Celebrating Ice Cream – Americas Favorite Treat

Heli J. Roy  |  7/12/2005 11:10:20 PM

By law, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk-fat. Despite its fat content, ice cream is a good source of calcium.

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Did you know that Americans consume more ice cream than any other nation in the world? Ice cream is one of the desserts most enjoyed by all ages, from children to grandparents, says LSU AgCenter food and nutrition expert Dr. Heli Roy.

Ice cream has been in the public eye about as long as there has been a United States. The first advertisement for it appeared on May 12, 1777. In 1984, President Ronald Regan designated July as ice cream month.

More than a billion and a half gallons of ice cream and frozen dairy products are produced annually in the United States. According to supermarket sales, the top five flavors are vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan, butter pecan and chocolate chip.

Roy points out that a full selection of ice cream and frozen dairy products is available, including low-fat, non-fat and no-sugar-added varieties, along with innovative flavors and mix-ins, such as cookies, brownies and cakes.The latest offerings include lactose free ice cream for those who cannot tolerate milk sugar.

What is ice cream actually made of? Ice cream consists of milk and other ingredients. It takes 12 pounds of whole milk to produce 1 gallon of ice cream. The other ingredients, such as fruits, nuts and chocolate chips, are added for sweetening and flavoring. Stabilizers and emulsifiers often are included for texture and flavor enhancement.

Ice cream is usually high in fat, with about 48 percent of calories from fat. By federal law, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk-fat.

But it does have a redeeming feature. Despite its fat content, ice cream is a good source of calcium, Roy says.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets labeling standards for ice cream, so you will get a consistent product, no matter which brand you buy. Lots of information may be found on the ice cream labels, but do you know what the labels really mean? Roy offers the following translations:

  • Sorbet is a frozen dessert made from fruit purée. It can include other flavorings and spices but contains no milk or milk products. 
  • Non-fat ice cream contains less than 0.5g of total fat per serving.
  • Sherbet contains mainly fruit based products, but milk is added for creaminess. it can have from 1.5 to 4 grams of fat per serving depending on the ingredients used.
  • Low-fa ice cream contains a maximum of 3g of total fat per serving (1/2 cup).
  • Light ice cream  contains at least 50 percent less total fat than regular ice cream (or the referenced product, which could be an average leading brand or the company’s own brand), or 33 percent less calories than regular ice cream.
  • Reduced-fat ice ream contains at least 25 percent less total fat than regular ice cream (or the referenced product).
  • Regular ice cream contains 10% to 11% butterfat.
  • Premium ice cream has a higher fat content than the regular ice cream, and the manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients than in the regular grade.
  • Superpremium: usually has a high fat content (about 60 percent of calories from fat), and the manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients. 
  • Gelato is a product that has less air whipped in the product than ice cream, therefore it is more dense and intensely flavored.

Ice cream is best stored in freezer that is not auto defrost for up to one or two months. A thin, plastic film is sometimes used inside the carton to cover commercial ice cream. This prevents absorption of other food odors from the freezer. If this film is missing, Roy recommends using a sheet of wax paper pressed against the ice cream before re-sealing the carton. The texture and, therefore, the quality of ice cream will change over time from thawing and re-freezing in an auto-defrost freezer.

Sometimes, frozen ice cream is hard to scoop. To make your job easier, put the ice cream container in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let it soften slightly. To prevent the ice cream from sticking to a scoop, dip the scoop in cold water first.

Since ice cream is a dairy product, it can be part of a healthy eating plan, according to Roy. If you usually follow a healthy diet and eat ice cream just as a treat, you can enjoy a small serving of even the richer varieties - but just once in a while.

"Keep in mind that with ice cream, calories add up very fast," the nutrition expert cautions, adding, "Remember, the key to a healthy diet is portion control."

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