Nutrition Meets Food Science

Healthy Innovations in Ice creams

Ice creams have always been a go to treat for many people may it be children or elderly people. We have always been indulging in ice creams especially in summers but the real lovers of ice cream would enjoy it even in dead of winter. The pleasure of having an ice cream is just a next level thing but many people will still caution us about limiting its consumption for the calories, fat and sugar present in them. Children maybe just too naive to understand what is good or bad for their health. And how great would it be to enjoy your favourite treat without any guilt?

Well due to several health concerns and consumer demands there have been done many innovations giving rise to variety of health friendly ice creams with ingredients that would add up to the overall nutrient content of the ice creams.

Ice cream is made of a mixture of dairy products and must have at least 10% dairy fat. They must also have minimum of 3.5% protein but low fat version may have 3% protein. Besides, ice cream can also have some non-dairy ingredients such as fruit and egg products, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, confectionery, condiments, spices, ginger, nuts, bakery products like cake and cookies. 

Altering the Fat content and Source

There is some scope for making healthy ice creams from the standard itself as it allows lowering the fat content to reduce the calories. The versions of ice creams with different fat contents are as follows:

  • Reduced fat ice- cream which contains at least 25% less total fat than the reference product.
  • Light or Lite ice cream which contains at east 50% less total fat or 33% fewer calories than the reference product.
  • Low fat ice cream which contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving.
  • Non-fat ice cream which contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.

Fruits, cocoa, spices and bakery products also allow addition of some of the nutrients and healthy components. However, if dairy fat is replaced by vegetable oil then it will no longer be called as ice cream but be called frozen dessert. So, replacing the source of fat will be of no help as it will no longer be an ice cream. 

Since ice cream must have 10% fat and fat not only makes it taste good but also contributes the smooth texture and creamy mouthfeel. However, as fat contributes a lot of calories, reduction is normally tried with lowering fat content allowing medium and low-fat versions of ice creams. As mentioned above, reduction in fat changes the texture so it must be compensated by addition of some corn syrup solids, stabilisers and emulsifiers, which will provide creaminess. Air incorporation with the help of emulsifiers helps. 

As dairy fat has about two thirds saturated fat, some efforts are made to use vegetable oils which brings frozen desserts into picture. Since vegetable oil contains higher levels of unsaturated fat, they are considered healthier. When vegetable oils are used, care must be taken to see that the product remains hard enough just like dairy fat which is hard when ice cream is frozen. Higher unsaturation may create softer version unless fat is chosen properly. 

Low Sugar Versions

Lower sugar versions are also considered healthy; however, it has direct implications on the taste and flavour of the ice cream. The next thing after creaminess in ice cream that people love is the sweet taste of it. So, one has to really be particular about consumer acceptance when cutting down sugar in ice creams. Lowering the sugar without cutting out sweetness can be achieved by using sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. There are fears that this may upset the microbiome in gut. Some natural sweeteners like stevia and xylitol may be helpful. Fructose oligosaccharide will not only provide sweetness but also provide dietary fibre which is beneficial for microbes in gut. Sugar also has an important role in the texture of ice cream. The sugar controls the amount of ice formed during the freezing of the product by lowering the freezing point of water present in ice cream. This ensures that the ice cream is soft enough to scoop and eat. It also gives thickness to the product and makes it stable to heat shock (being in and out of the freezer). The sugar will help as well to release the flavour of the ice cream.

Thus when sugar is decreased in formulation this must be compensated. Milk sugar lactose has similar effect on texture. So, replacing sugar with lactose defeats the calorie reduction purpose. 

Boosting with Protein Ingredients

Normally ice creams have about 3 to 4% protein content. Adding proteins will make it more nutritious. There are various proteins such as whey protein, soy protein, pea protein etc. that are used sometimes but more recent trend of adding nuts like almond, pistachio and others not only add proteins but also provide other healthy components such as dietary fibre, healthy fats etc. 

Fruits have been very popular ingredients in ice cream. Strawberries, oranges, banana etc. have been used for long not just to provide the flavour but also they provide dietary fibre and some amount of sugar. This may allow decreasing the added sugar, which is preferred by consumers. 

Some other Healthier trends

Some industries have started making gelato which contains less fat than ice creams. Many have made frozen yogurt which contains yogurt or fermented milk and other ice cream ingredients. This contains commonly less fat and one of the biggest advantages is probiotic microbes. Thus, there are several benefits of frozen yogurt. 

Going forward, there are some trends that have started appearing in the market. One is vegan frozen dessert, which is made from non-dairy ingredients like almond and coconut etc. There are also customised keto products having very low carbs which maybe specific for certain clientele. 

You must have heard of fresh fruits and vegetables. Have you heard of fresh ice cream? Another trend that got popular a few years back and people went gaga about it was the stir-fried ice creams also known as rolled ice creams. These rolled ice creams uses less sugar than traditional ice creams giving fewer calories.

Already on some popular shows like Master Chef Australia many new experiments have appeared that seem to be quite successful. The contestants there have tried using such ingredients like carrots, beetroot as well as such things like spices and herbs to make savoury ice creams. These would not only provide less fat and sugar but also some nutritious and healthy components from vegetables and spices with a taste and flavour variation. 

Future is very exciting with many new possibilities with newer ingredients and styles of frozen desserts including ice creams, frozen desserts, gelato, and many other delicacies that we love and enjoy.

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI


Manager - Food & Nutrition, PFNDAI

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