There is something magical about this creamy, frozen treat that makes everyone wanna scream for ice cream! Ice cream, as defined by Encyclopaedia Britannica is a “frozen dairy food made from cream or butterfat, milk, sugar and flavorings.” It is generally composed of several components: water, fat, protein, sugar, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. According to the U.S. FDA’s standard definition of ice cream, the end product must contain at least 10% milkfat by weight.
There is no official account as to who invented ice cream, however, stories about certain iced treats go way back. Alexander the Great was said to have enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. There were even accounts about Nero Claudius Caesar sending runners into the mountains to gather snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices during the Roman Empire.
But the most solid tale about how ice cream came to Europe was attributed to the explorer Marco Polo. He was said to have returned to Italy from China and told about these fruit ices which he encountered from his expedition there. Italian cooks went on to develop recipes and techniques, until it evolved to the ice cream we know. Stories have also been said that England and France had their own original versions of this creamy dessert.
Though it was not clear how ice cream came to America, it was in 1744 when the first official account of ice cream in the New World surfaced through a letter by a guest of the Governor of Maryland, William Bladen. Several U.S. Presidents also took a liking to this creamy delight that they served to their guests. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, wrote down the first recorded ice cream recipe in America.
Ice cream used to be a luxurious dessert, and was somewhat exclusively enjoyed by the elite, until the 1800s, when the ice cream manufacturing industry was developed due to technological advancements. This expanded ice cream production, greatly increasing its access to the masses.
- In 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed July to be the National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of July as National Ice Cream Day (it fell on July 15th in 1984)! Now that’s a whole lotta love for ice cream!
- New Zealand is said to be the leading country in ice cream consumption, with a per capita consumption of 28.5 liters or 7.5 gallons per year. U.S. takes the second rank with an average of 20.8 liters or 5.5 gallons per person per year!
- Professional ice cream tasters say that it is best to use a designer gold spoon when doing their job. They say that gold spoons remove any aftertaste that might affect the tasting experience. Wooden spoons are said to be the worst for this task, as the flavor lingers on the spoon.
- Did you ever notice that there is no, or very rare, grape ice cream when you check the ice cream freezers in supermarkets? The people at Ben and Jerry explained that grapes are about 81 percent water, and it turns into ice when frozen – not a good thing when we are talking about ice cream. While pureeing smaller batches of grapes as the ice cream base can deal with this problem, it is not something that can be easily done when making it by the gallons, which is the case for the big brands. They also mentioned that grapes are not really associated with ice cream so people are not looking for that flavor.
- Taking a big mouthful of ice cream at once is not the best way to do it, as you may experience sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia or cold neuralga. This is more commonly known as ice cream headache or brain freeze. Several theories try to explain this, but one of the most believed theory is that upon contact of the cold ice cream to your palate or the roof of your mouth, the blood vessels reflexively constrict and then quickly open up. This sends a pain signal to the brain which extends from the midface to the forehead. Once this occurs, it is prescribed to press your tongue or thumb against the roof of your mouth or to drink warm water to normalize the temperature of your mouth. While this ice cream headache might be one of the most painful experiences, it only lasts for about 20 to 30 seconds.
There is ice cream, and there is gelato. It might seem to be the same thing for others but there are significant differences between the two.
- Ice Cream: Ice cream usually uses egg yolks in its recipes as an emulsifier and is made mostly with cream. In the process of making ice cream, the ingredients are cooked together to make a rich serum or custard. After this custard has cooled, it is churned at a high speed to incorporate air into the mixture and to increase its volume. Ice cream is also served frozen, usually at zero degrees Fahrenheit to retain its consistency that is smooth, light, and creamy.
- Gelato: Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream but it is mostly made of whole milk than cream and does not use eggs in its recipes. It is churned slower and has to be served at a slightly higher temperature, about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Gelatos are not completely frozen when served, and has a softer and silkier texture than ice cream.
Aside from the ingredients and process, how the flavor resonates to the eaters is also different for ice creams and gelatos. Ice cream has more fat, which coats the tongue and numbs it, making it more difficult to taste the flavor. Gelatos have less fat and are served a bit warmer than ice cream, making the flavors more intense when we taste it.
Production & Farming in Texas
Being an American favorite treat, ice creams and gelatos are everywhere as well in Texas. Aside from the big brands, local specialty shops, restaurants, dessert, and sweet joints also serve these creamy frozen delights. Artisan ice cream makers are also aplenty, making their own mark and legacy in each scoop of all-natural happiness that they make. A large number of gelaterias are present in the state, using organic milk and cream and made in small batches by artisan makers. These gelaterias and ice cream sellers offer a plethora of classic and innovative flavors, from the classic chocolate and vanilla, to the trendy, salted-caramel! There are also specialty stores and even orchards who churn out ice creams with their main product as the base flavor, such as peach ice cream from a peach orchard!
