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Ice Cream: The Airy Little Secret Print E-mail
(9 votes, average 4.44 out of 5)
Food - Groceries
Written by Ahmed Amr   
Monday, 21 June 2010 04:40

Not all ice cream is created equal. Aside from the ice cream's flavor and a myriad of mix ins from Haagen_Dazspeanut butter cups to cookie dough, there is one ingredient that you will find in every tub of ice cream - air. There are legitimate reasons for manufacturers to pump air into ice cream. For instance, it gives it a lighter texture. But, the problem is, you’ll never see a label that tells you exactly how much air you’re paying for.  With some brands, you might be surprised how little ice cream you are actually getting.

Air dilutes ice cream in the same way water dilutes fruit concentrates and to put it mildly, the amount of air in a scoop of ice cream can vary by wild margins. In the United States, there are guidelines that limit the maximum amount of air a manufacturer can pump into tub of vanilla - it can’t be more than half by volume. Think of it like humidity, where 100% humidity is the maximum amount of moisture you can have in the air. With ice cream, 100% aeration translates into 50% of the volume. Since ice cream is sold by volume and not by weight, you can see the problem with comparing cost per liter.

So how much difference can it make? Well, premium ice cream, like Ben and Jerry’s, contains only 12% air by volume. It’s one of the reasons it comes with a super premium price. With some brands like Breyers Natural Vanilla, the same quart of Ice Cream can be half air - half ice cream. If you put them on a scale, the air diluted ice cream would weigh 38% less. With Breyers, you could be paying for a lot of cold air - pun intended. Give it a try, grab 3 pints of Ben & Jerry's and a 1.5 L (3.33 pints) "Half Gallon" of Breyers. Even with the missing 1/3rd of a pint, you'll be shocked how much heavier the Ben & Jerry's weighs.

Every scoop of ice cream has to have a little air in it; otherwise it would be hard as ice. But when it has too much air in it, you don’t have to be conspiratorial to figure out that the manufacturer is trying to pull a fast one on consumers and you don’t have to be chemist to figure out if you’re being taken. When you dig in your spoon; if you don’t get a little resistance, you know it’s pumped with air. We've talked about shrinking ice cream before, but if you factor in pumping in more air on top of smaller packages, the numbers can get truly startling. A half gallon package reduced to 1.5 liters with air content increased from 25% to 50% would yield a stunning 50% decrease in the actual ice cream that is being sold.

For you history buffs who believe that the aeration of ice cream is a right-wing capitalist conspiracy, you might be onto something. It was chemical research team in Britain which included Baroness Margaret Thatcher that discovered the method for doubling the amount of air in ice cream. And the rest is history. The method was quickly adopted by manufacturers who wanted to reduce cost by using less actual ingredients.

It’s hard to judge the quality of the ingredients. When it comes to taste buds - to each his own. But there is one thing you might want to notice on the labeling. It makes a big difference whether you’re buying vanilla flavored ice cream versus ice cream that is actually made with real vanilla. Just watch out for the key word ‘flavored’ to get an idea of the quality of ingredients they mix in. Also, another golden rule of ice cream: If you find it hard to pronounce the ingredients, don't buy the ice cream.

I may be biased, but if I am going to risk adding to my waistline, I'll go for the good stuff in the small packages. I'll take Ben & Jerry's with less air and more butterfat. I'd rather eat it a little less often and enjoy it that much more. And heck, they seem to be the only company that isn't shrinking their packages or pumping more air to increase their profits.


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Omiewon  - Research Project? |2010-06-22 21:27:37
Seems like we need to sponsor a research project here. This is serious stuff that needs to be well researched. Might take more than a few pints.

I know that Haagen Dazs shrinks their ice cream pints by 2 ounces, but they have that White Chocolate Rasberry Truffle that is hard for my wife and I to pass up. There are about a half dozen Ben & Jerry's flavors that don't last the night in my freezer. With B&J, one of the tough things is that they use mix ins like Heath Bars which ingredients are decided by another manufacturer.

Trader Joe's has been pushing their Vanilla Ice Cream, so next time we grab some ice cream we're going to try that.

PaulaJo  - Tom & Jerry's Does not have HFCS in it |2010-06-22 17:09:43
First off, I have a container of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra in the freezer so I know this for a fact. It has CORN SYRUP in it, but NOT High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Two different animals. A couple of months ago I looked into the ingredients of Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's and Baskin-Robbins,,,,the three ice creams I like. Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry's don't use any HFCS, but you have to pick and choose the flavors that don't have HFCS in them with Baskin-Robbins. You have to go to the Baskin-Robbins website and look it up. Just not worth the trouble, not when the other two companies are so goooood ;)
Amy  - Oops - thanks |2010-06-22 19:48:05
Thanks for the correction PaulaJo, and I apologize for unintentionally maligning Ben & Jerry's!

And you're right, with almost all of them you really have to check out the ingredients... too many chemicals in all our food these days *sigh*.

I haven't had Baskins and Robbins in FOREVER... we used to get ice cream cakes there for birthdays when I was growing up. Ahh memories... ;)

Amy |2010-06-22 08:28:27
Interesting tip, and the whole "weigh your ice cream" sounds like the perfect excuse to go out and buy lots of ice cream. You know, in the name of research ;)

BTW, doesn't Ben & Jerry's contain HFCS? I used to love their stuff, but am trying to avoid the HFCS and other chemicals, so have been doing more of the Haagen-Daz "Fives" (have only 5 ingredients, all things you'd recognize.)

The ginger flavor is actually suprisingly yummy (especially if you add a little chocolate!)
haverwench |2010-06-21 13:27:14
Personally, I don't mind an ice cream with a bit more air. It has a lighter mouthfeel, not to mention fewer calories per scoop. Since the amount I eat gets measured out by volume rather than weight, an airier ice cream is easier on my waistline.

However, if you really want to get the most ice cream (by weight) per dollar spent, just look at the calorie count on the back. Then you can work out your cost per calorie rather than cost per cup to figure out which is the best deal. (Hint: half a cup of Ben and Jerry's original vanilla has 240 calories; half a cup of Edy's Grand vanilla has 140.)
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