Cloudy ice cubes vs. clear ice: how ice makers affect beverage flavor

It’s funny how the little things affect our daily lives in a big way – albeit sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

Ice is one of those household products we use on an almost daily basis, but few of us stop to consider how it affects the beverages we drink. We might, however, occasionally peer into our freezer’s ice maker and wonder why the ice cubes look so cloudy, and why some of the cubes become shrunken and chalky.

Knowing the answers to these questions might make you think twice about how you use ice at home.

What makes ice cubes cloudy?

All tap water contains impurities. Fluoride, lime, calcium and other minerals, and a host of organic particles are standard in tap water, even after it’s been filtered.

These impurities are pushed away from water molecules as water freezes and crystallizes. Because ice cubes made in ice makers and ice cube trays freeze from the outside inward, those impurities are pushed into the center of the ice cube, along with tiny bubbles and other gasses in the water. This combination of impurities and air bubbles are what give ice cubes their cloudy appearance.

But more importantly: these impurities and bubbles are also what cause a loss of flavor and carbonation in beverages.

Don’t believe that tiny impurities can make that big of a difference? To demonstrate, we tested pouring Diet Coca-Cola into two separate glasses: one filled with cloudy ice cubes made from filtered water in a freezer ice maker, and one filled with bullet ice cubes made in a Scotsman ice machine.

 

 

Tap water impurities and air bubbles aren’t the only thing that can affect the flavor of your ice. Ice cubes stored in freezer trays are exposed to the air circulating around the food in the freezer. Most freezers are part of refrigeration units with one central cooling source, which means the air circulating around the freezer also contains particles from food in the refrigerator. These food particles are absorbed into the ice, blending their flavors into the ice.

Last, ice cubes sublimate over time – which means the water evaporates into the air, causing the ice cubes to shrink. When this happens, all the food particles and impurities are (you guessed it) left behind. This is what can give old ice cubes a chalky appearance and bad odor.

You can test this for yourself by melting a cup of your freezer’s ice, then smelling the melted water. If the odor is less than savory, you may want to clean out your refrigerator and empty the ice tray so it can make a fresh batch.

How clear ice is made

Truly pure ice – the kind you see in restaurants and professional kitchens – is made in an entirely different way than the ice cubes that are made by freezer ice makers. Clear ice comes in a variety of forms, the most popular of which are bullet ice and chip ice. These are made in ice machines, and unlike ice makers, these machines make ice by spraying layers of water onto small heat sinks. This freezes the ice layer by layer, forcing gasses and impurities out and leaving behind only the pure water that crystallizes.

The simplest way to enjoy clear ice at home is to get an under counter ice machine, made by brands like Jenn-Air, Scotsman and Marvel.

Tips for purifying ice at home

If an under-counter ice machine isn’t in your household budget right now, there are also small changes you can make to incrementally improve the quality of your ice maker’s ice, like making sure that your ice maker is using filtered water and regularly emptying out your ice cube tray so it can make a fresh batch. If your freezer and refrigerator share a cooling unit and you keep a lot of food in both compartments, you can avoid food particle contamination by storing a fresh batch of ice cubes in a sealed plastic bag.

Have more questions about ice? Want to taste the difference clear ice can make for yourself? Give us a call or stop by our showroom.