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When Doug Goff whips up ice cream in his lab, he makes it vanilla, a flavour he says makes it impossible to hide taste defects.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Low-fat, sugar-free, high-fibre ice cream that still retains all the smooth, creamy decadence of its more guilt-inducing counterpart - it seems like a recipe that could only be concocted in Willy Wonka's fictional factory. But there's a frozen-treat-obsessed scientist at the University of Guelph who may just make healthy ice cream a reality.

Doug Goff - recognized by New York magazine as the world's leading expert in ice cream - and his graduate students have been behind some of the most important innovations in the dairy product's history.

Double-churned ice cream was first developed in his lab.

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He helped find a way to change the very chemical structure of soft-serve ice cream to extend its shelf life.

And now he's tinkering with winter wheat - an antifreeze agent - to make a product that can be sold at room temperature and transform into ice cream in a home freezer.

Your weirdest ice creamEgg and bacon? Wasabi? Garlic? Share the weirdest flavours you've had the pleasure - or displeasure - of tasting

His scientific peers may envy his status as King of the Creams, but it's been a long time coming: Dr. Goff, a bespectacled, silver-haired man of 49, grew up surrounded by frozen treats.

His father was the plant manager at the Brookfield ice cream factory in Nova Scotia and so he spent his teen years doing odd jobs at the factory.

After completing an undergraduate degree in dairy science at the University of Guelph, he knew he wanted to study ice cream to benefit the masses, rather than one company's profit margin. It's no surprise that industry giants have tried to lure Dr. Goff away from his lab to work on their research and development teams, but the professor has continually refused. At his core, Dr. Goff is a man of science, and he's on a mission to prove ice cream can be good for you.

"It's healthy from the point of view that it's got all of the milk nutrients in it - so it's not a junk food by any means at all," he explained. He does acknowledge the obvious: For all its bone-fortifying calcium, ice cream is also packed with fat. But he's been trying to get around that.

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Ice cream mix doubles in size after it goes through a freezer where air is whipped into it. While traditional ice-cream makers are comprised of a set of two nesting bowls and a crank, in Dr. Goff's lab of gleaming stainless steel equipment, the continuous pasteurization tank - an enormous steel vat - has the capacity to prepare 600 litres of mix. The continuous freezer is a beast of a machine that can produce 300 litres of ice cream in an hour.

Through experimentation, Dr. Goff realized the trick to making low-fat ice cream taste like it's full-fat was to distribute the same amount of fat throughout ice cream, but in the form of smaller globules. Since he reported his results in the Journal of Dairy Science and the Journal of Food Biochemistry, his contacts at ice-cream companies have been asking him all about the innovation.

"Food and health is the real big buzz thing that's going on in our industry. It should have been all along but it hasn't been for some reason," he said. "I think finally the market is coming around."

Many manufacturers have struggled to make sugar-free blends of ice cream. While it's easy to mimic the taste of sugar, without it, ice cream loses its thick, rich texture. But when Dr. Goff was working on his master's thesis in the early eighties, he developed a sugar-free ice cream that replaced sugar on a taste level with Nutrasweet and on a structural level with a bulking agent. He insists it was as delicious and creamy as regular ice cream - and his testing methods are no joke. Whenever Dr. Goff whips up a batch of ice cream in his lab, he always flavours it with vanilla.

"Vanilla ice cream is the hardest ice cream to make because you can't cover any defects up with it," he explained. "When you're adding one of these alternative sweeteners or antifreeze agents like winter wheat, if they have any little subtle flavour themselves it's going to come through in vanilla more than anything else."

And if Dr. Goff's latest project - a new fibre-enriched blend of ice cream - passes the vanilla taste test, you might soon be able to trade in your spoonful of Metamucil for a bowlful of Breyers. "If people aren't going to get fibre by eating more fruits and vegetables … then we've got to find food products in which you can put soluble fibres that still taste good," he said.

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Past batches of this fibre experiment have returned a "chewy, gummy and slimy" product, said Dr. Goff, but he hopes to perfect the recipe when the school year resumes this month.

When Dr. Goff contemplates his favourite flavour, it's not a sugar-free or nutrient-fortified blend whipped up in his lab. He closes his eyes to transport himself back to Italy, when he savoured the fatty, full-bodied taste of fresh pistachio ice cream - a luxury he's been pining for since that trip in 1994. Dr. Goff may be an ice-cream scientist first, but as his home freezer full of maple butter, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream will confirm, his role as consumer is a close second.

A history of delicious

Major points in the commercialization of ice cream:

1846: Nancy Johnson makes ice-cream production far more ergonomic by inventing the hand-cranked freezer, a major improvement over the old technique of mixing it in a large bowl.

1851: The first commercial ice-cream factory opens in Baltimore, Md., bringing brain freeze to the masses.

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1893: William Neilson, founder of the company that became industry giant Neilson's Ice Cream, produces his first batch of ice cream at a Toronto factory.

1926: Clarence Vogt introduces the first commercially successful continuous process freezer to the North American market. The style is adopted throughout the industry for large-scale production.

Source: International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers

International ice cream

In his world travels to discover innovations in ice-cream preparation, Doug Goff has encountered flavours far more exotic than fudge ripple. Here's a list of the most unusual varieties of ice cream he's tried:

Durian fruit from Malaysia

Corn and green bean from Thailand

Lobster bisque from the U.S.

Guinness and brown bread from Ireland

Rose hips from Canada

Chocolate jalapeno from Mexico

Dakshana Bascaramurty

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