Deep freeze: Liquid nitrogen ice-cream chill blasts over South Florida

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A cold chill is blanketing South Florida. And it’s fueled by liquid nitrogen.

Nitrogen ice cream, which has been steadily growing in popularity the past few years, is made by using liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze the cream base. The speedy process does not allow as many ice crystals to form as traditional freezing methods, creating ultra-creamy ice cream. Instant ice cream also can mean a fresher treat, often without preservatives.

Not to mention, it’s really fun to watch.

At Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt in Kendall, kids stare in wonder as the liquid nitrogen is released into stainless-steel bowls, causing a cool vapor mist that floats over the counter and down to the floor where it evaporates within seconds.

The culinary trick also delights students at Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami campus, where it’s taught during lessons on modernist cuisine.

“[Nitrogen ice cream] is a very fun thing to do. It provides instant gratification. Will it become the norm? I don’t think so. It’s labor-intensive and can be dangerous if not handled properly,” said chef Chris Wagner, the school’s director of culinary operations.

Still, several new shops specializing in the super-cold treat have popped up around town, and there are more to come, with entrepreneurs ranging from ages 24 to 70. Here’s a look at four of the local nitro options.

Brain Freeze Nitrogen Ice Cream and Yogurt Lab

Owned and operated by Doral Councilwoman Christi Fraga and her husband, Brain Freeze opened in March at 3905 NW 107th Ave. in Doral. She says she first tried nitrogen ice cream in California and wanted to see more of it in Florida.

The young couple has created a scientific theme, complete with white coats for the staff, laboratory flasks on display and plastic syringes filled with chocolate sauce, caramel, butterscotch and condensed milk.

Brain Freeze offers nearly 30 all-natural flavors and more than 1,000 combinations of ice cream and toppings, including sugar-free and vegan options.

“I wanted to create a family-friendly environment, more than an ice cream shop — a true dessert destination,” Fraga said. “We also have ice cream sandwiches and the best shakes in town.”

To ensure safety, Brain Freeze employees do not have direct contact with liquid nitrogen. The preparation process is computerized so that “mad scientists,” or employees, drop ingredients into commercial stand mixers and the liquid nitrogen flows in from a 30,000-pound tank through special plumbing attached to each station.

“It’s ready in less than 60 seconds, and the liquid nitrogen reduces the size of ice crystals that form, so it makes creamier ice cream,” Fraga said.

The couple has three other businesses in Doral, and they are considering opening a second Brain Freeze, in Kendall.

Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream

Established since 2012, Chill-N is a nitrogen ice cream pioneer at 8271 SW 124th St. in Pinecrest. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in economics, founder Daniel Golik caught the nitrogen ice cream bug and started experimenting with recipes at home.

“As far as I know, we were the first ones in South Florida,” Golik said. “It’s a multisensory experience, you get to see all the ingredients and it’s done right in front of you.”

Chill-N pays homage to science with a giant periodic table gracing the back wall and charts that illustrate the freezing process. He says that while some people do the mixing by hand, he uses mixers to be more efficient and consistent.

“We can serve about 120 people in an hour,” Golik said.

Chill-N uses a cream and a non-fat base from a local dairy company. He plans to incorporate a vegan option. There are 12 flavors to choose from and about 30 toppings. The shop also makes its own fudge and strawberry sauce. Golik is currently working with Miami-based Panther Coffee to come up with a new flavor.

Chill-N has a second location in Aventura (17831 Biscayne Blvd.), and Golik plans to open a third shop in Fort Lauderdale soon.

Lulu’s Nitrogen Ice Cream

Lulu’s is the brainchild of Miami-raised Georgetown University graduate Luisa Santos. She launched her business last May after winning a Start Up Hoya Challenge grant at Georgetown. After a year of catering and selling at farmer’s markets, Santos just opened her first store in Miami’s trendy Edgewater neighborhood, at 2001 Biscayne Blvd. Her grand opening is May 31 at noon.

“I always knew I wanted to have my own business and have a positive impact on the community,” Santos said.

From the dried-moss store sign to the furniture made from upcycled wood, Santos has a strong focus on sustainability and using local ingredients. She adopted a cow (aptly named Lulu) from Dakin Dairy Farm and makes her own ice cream base from scratch, including two vegan options. She’s developed more than 50 flavors that will be rotated about eight at a time.

Santos said liquid nitrogen allows her to make the freshest ice cream, though there are common misconceptions.

“People think you eat it or inhale it,” she said. “But it’s just the process to prepare the ice cream. And 78 percent of the air we breathe is nitrogen.”

She plans to incorporate education programs for kids and provide personal and business financial workshops for her employees, as well as host community events at the store.

Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt

Sub Zero was first introduced in 2013 when founders Jerry and Naomi Hancock from Utah pitched the business venture on the popular TV series Shark Tank. Since then, the company has grown to include some 50 franchises all over the world, including one at 9065 SW 107th Ave. in Kendall. Another store is set to open soon near Florida International University.

“We’ve grown 300 percent since Shark Tank,” said retired businessman and real-estate investor Will Stewart, who opened the local franchise in August.

Sub Zero has a patent on how it makes its ice cream, including beating the ingredients by hand in large bowls. In addition to six bases, more than 40 flavors and dozens of mix-ins, the company offers to customize the consistency of the ice cream. It recently added Italian ice to the menu and ice cream cakes (advance notice required).

Stewart also goes out to public schools to demonstrate how liquid nitrogen works, delighting students by flash-freezing gummy bears, roses and more right before their eyes.


Special to the Miami Herald