FoodFacts: ICE CREAM

JAR 8.24.12
I scream, you scream, we all scream for… ICE CREAM! That we do. The so-called summer time treat, cooling and refreshing, and friendly all year round—ice cream.

Ice cream has a long history and has gone through many shifts and changes. Beginning with ice drizzled with fruit juices, to flavored ice and sorbetti, to present day dreamy creamy ice cream. With a presence in ancient China, to the Roman Empire, to other European countries in the 16th century, and strong advancements in the art of ice cream confection in the United States, ice cream has roots all over the world.  Initially, ice cream and other assorted ices were delights of the upper classes, coveted by emperors and enjoyed at fancy dinner parties.[1] But now it is for the masses, easily accessible, and all over the place, all year round. America is the largest consumer of ice cream in the world,[2] but it appears that the number of pints of ice cream that the world ingests is on the rise.

The Science
Sugar ratios in frozen treats like gelato, ice cream, sorbet, etc., really help to control the texture of the final product. Once the sugars are dissolved in the liquid, the sugar molecules actually prevent the liquid from freezing all the way, and just lowers the freezing point of the whole mixture. Which means that ice cream and other frozen goodies are just tiny ice crystals that are suspended in the sweet liquid that will not freeze. The ratio of sugar to liquid has to be just right; too much sugar will result in sweet soup and too low of a sugar content will create a rock hard dessert. The best ratio, according to Alton Brown, is a 7 ounces of sugar to 16 ounces of liquid, which will produce a scoopable and malleable dessert.[3]

To create the smooth texture that ice cream is known for, there has to be not only the tiny crystals but also the air content has to be incorporated into the mixture correctly. That is where the ice cream maker comes in. This contraption was first seen in 1843 and created by Nancy Johnson (from New Jersey, though this seems to be disputed). It once was a container which was filled with the mixture, surrounded by a bucket of salt and ice, operated by a crank, which was churned by hand. The churn on the inside, would scrape all the ice crystals that were forming on the walls of the inner can, while mixing in the air. Now there are all sorts of contraptions that get this job done, commercially or at home on the kitchen counter.

The Rules
The Food and Drug Administration in the States, has set up various rules and guidelines that ice cream has to meet. This ensures that the customer is buying consistent ice creams and that she knows the product she is purchasing. The milk used for the ice cream has to be pasteurized, this is extremely important as milk should be a major ingredient. Regular ice cream must contain a minimum of 10% milk fat, which counts as a solid according to the FDA. While reduced fat ice cream has a minimum of 25% less fat than the regular ice cream made by the same brand. Another category, light ice cream, is supposed to have 33% fewer calories as well as 50% as much fat than that regular ice cream (still of the same brand). Low- fat, yet another class of ice cream, contains 3 grams of fat per half cup serving, while nonfat has a maximum of .5 grams for the same size serving. There is a minimum standard that each gallon of ice cream is required to contain 1.6 pounds of total solids and the gallon cannot weigh less than 4.5 pounds. Egg yolks can provide up to 1.4% of the solids. [4]

Quality labels are also required of ice cream manufacturers as regulated by the FDA. “The differences in quality relate to product packaging, amount of air in the ice cream, ingredient quality and price.” [5] The highest quality of ice cream, Super-premium ice cream, is defined as having low air content, high fat and is also produced with the best ingredients. Premium, the next step down, will have higher fat content and less air than regular ice cream (which meets the FDA standards for ice cream as discussed above). The higher the air content, the lower the quality of the ice cream and probably the lower the price, these even feel lighter than higher end ice creams.

There are even regulations on flavoring. If the product is predominantly made up of artificial ingredients for flavoring, the packaging must state the word “artificial” as a prefix to the common flavor name in its title. [6]

The Styles
Italian style ice cream, referred to as gelato, is less airy than the other varieties of ice creams. This style relies on milk, rather than creams or egg custards which results in a lighter frozen dessert. Then there is what is generally thought of as American style ice cream, which revolves around cream, a little heavier than just milk, so the end product is heavier. French style ice cream is the richest and heaviest of them all, based on a egg custard, that involves cooking, tempering and a lot of stirring, even before it is set to be churned.

Aside from the science, this gets a little complicated. According to Alton Brown, there are two schools of ice cream. There is what is called the Philadelphia style, which is also called the American style. But there is also New York style ice cream, comparable to French style ice cream, more of a frozen custard (I know, I know, Philadelphia and New York are both in America). This seems to be a little known fact, however, because most sources, other than Brown, provide that Philadelphia, American and New York styles are all the same. Brown does mention that “older cookbooks” refer to this custard type as New York style.[7] The New York Times article, “Egg-free Ice Cream Lets Flavors Bloom,” written by Melissa Clark in 2010, refers to the eggless variety as Philadelphia or American style, but does not include New York.

