Ice Cream - How much air are you buying?

Have you noticed that food packages always list the amount of food in the container? (Check the bottom of the front label). This information is required by law to help you compare products before you buy them. In general, the amount of food is listed by weight (e.g, cereal, bread, yogurt and soup). Consider that even when you open a bag of chips to find it only half full due to settling, you still had enough information to know how much you were buying, and a way to compare products and evaluate cost because of this net quantity requirement. For liquid foods, such as milk and juice, the amount of food must be listed by volume. But there are some exceptions. Ice cream is one of them. Where you might expect to see ounces and grams (measurements of weight), instead you see gallons, quarts and pints (measurements of volume). Why is this interesting? Because ice cream is 40 - 50% air. You are, in fact, buying air.

So are you being deceived by the ice cream industry? Not really. Ice cream is a whipped product just like whipped cream or whipped margarine. The amount of air (called “overrun”) incorporated into the ice cream mix is carefully calculated to produce the texture you know and love. Without added air, ice cream would be very dense and much harder and colder than it should be.

If ice cream is measured by volume and we know the industry adds air, why not make ice cream with 60% or 70% air? Companies could save money by selling you more air and could even market the product as having fewer calories. The answer lies in the FDA’s standard of identity for ice cream. To call it ice cream, it must weigh "not less than 4.5 pounds to the gallon." By declaring a density minimum, the FDA has effectively capped the amount of air that can be added to your ice cream.

Photography by Justin Kern

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