Ice Cream Specialist

Maya Warren dishes out tasty science lessons, one sweet scoop at a time


(left to right): Peanut butter and jelly ice cream; Cookie Monster ice cream (with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies); Lucky Charms ice cream

Maya Warren has one of the coolest jobs on the planet: She’s a food scientist who specializes in ice cream. She uses her knowledge of nutrition, technology, chemistry, and physics to create fabulous frozen treats. “I’m in love with ice cream!” says Warren. “Honestly, I get so excited every time I talk about it, because there’s just so much science that goes into ice cream.”

Warren is the head of research and development for the ice cream company SMiZE Cream and has previously supervised research at Cold Stone Creamery. At SMiZE, she works on formulating ice cream recipes, concocting new ice cream flavors, and finding ways to improve existing ones.

Warren also teaches others about the science in every scoop on her Instagram Live series called Ice Cream Sundays with Dr. Maya. She started the online series during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic after noticing that many people were making bread at home and talking about it on social media. Making ice cream should be a trend too, she thought. Warren spoke recently with Science World about the sweet life of an ice cream scientist.


MIXING MINT: On her Instagram Live series, Warren shares simple recipes for making ice cream at home.

How did you become interested in food science?

Back when I was 6 years old, I got an Easy-Bake Oven. I have a vivid memory of pouring brownie mix into the toy’s tiny pan, putting it into the oven, and watching it transform. That was my first experience with a chemical reaction. I was so into it.

In high school, I fell in love with chemistry even more. My high school chemistry teacher was amazing. He really encouraged and inspired me. Later, when I was working on my Ph.D. in food science, I had a wonderful professor who told me that I could do anything I want in life. He was right!



What’s something surprising people might not know about ice cream?

Ice cream is a frozen mixture of milk, cream, sugar, and flavorings. But you might not guess its main ingredient: air! Without air, we’d just have a solid block of milky ice, like a Popsicle. Air gets whipped in as the ice cream mixture is cooled to its freezing point. At this temperature, ice crystals form. These crystals are surrounded by a sugary liquid, little particles of fat, and of course, tiny air bubbles. They give ice cream its soft texture. There’s so much science involved in making ice cream.


Roasted beet ice cream with pistachios and goat cheese

What is a typical day like for you?

Some people assume all I do is make and eat ice cream all day. That’s part of my job, but there’s a lot more to it. I do most of my work in a test kitchen. It’s filled with ice cream makers that churn up batches of ice cream, as well as a device called a blast freezer, which quickly freezes the ice cream so the ice crystals stay small. That results in smoother ice cream.

I spend a lot of time searching for the latest and greatest flavor trends. Once I get an idea, I have to figure out which ingredients to use and how much of each I’ll need to turn the concept into a new flavor. I also work out how to scale up the recipe, so we can make thousands of pints of ice cream to ship to stores. It can take up to a year to perfect a new flavor.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Everything! It’s ice cream, chemistry, creativity, and sharing what I know and love. Ice cream is also an amazing tool for connecting with people. You say the words ice cream, and you instantly have people’s attention. From there, it’s easy to get them curious about the science behind this delicious treat. Sharing food science with others is my mission.


DELIGHTFUL CAREER: Warren says making ice cream is both a science and an art.

Skills Sheets (2)
Skills Sheets (2)