What's The Best Ice Cube Tray? Biochemist Combines Bartending And Science To Find The Answer

By Ben Wolford on October 31, 2013 12:56 PM EDT

Biochemist reveals that not all ice cubes are created equal.
Biochemist reveals that not all ice cubes are created equal.

A biochemist and a food blogger recently published a 3,623-word scientific thesis in The Sweethome about the one concept most of us thought we had figured out: ice.

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But you probably know less than you thought you did. Does ice make your drink colder or does it make your drink less warm? Yeah, keep reading.

Matthew Nix, a biochemist with a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Kevin Liu, a writer and cocktail aficionado, set out to identify the best ice cube tray of all the ice cube trays. To those with discerning tastes, it can make a big difference in the quality of your drink. Turns out their mission wasn't so simple. "Of all the science-y topics to examine," they write, "water and ice may be one of the most challenging."

Really?

"Consider that water is a powerful polar solvent; it is the only molecule to exist naturally on Earth in three different phases; it is less dense as a solid than as a liquid; and it forms the foundation for all physiological processes in the body. It's easy enough to pose the question, 'What type of ice melts the fastest?' But it's much more complicated to ask, 'What type of ice from freezer temperature will melt fastest in a mixture of water and ethanol stored in a room-temperature glass held in a warm hand?'"

That, they say, "is the only question that matters."

Here are the basics. To answer that first question, ice makes your water less warm. The principle behind it is conduction; heat flows from the warmer substance to the colder one.

But, of course, the ice doesn't just absorb the heat and hang around for the rest of your Manhattan on the rocks. It melts and puts cold water into your glass. Depending on your taste, that's a good thing or a bad thing. Some people like whiskey rocks, which absorb the heat in your Scotch until the two substances, the stone and the Scotch, reach the same temperature.

"Whiskey stones will never dilute your drink; ice on the other hand will only do your cocktail justice for a limited time, after which your drink is too watered down," the authors write.

After that, they descend into theoretical ice cube scenarios, measuring the surface area of the ice, the cooling rate, "booze-to-water ratios" and that kind of thing. Part of this has to do with how quickly you consume the drink, and they use equations and charts to find the perfect shape of ice. Never use crushed ice unless you enjoy whiskey-flavored water.

"The take home message?" according to them: "Using big ice cubes will give you an additional 4½ minutes of time to enjoy your drink compared to smaller ice." And, by the way, they recommend a kind of ice tray called the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray. It makes big cubes.

For further reading on ice — no joke, there are whole books about fozen water — see Mariana Gosnell's 560-page volume, "Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance." If you thought not much could be said about drink-temperature maintenance, try hail, frost, frostbite, sleet, snow, permafrost, glaciers, ice roads, icebergs... It goes on.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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