Who does not like a serving of an ice cream, any where, any time of the day? But the role of ice cream, with its high fat content and high sugar levels, in the deteriorating health situation among a large segment of the population is coming under the scanner of health pundits and policy makers. Paradoxically the prevailing laws in many countries do not permit labeling of any product as ice cream unless it contains a minimum amount of butter fat and sugar, both dangerous food ingredients which are fore runners of many modern day health disorders. What is the logic behind such a practice followed by many countries? Probably the over riding concern on the part of food standards authorities was to protect the quality and safeguard the consumers from economic malpractices, during early years of development of food industry when negative impacts of fat and sugar were not well known. Realization of the dangers posed by these health debilitating components which are often over consumed has spawned development of many ice cream like products, looking and tasting like them and these alternative options are given names like frozen yogurt, frozen custard, frozen desserts, gelato etc with lower levels of fat and sugar.
Ice cream is a traditional product based on natural milk solids, cream, sugars and emulsifiers and the typical texture associated with these products is achieved through beating air into the matrix at low temperatures. The typical mouth feel in traditional products cannot be attained without a minimum quantity of fat. Modern developments have made it possible to prepare products almost similar to traditional ice cream products using a variety of ingredients and additives, mimicking fat, approved for food use and it is even possible to make reasonably good ice cream like preparations with no milk or cream or sugar. Soy based or vegetable oil based or non-nutritive sweetener based frozen preparations are in the market challenging the over whelming position hitherto enjoyed by the traditional ice cream products. This has made it possible to make such products within the reach of health compromised people for whom the standard ice cream is a taboo. These developments are mutually beneficial to both the consumers as well as the industry. If the frozen dessert industry has been able to clock consistent growth during the last one decade, it was possible entirely due to the ability of the industry to develop such products acceptable to consumers like weight watchers, diabetics, lactose intolerant people, obesity victims etc.
The role of "overrun" operation in the process of ice cream making is some what critical in flavor release during eating and since traditional ice cream products are light because of the overrun to the extent of 120-150%, any flavor incorporated gets diluted. This is in contrast to other frozen products like Kulfi of India, or Gelato of Italy or Sorbet and Sherbet products or Popsicles which give stronger flavor perception and dense textural experience. Overrun also influences the melting characteristics of frozen desserts and higher the over run faster will be the melting of the product. The rich sugar content in ice cream does have an adverse effect on dental health and traditional ice cream products with high overrun are washed down faster compared to dense products like Kulfi. Probably the US ice cream industry must have realized this fact while restricting the sugar content to less than 16% while Gelato products contain 16-24% sugar. On the other hand Gelato has significantly less fat, generally about 4-8%.
Gelateria, which sell Gelato in stead of traditional ice cream products as in ice cream parlors, are very popular in Europe though there are Gelato parlors in the US also. Those used to Gelato swear by it and reasons for such a preference are many as illustrated above. Most important is the characteristic mouth feel associated with Gelato which is contributed by the relatively low speed at which the blend is churned incorporating much less air in the process and significantly warmer temperatures around 10F at which they are served. The product when consumed is some what slushy unlike the freeze hardened ice creams giving a softer mouth feel liked by many consumers.
Beside the ice cream and Gelato, products like Sorbet, frozen yogurts, Popsicles and others are also popular, though their market share is some what limited. There are also frozen milk preparations which are natural and health puritans prefer such products over commercial ones though it is difficult to prevent crystallization of water component giving a crunchy mouth feel. Frozen yogurts, an alternative offered by the dessert food industry claims superior nutritive value because of the presence probiotics in them. Lactic acid bacteria to the extent of 100 million cells per gm ought to be included for certified frozen yogurts. Indian kulfi is a classical example of a frozen milk based dessert which has a totally different eating experience. While ice cream and gelato are supposed to melt in the mouth, kulfi will have to be literally bitten with teeth for melting in the mouth before swallowing. Because it is made from evaporated, sweetened milk kulfi has a distinct caramelization flavor besides higher levels of protein and lactose both imparting their own distinct taste. Comparing the health attributes among these products may be some what far fetched because they are consumed in smaller quantities and for just enjoying the eating experience. But children not inclined to drink milk may have to be encouraged to eat ice cream and similar products to ensure adequate intake of milk solids so necessary for health, especially for bones and teeth.