What is Laughing Gas Doing In My Whipped Cream?

Laughing Gas in Whipped Cream

You may recall laughing gas from visits to your dentist. But did you know that the same gas is also used in whipped cream and cooking sprays?

Here, for example, is the ingredient list of Lucerne Whipped Topping:

cream, water, sugar, corn syrup, nonfat milk, contains less than 2% of: natural and artificial flavor, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan. propellant: nitrous oxide.

What you need to know:

The scientific name for laughing gas is nitrous oxide (N2O), chemically constructed of 2 nitrogen atoms and one atom of oxygen. It is colorless, odorless, and has slight anaesthetic properties. It has been loved by dentists and their patients for over 2 centuries.

Nitrous oxide has another interesting property – it is highly soluble in fat. Whipped cream is of course very high in fat. If you whip cream at home, you know that the whipping basically increases the volume of the cream by adding millions of tiny air bubbles to it. Adding air to cream increases its volume two fold. But adding N2O increases it by 4!

Nitrous oxide is an inert gas, and is considered a safe food additive. It is mixed in liquid form with the liquid cream inside the canister, displacing any oxygen. This inhibits the cream from going rancid.

Once squeezed out by a trigger happy child (or parent), the  N2O turns into a gas, thus  turning the cream into a foam. But eat your whipped cream quickly, as nitrous oxide will start to react with the oxygen in the room and your cream will go back to liquid form within 20-30 minutes.

So as you can see, shelf life and volume have turned laughing gas into a food product “ingredient”.

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  • Jenna

    Oh….kay. So. Where on the whole Good/Bad/Meh scale does this ingredient go? Mildly interesting post, but rather… half written. You’ve just announced there is this stuff in the food – but other then saying it’s in there (which is announced on the can) and that it makes cream in a can ~ugh~ 4x ‘whippier’ for a brief time, but beyond that… not a whole heck of a lot. I’m glad I have the app, I’m interesting in learning more about my food/the food industry but seriously guys. More and more of these posts feel like that panicked bit of homework you do on the busride into school because you forgot the night before. You have a start to each of them, but they never seem to actually come to the point. ~A~ point. Not sure what is going on with the site but this is becoming the common rather then just an off day. And shelflife & volume have turned LOTS of random things into ingredients. If it’s on the label, it’s an ingredient. What I want from ya’ll is help finding out the good/bad of it. Not something that boils down to “So, this is in there. Weird, right?”

    I can get that from the Huffington Post. I kinda view your writers as several steps above ~that~. But lately? Not… so much.

    • HawkJRL

      Agree.
      Hasn’t this always been in this sort of product? Why is it newsworthy now?
      Wouldn’t a more helpful post be to tell viewers how to make their own whipped cream ?

      • Caty

        Easy- heavy whipping cream, vanilla and a bit of icing sugar- beat on high till whipped or about 2 mins :)

    • aemish

      I second that emotion. I’m tempted to start relegating these to the spam folder.

  • Learning ’bout food

    Thanks Fooducate, this was interesting.

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    When I was in college (a long time ago) I knew some kids who would take whipped cream containers like this in the grocery store and sniff the Nitrous Oxide that comes out before the whipped cream. A couple of them were charged with shoplifting. Interesting case since they put the product back on the shelf after sniffing the laughing gas. Appropos to nothing, perhaps… Just reminds me of something that was amusing at the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/KimberlyDoster Kimberly Doster

      When they sucked the nitrous out, they a)contaminated the product with their mouths, b)made the product useless, as it won’t come out of the can with no propellant, and rendered it unsalable, so the store lost money.