Ice cream is one of the simple pleasures of life. There’s something about the sweet, creamy, decadent dessert that satisfies anyone with taste buds and a desire for joy.
That’s why it’s extra disappointing when you put a spoonful in your mouth and immediately ask yourself: “Why is my ice cream gritty?”
Ice cream is NOT supposed to feel gritty, grainy, or sandy. It’s supposed to be smooth and melt slowly on your tongue without any weird, unpleasant textures.
So here are the top 5 reasons why your ice cream is gritty. Whether it’s store-bought or something you whipped up yourself, we’ll get down to the bottom of it.
Why Is My Ice Cream Gritty?
1. The Ice Cream Was Melted and Refrozen
This is the most common reason for a gritty texture in ice cream. To understand what causes it, you need to know how ice cream freezes into its silky, creamy form instead of being a solid mass.
Ice cream is a mixture of:
- The water found naturally in milk and egg whites
- The fat in the cream, full-fat milk, and egg yolks
- Sugar crystals that dissolve in the liquid
To get a creamy, cohesive mass of two things that famously don’t mix, water and fat, they get emulsified by the lecithin found naturally in egg yolks. This simply means that the eggs bind the water on one side and the fat on the other, making them one.
When the ice cream base is cooked, it’s stabilized by the ingredients and the cooking process, but once it melts and is refrozen, this changes. The water that was cut into small crystals that can’t be detected by the tongue can coalesce into larger crystals that feel grainy and gritty.
This problem affects both homemade and store-bought ice creams alike and can happen if you forget the ice cream container out on the counter and put it back in the freezer.
It can also happen if your freezer is way too crowded, since the ice cream will melt a little before it gets the chance to be cooled by the overworked freezer.
2. The Ice Cream Was Churned for Too Long
The churning process was designed to break up the ice crystals forming into smaller crystals while the ice cream base is simultaneously being frozen. This prevents the formation of large crystals that sit undisturbed long enough to be frozen solid, resulting in a creamier texture.
That said, churning the ice cream base for too long can actually “squeeze” water out of the emulsion we mentioned earlier. This water will then freeze freely and form the dreaded large ice crystals, causing grittiness to intensify.
Over-churning can also introduce too much air into the mixture. This can reduce the creaminess of the ice cream, yielding a texture similar to frozen whipped topping.
3. The Recipe Has Too Much Liquid
This problem is common in ice cream recipes that use fresh fruit as an ingredient in the base. Since not all fruits are created equally juicy, you can have a big variation in the amount of water in the same recipe using two different batches of strawberries, for instance.
Sometimes, though, the recipe is to blame. You can test that for yourself before you even dump the base into the ice cream maker. If the mixture is thin and watery, there’s a much higher chance it will freeze gritty than if it was thicker and more viscous.
Adjusting for the liquid should be done by adding a solid ingredient like milk powder, lecithin, or even straight-up egg yolks. These should limit the amount of water that can freeze into large crystals.
4. The Recipe Has Too Much Milk Solids
If your ice cream feels more sandy than gritty, then you’re facing a pretty different issue from the ones we discussed above.
In case the sandy texture doesn’t dissolve right away, you could be dealing with lactose recrystallization.
What that fancy word means is that the milk-solids-non-fat (MSNF) found in skimmed milk powder have too much lactose that goes out of solution and returns to its crystalline form.
Skimmed milk powder is a common ingredient in ice cream recipes, because it prevents water from forming large ice crystals. However, this backfires if the ice cream base has too much MSNF, which is a huge source of lactose.
5. You Didn’t Follow the Recipe Correctly
Last but not least, there’s a possibility you misread a step in the process or incorrectly measured one of the ingredients. Recipes from reputable resources are usually tested several times to ensure repeatable results. If yours didn’t come out right, sometimes it’s on you, not the recipe.
You should cut yourself some slack if that’s the case, though. Ice cream is a pretty fussy, technique-sensitive recipe to follow correctly if you’re a beginner. The results can also get affected by things like ambient temperature and humidity.
Just make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s directions for your ice cream maker, measuring the ingredients, and doing the steps in the correct order.
Why is my ice cream gritty?
Well, it could be many things. If the gritty texture is large and coarse, you’re probably dealing with ice-crystal formation. This can be due to melting the ice cream and then refreezing it, or a wrong liquid-to-solid ratio in the ice cream base.
It can also be due to a mixup in the instructions that led to a wrong cooking technique. Whatever it is, it’s almost always preventable the next time.