Published: Fri Aug 3, 2007“I just wanted a root beer float.”
That’s what student Daniel Roubik of Smyrna says prompted him to ask Tennessee Tech University chemistry professor Dan Swartling — known on campus simply as Dr. Dan — for some liquid nitrogen earlier this summer.
Little did either of them realize that the request for the minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit liquid would result in the concoction of several innovative and award-winning ice cream recipes — but the TTU professor and several students swept the competition at the recent Cream City Crankin’ Ice Cream contest in Cookeville, sponsored by Mayfield Dairy.
Dr. Dan’s first place concoction was Liquid Nitrogen Strawberry, and students Amanda Nguy of Smyrna and Aileen Guerrero of Cookeville took second and third place, respectively, with Liquid Nitrogen Chocolate Mocha and Liquid Nitrogen Peppermint Chocolate Curl.
Roubik barely missed the number of votes needed for an honorable mention for his Liquid Nitrogen Banana Split.
“When we first started making the ice cream earlier this summer, we didn’t even know about the contest,” Roubik said.
“One of the local fast-food restaurants had been running a June special for 99-cent root beer floats, but when I bought one in July, it cost me nearly $2. I didn’t want to have to spend that much every time I wanted a root beer float,” he explained.
The liquid nitrogen, in fact, proved to be a more inexpensive means for making homemade ice cream than the traditional method of using ice and rock salt. It costs only 10 to 30 cents per liter, each liter of which makes roughly a gallon of ice cream.
Finding out about the contest was just a fortuitous way to share their revolutionary idea with others, the TTU students said, but they did devote some time to researching which recipes yielded the best results.
The contestants spent about six hours making various ice cream recipes the day before the event, in a session dubbed by Dr. Dan as the Institute for Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Experimental Studies.
“Some of the other contestants wanted to know what our secret ingredient is that makes our ice cream taste so good, but there obviously is no secret ingredient,” said Guerrero. “It just takes a lot of elbow grease and vigorous mixing, because the recipe freezes instantly wherever the liquid nitrogen is poured.”
All of the contestants are also members of TTU’s chapter of Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society, and they say the contest will now be considered an official club event.