How to Read Labels: Happy Ice Cream Month!

July 06, 2015

Here's a quick rundown on ice cream labels.

Our nation's first ice cream parlor reportedly opened in New York City in 1776, and about two hundred years later, President Ronald Reagan officially designated the month of July National Ice Cream Month. But who gets the credit for inventing ice cream? Julius Caesar and the Emperor Nero of Rome both took credit for the idea to mix snow with nectar, fruit pulp, and honey. Another tale credits Marco Polo who is said to have brought with him from the Far East the recipes for water ices. In the US our history is a bit better. Our third First Lady, Dolly Madison served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at the second inaugural ball in 1812.

Today, about 10 percent of all the milk produced by US dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the nation's dairy industry.

Before you scoop, read labels! The FDA sets the standards for ice cream, and here are some of the terms used: 

Ice cream: a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products containing at least 10% milk fat.

Gelato: an Italian frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products typically made with fresh fruit or other ingredients and in the manufacturing process are super-cooled while stirring to break up ice crystals as they form. Like super premium ice creams, gelato generally has less than 35 percent air, resulting in a dense and extremely flavorful product.

Reduced fat: contains at least 25 percent less total fat than the referenced product (either an average of leading brands, or the company's own brand.)

Light: contains at least 50 percent less total fat or 33 percent fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands.)

Lowfat: contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving (1/2 cup).

Nonfat: contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.

Overrun: refers to the amount of aeration the ice cream undergoes during its manufacture that keeps the mix from becoming a frozen mass. Overrun is governed by federal standards in that the finished product must not weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.

Superpremium: tends to have very low overrun and high fat content, and the manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients.

Premium: tends to have low overrun and higher fat content than regular ice cream, and the manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients. It is the largest category in terms of sales with over 50 percent of the volume.

To make sure your ice cream is the stored properly, be sure your freezer temperature is set between -5°F and 0°F. Always store ice cream in the main part of the freezer. Never store ice cream in the freezer door, where ice cream can be subject to more fluctuating temperatures since the door is repeatedly opened and shut.

Never allow ice cream to soften and re-freeze. As ice cream's small ice crystals melt and re-freeze, they can eventually turn into large, unpalatable lumps. Keep the ice cream container lid tightly closed when storing in the freezer. Also it’s best not to store ice cream alongside uncovered foods; odors can penetrate ice cream and affect its flavor.