Would creating and tasting ice cream all day be your dream job?

Well for Ice Cream Innovation Manager, Esraa El Shall, it’s a normal day’s work.  

How did you end up where you are today?

I’ve always been into science and when I first started Uni I was studying for a Bachelor of Medical Lab Science, but I found it a bit boring.  I remembered a food technology day we had at school and how interesting it was.  Food is everywhere around us and there’s a lot of science that comes with it, so I decided to change my studies and here I am.

Before joining Fonterra in 2014 I worked at Epicurean Dairy and Frucor Beverages.  In 2017, I was promoted to senior research and development technologist and I’ve recently moved into the role of innovation manager.

Do you get to eat ice cream all day long?

Not all day long, but it is part of my daily routine, you can never have too much ice cream.

Aside from eating ice cream, what else do you do?

My job involves a lot of trial and error! We get to create new ice cream flavours and ranges, and work to make sure every aspect of it is just right; the taste, texture, look and stability — it’s quite a balancing act.

When we’re developing a new flavour we work to get the base formulation right and then start working with colouring and flavouring.  This usually results in 10-20 different options, which are narrowed down to a top six, and then down to three after consumer testing. After that we’ll do a factory trial.  There are a lot of stages to go through to get the winning flavour!

We often get it wrong in the lab, but that’s part of the process. Sometimes it can be quite disheartening as you put a lot of yourself into your work, but just because you like it others may not.  For example, I was trying to make a spiced chocolate ice cream so put some cloves in it.  I liked it but the rest of the team said it was yuck and tasted like garlic.

What’s the best part of your job?

When you get to launch a new ice cream or ice block you meet people who say they love it and you think, yes, I made that!

There’s also so many opportunities to be creative – if you feel like whipping something up you can just go to the lab and do it.

In your four years working for Fonterra what has been your highlight?

I really love working in product development, so launching the Kapiti sorbet was pretty exciting, and it was cool that the Feijoa and Pear Sorbet won the frozen category at the New Zealand Food Awards.

What’s the most unusual ice cream you’ve ever made?

I was eating a pear, balsamic vinegar, mascarpone cheese and walnut dessert and I couldn’t help thinking what if I could make this into an ice cream? 

One of the basic food tech rules is that milk and acids don’t mix but I tried it anyway. I reduced the balsamic vinegar – which ended up stinking out the whole lab –  and then added the balsamic reduction to the milk base, which almost curdled and ended up looking like cheese. Funnily enough, everyone thought it tasted like cream cheese.  

I then added the pear flavour and called it ‘Appearing Cheesy’. While we’re not making it for commercial production, it did win silver in the creative award section of the Ice Cream Awards so it can’t have tasted too bad!

What is the future trends in ice cream?

With millennials, everything is about ease so I think the future will be all about things that are super convenient, such as small portions in vending machines that they can have on the go.

They also want something that they can share on social media, so not only does it have to taste amazing, it must look beautiful as well.  On top of this we’re also seeing east meets west flavour combinations on the rise.

Any ice creams you’ve made that you wish you’d done differently?

I worked on the Kapiti Feijoa and Pear sorbet, which tastes amazing, and people love it, but every time I look at the green ripple through it I think why didn’t I make it a different colour green.