What Ice Cream and Fracking Have in Common And Why Your Dessert Has Become So Pricey

Categories: News

Guar: Keeps Ice Cream Creamy and Rock Formations Flowing
The food industry has for decades leaned on an inexpensive and natural thickening agent: guar gum. It builds viscosity in ice cream, dressing, baked goods, and other foods you've likely eaten it in the past week (as well as makeup, explosives, and other things you probably haven't eaten, ever).

In recent years, the natural gas industry has developed a huge appetite for the thickening powder created from the ground insides of guar seeds, commonly grown in India. Guar gum is part of the liquid mixture pumped deep underground at high pressures to release natural gas from porous rock formations.

Each fracturing job requires 20,000 pounds of guar, or the yield of about 80 acres of the crop, Calvin Trostle, an associate professor and agronomist for Texas A&M University's AgriLife Research & Extension Center, told the Houston Chronicle.

That means hundreds of millions of pounds of guar have circulated beneath the surface of Northeast Texas. That's guar that will never, ever reach its full potential as a stabilizer keeping ice cream at its peak creaminess.

In fact, the amount of guar used for fracking could supply enough ice cream to circle the globe twice, in double-dips (approximately). And with this unprecedented increase in demand comes -- you guessed it -- a sharp increase in prices. Halliburton, one of the largest energy companies, told the Houston Chronicle that some varieties of guar gum have risen in price eightfold since January 2011.

Food Business News
published an article last year lamenting the fact that the oil and gas industry is causing ice cream and tortilla producers to pay a premium for what's typically been a common ingredient. Blue Bell Creameries has seen the price double, according to the Chronicle.

Substitutes for guar gum have proven less effective for various reasons. Farmers in South Asia have pumped up production to meet the demands of their new customer base. Whether or when prices will stabilize remains to be seen. For now, Indian farmers must feel as though they're in a gold rush. American food manufacturers and ice cream enthusiasts, not so much.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Guar gum is a relatively minor ingredient in ice cream.  If you pay $4.59 for a half gallon of Blue Bell, you have not spent much money on guar gum.  Here's an example.  I just weighed an unopened half gallon of BB Natural Vanilla Bean, which was 3.2 lbs. (including carton).  If guar gum is 0.5% of the total product (and I think it may be less--most of the carton is milk, about 98%(?), some sugar, and even the natural vanilla flavoring is listed before "vegetable gums", which includes guar), then at guar gum prices at $8/lb. you have paid 13 cents for guar gum,  And if the price has doubled, then you used to pay 6 or 7 cents. So this isn't a concern. Most of the time the cost of the actual agricultural product in a food is a small fraction of the cost of the food product, for example, the portion of the cost of a loaf of a wheat bread is only about 10% or so.  I would be far more disturbed by the fact that others are making 90% of the product's cost and markup then the farmer. If you take the June 2012 average price of milk paid to a farmer, $16.10 per 100 lbs., then there is about 50 cents of milk cost in the 1/2 gallon of ice cream.  Stated another way, a gallon of milk (about 8 lbs.) would have $1.28 worth of milk that was paid to a farmer.  But how much does the milk sell for?  About $4/gallon? Doesn't look like the farmer is winning here.  


They could always go back to making ice cream from milk, cream, eggs and sugar.


Earthquakes! Right?!?! Is it earthquakes????? What did I win?

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault