The old saying, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream," is pretty much true. Who doesn't like the cool, sugary treat during the lazy days of summer? When I was a kid, going to the local Dairy Queen or Tastee Freeze was a treat that we waited for all week.
Life was simple then, when ice cream was ice cream. We could just enjoy. Sometimes now there are too many choices: ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen custard, gelato... and the list goes on. What exactly is going on and what is what? Ice cream isn't just ice cream anymore.
To be classified as ice cream by the USDA, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milkfat. This fact is what distinguishes ice cream from all the other frozen products such as frozen custard, frozen yogurt, gelato, sherbert, sorbet and others.
Ice cream is sweet, creamy and delicious, but what makes it that way? It is basically made of three basic ingredients: milkfat either from milk or cream, sweeteners and flavorings.
The milkfat is what gives it its smooth and creamy texture. The creaminess depends on the size of the ice crystals that are formed during freezing. During freezing, ice crystals are combined with air and the faster it freezes, the smaller the crystals and the creamier the ice cream.
Sweeteners are added in the form of sugar, honey or others. To make the various kinds of ice cream, flavorings, nuts and other ingredients are added.
Frozen yogurt and frozen custard are often confused or even thought of as the same product. They are distinctly different even though they are made in the same fashion as ice cream. Frozen yogurt gets its creaminess from yogurt instead of milkfat, thus making it lower in fat than ice cream.
Frozen custard is basically ice cream with one added ingredient: egg yolks. The yolks are what gives it its creaminess and makes it dense and soft, with a texture more like soft serve. Frozen custard is more common in the south and Midwest.
Soft serve ice cream is also usually lower in milkfat than regular ice cream. A special machine that uses a pre-mixed product stores the product at 3 degrees Celsius until it is ready to be used, at which time it is combined with a pre-determined amount of air. This is a fairly quick process, which is why soft serve can't be frozen in a traditional freezer — the freezer takes longer to freeze which results in ice crystals.
Sorbet is a frozen dessert that contains just fruit and sugar with no dairy at all. It is often churned in an ice cream freezer, which makes it easy to scoop but not creamy, since there is no dairy base. It is an easy dessert to make at home and is refreshing.
Sherbert is halfway between sorbet and ice cream. It is basically sorbet with a little added milk. It is always fruit based.
Granita, or "Italian ice," is also a lot like sorbet, except with a different texture. They are made with pureed fruit, sugar and water. Whereas sorbets are smooth-churned, granita purees are scraped repeatedly during freezing, resulting in icy flakes.
Gelato literally means "ice cream" in Italian. White gelato has a custard base like its American cousin, but contains less milkfat and has less air churned into it during freezing than ice cream does. Thus, it has a denser texture and it is usually served slightly warmer than ice cream so it is softer and glossier.
A relatively new form of ice cream is mochi ice cream. It has a rice flour dough that encases a single serving of ice cream that can be eaten anywhere, anytime since it is self-contained and less messy than a cone. The chewy outer layer melts in your mouth and pairs nicely with the creamy center.
Photo by Getty Images/unalozmen.
Currently there are 1000 flavors of ice cream and, out of all of those, good old vanilla is still the number one choice. Chocolate comes in second and, ironically, it was invented before its vanilla counterpart. Perhaps this is because vanilla was rare and exotic in the 1700s. Although the first written ice cream recipe was found in a 1665, it wasn't until 1851 that the industrial ice cream production began.
Some of the more exotic flavors include avocado, garlic, chili, licorice, beer, buckwheat, green tea, bacon and we even found lobster ice cream in Maine. No thank you, I'll stick to my vanilla and chocolate.
We Americans consume more ice cream than any other country and 90 percent of us have ice cream in the freezer at any given time. On an average, each American eats 45.8 pints of ice cream each year. Before you start feeling guilty about consuming all that ice cream, the good news is that PREVENTION magazine has come out with the "Ice Cream Diet." They claim that women can eat one cup of ice cream a day and men can have one and a half cups per day (not fair they get more!) and still lose weight. The key is moderation and eating healthy otherwise. I think I would like this diet.
On this note, we are planning on having a homemade "Ice Cream Freeze-Off" this summer. My Uncle Vern always made the creamiest homemade ice cream when I was a kid and us Hoffman's have a recipe that is pretty darn good too. To settle the question of which one is best, we are having an ice cream freeze-off, much like a chili cook-off, to determine the winner. I figure it is a win/win either way since we have to sample both kinds!
Ice cream may not be just plain ice cream anymore, but with all the variations out there, there is certainly a spinoff that everyone can find to please them. Happy ice creaming!