eat it in a couple of weeks. If you buy vegan ice cream, make sure you store it in the coldest spot, usually at the back of the freezer.
Can you refreeze ice cream that has thawed?
Once ice cream has thawed or melted, it cannot simply be refrozen back to its previous state.
This is especially true if the ice cream melted at room temperature or higher. In this case, there is even a risk of foodborne illness should you attempt to simply refreeze your ice cream.
But let's say you put your ice cream in the refrigerator to soften but didn't finish it. Or you forgot about it and left it in the refrigerator overnight.
In this case, it's still safe to eat and there's not a health risk associated with refreezing it. However, the texture will never be the same again.
This is because ice cream isn't just frozen; it's churned. Churning incorporates air into the ice cream and also prevents large ice crystals from forming as it freezes. This is how ice cream gets its smooth and luxurious texture.
As ice cream melts, the tiny air bubbles from churning escape. If you were to refreeze it without churning it, there would be no air, leading to a much denser frozen cream. On top of that, freezing this way will cause large ice crystals to form, which are neither luxurious nor delicious.
When you soften ice cream in the refrigerator, only soften as much as you will serve. Keep the rest in the freezer to keep it delicious.
How to soften ice cream
We've talked a bit about softening ice cream in the refrigerator, but how exactly do you do it?
Simply put the ice cream in the refrigerator for 10 to 30 minutes, or until it reaches the desired level of softness. You may want to pull it out slightly early. The ice cream will continue to soften and melt once out of the refrigerator.
As we mentioned before, ice cream that has been softened won't refreeze well, especially if it starts to melt. This is why we recommend only softening as much as you will serve.
Of course, it's difficult to scoop out portions of ice cream straight from the freezer. For this reason, it's generally better to buy smaller cartons unless you have a large gathering planned.
Can you soften ice cream in the microwave?
We've all been there. It's desert time, but the ice cream is rock hard and unscoopable. You could soften it in the refrigerator, but that takes time. Is there a faster way?
The fastest way to soften ice cream is with the microwave. This isn't the ideal way to do it, as you're more likely to have uneven softening and some melting. However, it works in a pinch.
Don't just throw the ice cream in and push power though! You'll end up with a melted outside and a rock-hard inside. For larger cartons, the outside will be downright hot before the center softens.
To soften ice cream in a microwave, follow these steps:
- Turn the microwave down to 50% power
- Microwave the ice cream in 10-second intervals
- After each interval, let the ice cream rest a few seconds to disperse the heat and check for softness
- Once desired softness is reached, serve!
Using low power and short intervals will help the heat disperse more evenly. This lead to more even softening.
You can also use a thermometer if you prefer a more scientific approach to checking your ice cream. In general, ice cream is easiest to scoop, serve, and enjoy between 6 and 10º F.
Can you keep ice cream soft in the freezer?
Nobody likes having to wait for ice cream. There's something soul-crushing in that moment when the spoon hits that impenetrable rocky road. Why can't you just keep the ice cream soft in the freezer?
To keep ice cream soft, you would need your freezer temperature to be between 6º and 10º F. However, the FDA recommends keeping your freezer 0º F or colder. And for good reason.
At temperatures above 0º F, whatever you put in the freezer will freeze more slowly. This means that larger ice crystals will form. This will ruin the texture of just about any food you try to freeze.
Furthermore, while ice cream will stay soft at temperatures between 6º and 10º F, its texture will start to suffer quickly. Remember that study that showed that lower temperatures preserve the color and texture of ice cream better? The opposite is also true.
One option you could consider is to go with another popular treat: gelato.
Gelato is softer and creamier than ice cream, including at freezer temperatures. It won't be as soft as softened ice cream when you pull it from the freezer, but you will find it easier to scoop.
Can you keep ice cream cake in the refrigerator?
Everybody loves ice cream. Everybody loves cake. Ice cream cake is the perfect combination of both. It's a crowd-pleasing dessert that's great for special occasions. But how should you store it?
Ice cream cake, like ice cream, should primarily be stored in the freezer. Only pull the ice cream cake from the freezer to soften it before serving.
Just like ice cream, soften ice cream cake in the refrigerator for best results. But make sure you allow yourself more time for ice cream cake. It typically takes between 30 and 45 minutes to thaw in the refrigerator.
You can also soften ice cream cake with the same microwave method detailed above. However, you will need a large microwave to fit most ice cream cakes and it will likely require more of those 10-second intervals. In general, you'll be much better off putting it in the fridge and waiting.
In this article, we learned why the freezer is the best place to store ice cream, the colder, the better. We also saw how to soften ice cream for serving, both with a refrigerator and a microwave.
We even covered topics about how vegan and dairy ice cream differ in storage needs, how to store and soften ice cream cake, and how gelato can give you a more scoop-friendly treat straight from the freezer.
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