The Science of Instant Pudding
April 2, 2006 11:17 PM   Subscribe

I just made instant pudding with lo-fat almond milk (it's what I had on hand) and it didn't work- it never thickened into pudding. Why didn't it work? What is it about dairy milk that makes instant pudding work properly? Would it work with soy milk?
posted by hyperfascinated to Food & Drink (11 answers total)
You didn't lick the spoon during the mixing excessively, did you?

The amylaze in saliva can keep instant pudding from setting up by breaking down the startch.
posted by Good Brain at 11:35 PM on April 2, 2006

"Unlike animal milk, almond milk contains no cholesterol or lactose" and I'm guessing none of the fats and lipids that are required to solidify.

Just a guess.

Source was Wiki.
posted by disillusioned at 11:36 PM on April 2, 2006

The fats. Remember, soy "milk" is really more like soy juice. The name is just that.
posted by odinsdream at 12:55 AM on April 3, 2006

Dunno about instant pudding, but I once substituted soy for moo in my usual scalloped potato recipe and it thickened up way more than the moo milk would have done.
posted by flabdablet at 12:56 AM on April 3, 2006

I have used soy milk in several recipes in which it would have to thicken up (pumpkin pies, etc.). I'm pretty sure I've used it with instant pudding, too. And it always worked fine. I have never tried it with almond milk, though -- and I always use the Silk soy milk, which feels thicker to me, more like a milk mouthfeel.
posted by litlnemo at 1:41 AM on April 3, 2006

Well, I have once tried this with soy milk and Jello instant pudding with exactly the same result. The resultant pudding sludge was disappointing, but it's a classic mistake. Googling "soy milk" with "instant pudding" will show a number of people have had poor results trying to use nondairy milk with instant pudding. In fact, Kraft's website warns against using soy milk with instant pudding. Rice milk is reported to have similarly bad results.

To get a good pudding set, you might try a suggestion from thhe University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences which has a page stating half the suggested amount of soy milk will work with instant pudding. However, one might wonder whether the improved end result is simply due to the lower liquid content, rather than the pudding actually setting up. Kraft says their regular pudding will work with a mixture of half-soy and half-regular milk (using instant pudding still seems to be not recommended under the mix revision). A half-and-half mix does sound more like the actual setting process is going on, and Kraft should know its foods as well as anyone. Doesn't help if no amount of milk is acceptable, of course.

Fat content alone is not the answer for the magical set, because I can personally attest that instant pudding does work with skim, aka fat-free, milk. Several people remark that the milk protein casein is needed for instant pudding to set, but its difficult to find an explicit statement to that effect backed up with hard facts. Still, the casein-required claim is supported by a patent for pudding mix which says (along with a bunch of other constituent blah blah blah): "The pudding compositions of the invention are formulated to be mixed with milk which then interacts with the gelling agents to coagulate and form a firm-but-smooth-texture pudding. The term "milk" is defined herein to include any aqueous solution of milk protein such as whole fluid milk, partially skimmed milk, skimmed milk, reconstituted nonfat dry milk, reconstituted casein, and the like." That definitely indicates that casein is a, if not the, major ingredient in firming up the instant pudding. Unfortunately casein appears to be a distinct no-no for vegans.

Where are all the chemistry majors when you need them?
posted by mdevore at 3:09 AM on April 3, 2006

mdevore is right--it's not the fat. Beside a carefully chosen modified starch, it seems like pudding's got other thickening agents.

this instant jello pudding
lists tetrasodium pyrophosphate & disodium phosphate as a thickening agents. TSPP & DSP reacts with the calcium in milk to result in increased viscosity of your pudding solution. (see number 18)

this pudding is a the kind you have to cook (so not instant); it lists carrageenan as the thickening agent. Carrageenan is a milk reactive hydrocolloid, and it's the presence of casein protein (as mentioned above) that allows the carrageenan increase viscosity. (explanation of how the protein affects carrageenan here--ctrl f for "viscosity").

I guess you can check the ingredients on the box & see what's listed as the thickening agent.
posted by neda at 4:50 AM on April 3, 2006

My guess is that the Almond milk has some additives that maintain the particles in suspension, perhaps guar gum? A homemade pudding is just a slowly-cooled suspension of starch (corn, tapioca) and dairy--no other thickeners are required. In this case, I could imagine the almond-milk binders grabbing the starch molecules from the mix. Since the binders are configured to maintain a liquid (you wouldn't want your almond-milk oatmeal to gel instantly, for example), then the pudding would have remained a liquid.

How to test this: Instant pudding is supposed to work with milk, right? A simple (but not 100% conclusive) experiment you could do would be to make the pudding with water. If it set, then it was not the absence of milk protein or fat, but the presence of an interfering compound. Of course, if it didn't set, you could niether confirm or deny either explanation.
posted by allan at 8:53 AM on April 3, 2006

I don't know the science behind it, but I've had bad results with soy milk. However, some soy milk plus a pack of silken tofu plus instant pudding mix equals delicious.
posted by savehomie at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2006

"this instant jello pudding lists tetrasodium pyrophosphate & disodium phosphate as a thickening agents. TSPP & DSP reacts with the calcium in milk to result in increased viscosity of your pudding solution."

Ah, that might be why I've had some success with Silk soy milk -- it's calcium-enhanced. But, truly, I can't remember for sure if I've used Jell-o Instant Pudding or something else.
posted by litlnemo at 3:06 PM on April 3, 2006

For all questions like this there is one bible.

He'll have an answer in there.
posted by lalochezia at 3:26 PM on April 3, 2006

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