Let’s all scream for ice cream on board!

On a hot summer’s day, a delicious ice cream can be a real treat. Young or old, everyone likes to cool down on sweltering days. During the summer, we served ice cream on board our flights, to the delight of many of our passengers. But serving ice cream presents a tricky challenge for an airline. It can melt. And what if the cone breaks? Will it taste the same in the air?

In short, it takes a lot of thought and preparation to get that tasty ice cream onto the aircraft. Ice cream is very sensitive to conditions. If you don’t package and transport it correctly, it can melt and things can get messy. And no one likes stains!

The ice cream needs to be kept under the right conditions on long flights too. The longest is the Amsterdam-Taipei service, which lasts nearly 13 hours! If you include the preparation time at KLM Catering Services (KCS), this adds up to about 20 hours. As you know, if you’ve ever eaten ice cream, it usually melts within a few minutes.

We carried out extensive research into the melting behaviour of the ice cream we wanted to serve. We needed to find out how fast the ice cream would melt and how long its form and flavour would remain intact. Working with the supplier and the KCS quality controllers, we discovered that a slight adjustment to the recipe gave us an extra hour before the ice cream started melting. This may not sound much, but it can make a huge difference on a long flight!

So, what is the best temperature for serving ice cream? Our supplier’s tests indicated that the ice cream is best served at a maximum of -13°C. If the ice cream gets warmer, it melts, which also affects the flavour.

This means we have to guarantee that we can keep the ice cream at the required temperature until it is served. To do this we use dry ice. You will have seen dry ice if you’ve ever ordered smoking cocktails, or dabbled in molecular cooking. Dry ice is carbon dioxide in its solid state, which is achieved at around -79°C. The ice cream and dry ice are packed into polystyrene boxes, which are well insulated and kept in the cold. This is how we guarantee the right temperature on board, so that no ice creams melt before they’re served!

To test all this, we put boxes full of ice creams through the process with our caterer. That meant taking them out of the supplier’s packaging; repacking them in polystyrene containers; adding dry ice; and loading the boxes onto a trolley. The trolleys were then loaded onto a truck bound for the aircraft, so that the ice cream could be loaded with all the other food.

There are lots of less pleasant jobs than testing ice cream on a plane! You can imagine more annoying jobs; ice cream tests on board. Serving ice cream is not seasonal, so: we look back on a successful summer and hope that we can make our passengers happy on board with ice for the rest of the year.