Most people don’t think about the chemistry in their cone when they enjoy a scoop of ice cream, but as a professional ice cream scientist, Dr. Maya Warren doesn’t stop Think about it. There’s a lot of complex science in every pint of ice, and it’s their job to share that knowledge with the people who make it – and use that information to develop their own innovative flavors.
Contrary to what many people think of a typical scientist, Warren is not stuck in a laboratory all day. Her role as senior director for international research and development at Cold Stone Creamery has taken her to countries around the world. And after winning season 25 of The amazing race In 201
How did you get into food science?
I fell in love with science at a young age. I have Gak as a kid, do you know the Nickelodeon stuff? And I remember wanting to make my own gak. I remember getting a small kit and putting the glue and all the colors together and whatever else I needed to make it. I also had homemade gummy candy sets. So I was always interested in doing things myself.
It was only later in life that I really associated it with chemistry. When I was in high school, I fell in love with chemistry. At that point, I decided to go to college to become a high school chemistry teacher. One day I was with my best friend in college and she had the TV on in her apartment. I remember seeing the Food Network and there was a show called Unpackedand they go inside and show you how food is made on a production and production scale. In this particular episode, they went to a flavor chemistry laboratory. It was basically a wall full of bottles of clear liquid. They were just about to season soda to make it taste like different parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. So you had soda with green bean casserole flavor, you had turkey and sauce flavored soda, soda with cranberry sauce. And I said, “Oh my god, how disgusting is that? But how cool is that! I could do that. I’m a chemist.”
I love the science of food and how fascinating it is and I had to ask myself, “Maya, what do you love?” And I said, “I love ice cream! I’m going to be one of the world’s experts in frozen carbonated desserts.” I found a professor at Madison University [where I earned my Ph.D. in food science]Richard Hartel and he took me under his wing. Six and a half years later, I became an expert in ice cream and all of its close relatives.
How did you get your current position?
I didn’t actually apply. I ran six years ago The amazing racewho have favourited TV Show on CBS. After I was there, many publications wanted to interview me. I did a few interviews and someone from Cold Stone found my interview. They noticed that I am a scientist and they were looking for someone with my background, so they turned to me. I was writing my dissertation and said, “I’m not looking for a job right now. I just want to go home and sleep.”
I originally said to myself that I would not work for a year because I was so exhausted after my high school graduation and needed a break. But I finally went to an interview in her Scottsdale office. At that point, I was still not sure whether I would or not because I didn’t want to move to Arizona. It’s just so incredibly hot. In the end, I was able to work out something with them where I didn’t have to move Arizona. I came on board in 2016. I started out as a consultant because I didn’t want to move. But then I proved that I can do this work remotely.
What does your work at Cold Stone Creamery involve?
I am a senior director for international research and development at Cold Stone Creamery. I set up a lot of dairies and build ice mixes for countries around the world. Dairy products are a very expensive commodity. Milk fat is quite expensive. Cold Stone has locations around the world and everyone needs ice cream mixes. But sometimes it is extremely expensive to bring this ice cream from the United States to this country because of conflicts, taxes, and other import laws. I do a lot to help these countries figure out how to build their own dairies or how to work with local dairies to make ice cream mixes more affordable.
The other part of my work is creating new ice cream flavors for these locations. I look at a local ingredient and say, “I see people in this country who eat a lot empty. Why don’t we make ice cream out of it? How would people feel about it? “I’m trying to make these places clear that ice cream is so much more than a scoop. In the US, there are ice cream bars, ice cream trucks, ice cream sandwiches. But many countries don’t.” I don’t see ice cream like this. So it’s a big part of my job to bring these places on board with different ideas and platforms to grow their business.
What is your favorite ice cream flavor you made at work?
I made a product called honey corn bread and blackberry jam ice cream. For me, ice is an empty canvas. You can throw all kinds of paint on it – blue and red and yellow and orange and metallic and glittery and whatever you want – and it will be this masterpiece. That’s how I see ice.
