Do you reach for whipped cream in aerosol can to top every dessert during the holidays? No need to be embarrassed, we all do it - even when that whipped cream is going straight from can to mouth. However, you might not be able to indulge your favorite midnight kitchen guilty pleasure because there's a nationwide shortage of nitrous oxide. Sounds so scientific, right? This is why it matters.
Nitrous oxide is the key component in those aerosol cans of whipped cream because it's used as a whipping agent to froth the cream into submission before it exits the can. That same chemical compound is also used to power rocket engine models, but that's neither here nor there.
What is important is that, very quietly in August, a tragic accident in Florida at the Airgas chemical plant occurred at the loading dock. Airgas, as confirmed by the Washington Post, is "the largest North American producer of the gas, [supplying] nitrous oxide to several customers, including ConAgra and medical clients."
One person was killed in the accidental explosion that was thought to be caused by the presence of tanks in a loading bay of the facility, according to FOX10 TV. Because Airgas supplied nitrous oxide to ConAgra (the manufacturers of Reddi-wip, the perennial opponent of Cool Whip), these shortages started becoming noticeable soon after the accident leading into the holiday season.
Both Conagra and Dean Foods (the creator of aerosol whipped cream under generic store brands) "had to slash their whipped cream production," and "dairy cases from Boston to Omaha have already gone empty," as reported by the Washington Post.
The limited supply of Reddi-wip alone is alarming consumers, but Lanie Friedman, a spokeswoman for ConAgra, told the Washington Post: "We are proactively managing the production of Reddi-wip and are doing the best we can to make it available to as many consumers as possible. We should have our fully supply up and running by February." ConAgra halted their Reddi-wip production in November.
This highlights others troublesome issues that go beyond Reddi-wip, because honestly going one holiday season without an aerosol can of whipped cream should be low on our priority list of complaints. As the Washington Post pointed out, this shortage highlights the fact that food production, across all mediums from dairy to meat, is concentrated to a handful of suppliers and facilities - meaning one disaster at a location makes the entire chain volatile.
Dairy farms in particular bear the brunt of this single-minded production chain as since 1970, the number of dairy manufacturing plants have decreased by 75 percent. Our focus in the coming years should be ways to diversify that production across multiple sources so that one kink in the chain does not cause production to stop entirely.
There are still organic brands, such as Natural by Nature, that are not effected by this shortage, and the tub o' whipped toppings that compete every year with aerosol whipped cream cans aren't effected either. If you're completely devastated, you can make it yourself.
Here are three variations on homemade whipped cream we love (no nitrous oxide needed).
1. Perfect Whipped Cream
This whipped cream recipe from Add a Pinch includes the most important secret when whipping cream: an ice-cold mixing bowl.
Find the recipe here.
2. Maple Bourbon Whipped Cream
Why have plain whipped cream when you can have whipped cream with bourbon in it?
Find the recipe from Renee Nicole's Kitchen here.
3. Brown Sugar Whipped Cream
This brown sugar whipped cream will accent any pie at your holiday gathering. Can anyone say salted caramel apple pie?