Each ingredient used to make ice-cream plays a role in providing flavour, consistency and texture.
• Milk fat can be added as cream, butter or pure milk fat, and gives ice-cream its characteristic smoothness and creaminess. Generally, the higher the milk fat content, the richer the ice-cream. Coles Finest Madagascan Vanilla Bean has 18% milk fat – the highest of the lot – and therefore the highest percentage of saturated fat.
• Non-fat milk solids include ingredients such as the solids of skim milk, protein, milk sugar (lactose) and mineral matter. They give body to the ice-cream and help develop smoothness. They do very little to enhance flavour, but work to increase viscosity and resistance to melting as well as lowering the freezing point. It’s important that ice-cream not have too many non-fat milk solids, as these cause an icy texture due to the formation of lactose crystals.
• Sweetening agents enhance the flavour of ice-cream; common sweeteners are cane sugar (sucrose) and glucose syrups. Sugar lowers the freezing point of the ice-cream mixture, resulting in slower freezing and so requiring a lower temperature for proper handling. Peters No Sugar Added Classic Vanilla, as its name suggests, has the lowest sugar content of all the ice-creams on test and instead uses the sweeteners acesulphame potassium (950) and sucralose (955).
• Stabilisers such as vegetable gums increase the viscosity of ice-cream by controlling the size and growth of ice crystals to give a uniform and smooth consistency. Common stabilisers used include vegetable gums such as carrageenan (407); processed eucheuma seaweed (407a); sodium alginate (401); locust bean gum (410); guar gum (412) and xanthan gum (415), as well as powdered cellulose (460) and sodium carboxymethylcellulose (466). Gelatine can also be used, and is found in six of the ice-creams on test (see the table).
• Emulsifiers improve the whipping qualities of the mix by ensuring the milk fat remains evenly distributed. Commonly used emulsifiers include mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids (471), citric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472c), polysorbate 80 (433) and propylene glycerol esters of fatty acids (477).
• Air (overrun) gives ice-cream its desired texture. Without incorporating air, the ice-cream mix would freeze as a solid mass. During the freezing process, the overrun increases its volume.
• Colourings make ice-cream attractive to the eye and correspond to the associated flavour. For the ice-creams on test, the natural colouring annatto (160b) is mostly used. Caramel I (150a) and Caramel IV (150d) are also used in some.
• Flavourings Manufacturers don’t need to specify the names of the flavourings used in their ice-creams or whether or not they’re natural. Natural vanilla extract is expensive, so less expensive ice-creams tend to use artificial flavours. In this test, Sara Lee, New Zealand Natural, Homer Hudson, Coles 97% Fat Free and Coles Classic Vanilla Creamy claim to use a natural vanilla flavour. Coles Finest, Weis and Homer Hudson specify a percentage of vanilla extract that they use.
Regular ice-cream is defined by the Food Standards Code as a sweet frozen food made from cream and/or milk products that must contain no less than 10% milk fat and 168g/L of food solids.
Premium ice-cream There is no set requirement for these types. “Premium” is purely a marketing term. Products like Homer Hudson and Connoisseur Gourmet don’t have ‘premium’ on the label but carry a premium price tag.
Reduced-fat ice-cream should contain about 25% less fat than its full-fat equivalent, this is about 7% fat for ice-cream.
Low-fat ice-cream must contain no more than 3% fat.
% fat-free claims are restricted by the industry Code of Practice to products that contain no more than 3% fat. i.e. 97% 98% or 99% fat free. Five ice-creams on test use these claims on their labelling.
Ice confection is a term used for a product that doesn’t meet the definition of ice-cream. In this test, only Coles Smart Buy is labelled an ice confection.
Soy-based ice confection In this type of product, milk solids are replaced with soy protein. Sanitarium So Good Vanilla Bliss is the only soy-based ice-confection on test.
The ideal storage temperature for ice-cream is -25°C; it should never be stored any warmer than -18°C. Avoid heat shock (large or long periods of temperature fluctuations), as this will cause the formation of large ice crystals which give the ice-cream that icy or sandy texture. To avoid heat shock you can also practice the following:
- Take a cooler to the supermarket so the ice-cream (as well as any other frozen or refrigerated foods) can stay cool when you're travelling home.
- Get the ice-cream last, and try to get a tub that's further down in the freezer (if it's a chest freezer), or towards the back (if it's in a stand-up freezer).
- Don't choose a product with ice crystals around the container. This is a sign that its undergone temperature changes and so might have a gritty/icy texture.
- Put the ice-cream in the freezer as soon as you get home and don't leave it out on the kitchen bench for too long after using it.