What we are most accustomed to and what is more available to us, via grocery store and even ice cream shops, is the New York/ French style, the thick, smooth, heavy and dense frozen dessert. As mentioned earlier, this style requires much more work. The milk or cream, sugar, eggs or just the yolks, along with the flavoring must be cooked all together, slowly over low heat. That is where the custard part comes in. All those elements are essentially the recipe for custard. This then has to cool even before it can be transformed into ice cream. Not only is the texture generally smoother than, Italian and American styles, it is much more decadent. There is a higher fat content, due to the eggs, which only adds to its heavier texture. But this is the ice cream that most of us know and love, which we turn to in times of angst or as a refresher on a hot day.

Though in reading the article by Melissa Clark, it appears Philadelphia style ice cream is rising in popularity. It is an old method of making ice cream, but it is becoming trendy, as more and more people are discovering organic produce and food allergies seem to be on the rise. People she interviewed said that this kind of ice cream was purer, and allowed for the flavors and ingredients to be the stars of the frozen treat, rather than being hidden under the heaviness of the eggs.[8] Alton Brown, is of a similar belief. In his episode of  “Good Eats: Churn Baby Churn,” he proclaims he is a purist when it comes to ice cream. He says, “[W]e in the ice cream under ground believe that ice cream should be just that, milk or cream, frozen with sugar and flavorings. That’s it. No double boilers….”[9] The flavors are more intense and tangible, while the Philly ice cream on the whole is less heavy. Part of the allure of this according to Clark’s article, is the ability to eat more. Where the richness of a custard ice cream gets heavy and repetitive, the lightness of this Philly doesn’t overwhelm the belly. The downside though, is that this variety of ice cream tends to freeze to be pretty hard, and many chefs dabbling in this school suggest the addition of a small amount of alcohol or a liquid sweetener.[10] These extra sugar molecules will cause the mixture to freeze less and be softer.

The Flavors
The best part, the flavors! Now there are so many different flavors, and creative ice cream makers all over the world are inventing new ones, probably right now, at this very second. The mixture for ice cream is almost like a blank canvas, only with a few requisites. It allows for the inclusion all kinds of ingredients, flavors, combinations and experimentation.

 Vanilla though, is the most sold and consumed in the world. It is the most popular flavor, even beating out chocolate by a large margin.[11] Compared to all the new, exciting, unique and creative flavors out there, vanilla still reigns supreme, its classic comfort food. Vanilla can top a wide variety of desserts, from a dense chocolate cake to a peach cobbler. It is definitely the most versatile flavor available.

Flavors now are even created to recreate and re-imagine the world’s favorite desserts; cakes, cookies, cobblers, candies, even crème brulee. So many ingredients are being tossed into ice cream mixtures for texture, taste and originality. Even traditional flavors are being given new spins in more contemporary directions, elevating layers of taste and texture.

There are flavors that are bringing in savory elements, like red beans and avocados, not just the old school pistachios or nuts. This is yet another way to bring the contemporary into the old school creation of ice cream, making the frozen dessert multi dimensional and exciting.

Now, try out your own ice cream creations, here are two recipes to start you off: Philadelphia/ American style and New York/ French style. Enjoy!!

*Be sure to check out my sources. page, where there is a complete works cited for this FoodFact.
RER 11.2011

[1]Ice Cream Facts http://weirdfacts.com/fun-facts-a-stuff/71-ice-cream.html
[2] Wikipedia, Alton brown, Weirdfacts
[3] Alton Brown, Good Eats episode “Churn Baby Churn”
[4] FDA Ice Cream Regulations http://www.ehow.com/list_7480057_fda-ice-cream-regulations.html, United States Department of Agriculture Standard for Ice Cream
[5]FDA Ice Cream Regulations  http://www.ehow.com/list_7480057_fda-ice-cream-regulations.html
[6] FDA Ice Cream Regulations http://www.ehow.com/list_7480057_fda-ice-cream-regulations.html
[7] Alton Brown, Good Eats episode “Churn Baby Churn”
[8] Melissa Clark, “Eggless Ice Cream Lets the Flavors Bloom,” nytimes.com
[9] Alton Brown, Good Eats episode “Churn Baby Churn”
[10]Melissa Clark, “Eggless Ice Cream Lets the Flavors Bloom,” nytimes.com
[11]Ice Cream Facts http://weirdfacts.com/fun-facts-a-stuff/71-ice-cream.html

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