Food News: Dan Barry’s “Ice Cream’s Identity Crisis”


This photo is borrowed from this source.

With warmer weather looming over us here in New England it is not uncommon for ice cream shops to start opening up for business.  That’s not to say that we don’t go out for ice cream here in the winter, but there is something far more enjoyable about it in the summertime.

If your family is anything like ours you have one or two half-eaten cartons of ice cream in the freezer at all times.  Recently, however, I have noticed at the grocery store, when picking up the requested ice cream flavors for my brothers, there were sometimes two options.

Now a lot of ice cream companies have frozen dairy dessert to accompany the shelves of their ice cream.  I don’t know about you but a frozen dairy dessert sounds a little leery if you are just expecting ice cream? 

After reading Dan Barry’s piece entitled, “Ice Cream’s Identity Crisis” in the New York Times I now understand the difference between a frozen dairy dessert and ice cream. However, I couldn’t help but wonder why there was ever a need to make two products so strikingly similar.

The difference between a frozen dairy dessert and ice cream is the amount of milk fat the product contains.  Typically, ice cream has a ten percent higher milk fat percentage over frozen dairy dessert.  An FDA spokeswoman noted: “Ice cream requires specific levels of milk fat content, nonfat milk solids content, total solids in each gallon of ice cream, and total weight in each gallon of ice cream, while frozen dairy products do not.”

This photo is borrowed fromt his source.

This photo is borrowed fromt his source. Notice how easily this could be confused with ice cream. Breyer’s made a subtle change from “All Natural Ice Cream” to “Quality” at the top of their products. If you want to be sure that you are buying ice cream you will have to look carefully for marking in the bottom left corner of the container.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream and vanilla frozen dairy dessert from the article: 

Breyers natural vanilla ice cream: milk, cream, sugar, tara gum (stabilizer), natural flavor.

Breyers extra-creamy vanilla frozen dairy dessert: milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavor, annatto (for color), vitamin A palmitate, tara gum.

You can see from this list that the differences between frozen dairy desserts and ice cream extend far beyond just the amount of milk fat.  The frozen dairy dessert is composed of a much longer list of complex ingredients, most of which I’ve never heard of. Generally speaking, when you are buying packaged foods, the simpler the ingredient list the better. It is much safer to know all of the ingredients in what you are buying.

So after the addition of so many extra ingredients, what’s the big difference?  Frozen dairy desserts have a creamier texture.  That’s about it.  Ice cream companies, like Breyer’s, said that after gathering feedback from consumers “a smoother texture” was among one of the top requests.  They realized that by adding corn syrup (along with that list of artificial ingredients) they were left with a smoother, creamier product. However, it was no longer ice cream.

My recommendation would be to stick with traditional ice cream or frozen yogurt instead of frozen dairy dessert.  The ominous title is up for too much interpretation, in my opinion.  There are no real standards for what is required to be considered a frozen dairy dessert.  The decision is left up to the manufacturers for the most part whereas there are certain guidelines for what ingredients can and cannot go into ice cream.

If you are looking for a smoother or creamier treat than ice cream, try other frozen desserts like gelato or sorbet.  You might find that if you go out to a store where they make their own ice cream that the product might be naturally creamier, just by the process of making it.

So, the next time you are in the freezer aisle make sure you know what you are buying.  What appears to be ice cream might actually have a different identity.

If you want to learn more about transcendence of frozen dairy desserts click here to read Dan Barry’s “Ice Cream’s Identity Crisis” and you can decide for yourself if “something more than ice cream is melting away.”


Barry, Dan. "Ice Cream's Identity Crisis." The New York Times. N.p., 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.
"Tara Gum." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 May 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.