Ice cream starts with a white base that is full of milk fat and sugar and non-fat dry milk. It’s easy, it’s easy. For this taste I thought, “Why don’t I throw corn bread in an ice cream mix?” I added some honey because it is a good sweetener and a little sea salt because salt increases the taste, especially in sweeter desserts. And why am I not using blackberry jam? When you eat it, you can feel the gritty texture of corn bread, which is very interesting. You get this pop of berry flavor. The flavors are complex and I like what you can do with ice cream.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
One of the most rewarding things is being able to make a product and see how people eat it. The other part of it is to help people in different countries get on their feet. Ice cream is not a luxury for many people in America, but there are people in other countries who would see it that way. It fascinates me to be able to introduce ice cream in these countries. And being able to offer people employment opportunities really touches me.
The last part is the fact that when I tell people that I’m an ice scientist, it doesn’t matter how old the person is, they can’t believe it. I ask, “I know, could you imagine doing what you love every day?” And I do that. I love ice cream.
What are some misunderstandings about being an ice scientist?
When I tell people what I do, they automatically think that I only put flavors in ice cream. You don’t know that there is a completely different part of it before you add flavor. They don’t think about balancing a mixture, the chemistry that flows in ice, the microbiological portion that flows in ice, the science of taste that flows in ice. There is so much hardcore science that helps to become an ice scientist. Believe it or not, ice cream is one of the most complex foods men (and women) know. It is a solid, it is a gas and it is also a liquid in one. The solid phase comes in through the ice crystals and partially melted fat balls. The gas phase comes in through the air cells. Ice cream usually ranges from 27 to 30 percent overflow, which is the measurement of ventilation in ice cream. You also have your liquid phase. There’s a semi-liquid component in ice cream that we don’t see, but there is a bit of liquid in it.
People don’t think of ice crystals and air cells when they think of ice. You really don’t think of partially melted fat balls. But it’s really fun to combine the science of ice with the general knowledge that people have about this product that they eat so much.
If you didn’t, what would you do?
If I were not an ice scientist, I would have been a motivating speaker. When I was a child, my parents sent me to the camp and I remember having many motivational speakers who came in and talked to us. I wanted to do that as a child. So it’s either in between or a sports medic because that was the way I was in college. If I hadn’t figured out food science, I would probably have returned to sports medicine. But I’m glad I didn’t go that route because I think I did one of the coolest and sweetest jobs – pun intended – on planet earth.
They have been organizing Easter Sunday on Instagram Live since May. What inspired you?
At the beginning of the quarantine, I said, “What should I do? I can’t go anywhere. What do I do with all this extra time?” I was on Instagram and I started seeing people doing all this bread right from the start. And I said: “I have to talk more about ice cream. Ice cream shouldn’t be missing from this conversation.”
I started making ice cream and posting here and there and people asked me about it and I asked them, “Do you have an ice machine?” I did a survey and 70, 80 percent of the respondents had no ice machines. So I thought, “How can I make people happy with ice cream by just showing photos and they can’t make it?” Then I opted for a no-churn ice cream. You can’t do it in the industry, but do it at home if you don’t have an ice cream maker. I think it was around May 3rd. I decided to do an Instagram Live. I will do it with Dr. Call Maya ice cream on Sundays and I’ll just see where to go from there.
I made one and people were so in love with it from the start. Then I thought, “Whoa, I think I should keep doing this.” I made a calendar. People are really there. People make the ice cream. People see me live. I always wanted to have a TV show about ice. I figured if I couldn’t do a show on ice in a big network right now, I might as well start a show on Instagram.
What advice do you give to young people interested in becoming an ice scientist?
My advice is: if you want to do it, do it. Don’t forget to work hard, but have fun doing it. And if ice cream isn’t necessarily the realm for you, make sure that everything you do will make your heart beat faster. My heart flutters when I think of ice. I’m so fascinated by it. So if you find something that makes your heart beat faster, no one can take away your craving for it. If it’s ice, we can get dirty with it. I can tell them about the science behind it, the biology, the microbiology that is in ice itself. But I just encourage people to follow their hearts and have fun with everything they do.
What is your favorite type of ice cream?
If we only talk about general flavors, I love good cookies and cream. I am an Oreo fan. I also make a double butter candy pecan, which is my absolute jam.