Preservatives, Additives, and Chemicals
Caution has always been expressed when it comes to ice cream consumption. It can be very sweet and of course, everything in excess is not good for the body. Despite having sugar-free or low-fat options, just like any other food, moderation is best practiced.
All-natural and artisan-made ice creams are easy to monitor when it comes to preservatives and additives listed on their products. However, with the advent of so much tasty, sweet, and unique flavors and add-ons, and more mass-produced variations, chemicals have become a part of this sweet treat.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – The HFCS is an artificial sugar that is made from corn syrup. Commercial producers of products usually use this, as the HFCS is a cheaper substitute to natural sweeteners. But overconsumption of items with this ingredient can be linked to several serious health issues such as diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, and heart disease.
- Maltodextrin – a polysaccharide that is commonly added to packaged foods to improve its flavor, thickness, and shelf life. This white powdery substance is derived from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat, however, it is highly processed, using acids or enzymes. Maltodextrin is considered by the US FDA to be a safe food additive and is counted in the total carbohydrate count in the food’s nutritional value. There are warnings that the maltodextrin may have a high glycemic index and might pose an issue for those with diabetes. But this substance is usually present in small amounts in food and therefore won’t have that much significant effect if taken moderately.
- Guar Gum – This is a polysaccharide that is used as a food additive in processed foods and can be derived from legumes called guar beans. It is used to thicken and bind food products, as it is soluble and can absorb water. The FDA recognizes this as safe for consumption in specific amounts. It has said to have some benefits like improving digestive health and decrease blood sugar and blood cholesterol, however, it may also trigger an allergic reaction, or cause gas and bloating.
- Carrageenan – This food additive can be derived from red seaweeds as well as in other vegan products. With it being derived from a plant, this is one of the manufacturer’s substitutes to replace gelatin which can be obtained from animals. However, there were some reports of side-effects of carrageenan such as inflammation, bloating, glucose intolerance, colon cancer, food allergies, and some more. And in 2016, the National Organic Standards Board ruled that food with carrageenan in its ingredients should not be labeled as “USDA organic.”
- Monoglycerides, Diglycerides, Triglycerides – These are forms of fatty acids and are often used as emulsifiers, which help oil and water to blend. It is commonly added to packaged and frozen foods to help extend the shelf life, prevent oil from separating from the product, and to improve its texture and stability. They can be derived from plant-based oils or animal fats, but since concentrations are usually low, these are then sourced through chemical processes. These substances are said to contain trans fat, the artificial form of which is banned by the U.S. FDA from all foods as it has been linked to an increased risk of heart diseases and stroke. But it is said that the FDA ban does not apply to mono or diglycerides since they only contain small amounts of trans fat and are classified as emulsifiers, instead of lipids. These are also perceived as low-cost alternatives to trans fat.
We often see ice creams in plastic tubs and containers, as well as cartons or wet-strength paperboards, with a polyethylene lining to help support it when put in the freezer.
Do we need any occasion or reason to eat ice cream? It is a great dessert during hot summer days, and a great BFF/comfort food when you are stressed or broken-hearted. The Institute of Psychiatry in London even did a study, proving that eating ice cream shows an immediate effect on parts of the brain which respond to something that is pleasurable. So, ice cream can indeed be your happy zone, and that’s a fact!
Ice cream and gelatos can be eaten on its own, scooped on a cone, in a cup (or better yet, a big bowl!), or eat it straight from the tub! It can also be added to other warm desserts, like pies, brownies, waffles, or crepes.
You can also choose from a multitude of flavors, from the classics, and American ranked favorites like vanilla, chocolate, cookies n’ cream, mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, and more. But you can also go adventurous with the unique and even savory flavors, like smoked bacon and egg, ghost pepper, horseflesh, foie gras, and lobster. It seems even in ice cream and gelato choices, the sky is the limit.
Ice cream should be kept frozen or as cold as possible when stored or transported. It is not recommended for ice cream to be melted then refrozen as large ice crystals may form, making it harder to scoop and will lessen its smooth texture.
It is also suggested to put a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the ice cream before replacing the lid, to serve as a barrier from air, moisture and any other elements. Unopened ice cream is said to hold in storage for three to four months, while ice cream in opened containers must be consumed within a month or two at the maximum.
Make your own Ice Cream
The New York Times published “the only ice cream recipe you’ll ever need” and it is very easy to do!
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- Your flavor of choice
- Using a small pot, simmer heavy cream, milk, sugar and salt for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the pot from heat.
- Whisk the eggs yolks in a separate bowl. While still constantly whisking, add about a third of the cream into the yolks. Then whisk the yolk mixture back to the pot.
- Return the pot into the stove, and in medium-low heat, let the mixture cook, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool room temperature.
- Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Churn in an ice cream machine and serve or store in the freezer, until needed.