Search 
Text larger | smaller
The Food Magazine - Click to return to the home page

The Food MagazineThe soft sell?

Published in The Food Magazine issue 78
6th August 2007

We do not expect ice creams and ice lollies to be healthy – after all, they are basically a frozen, sugary treat, but what is really in them?

The Food Magazine checked out the ice creams and lollies available on a typical high street. The ingredients list of such products, displayed at a type size that is almost impossible to read, can reveal an abundance of unexpected ingredients and food additives.

As with many other foods and drinks, modern food technology enables manufacturers to turn cheap, unfamiliar and highly processed ingredients into products which, on the face of it, appear to be made from fresh and familiar ingredients.

Rather than use fresh, whole milk or cream, ice cream manufacturers are now likely to use water and combinations of skimmed milk powders, hydrolised milk proteins, whey solids and vegetable fat.

Dairy ice cream

Ice cream can only be described as ‘dairy’ ice cream if it contains no fat other than dairy fat, obtained from milk.

However, most ice creams contain added vegetable fat (which is cheaper than dairy fat) so they cannot be described as ‘dairy’ ice cream.

Ice cream also doesn’t need to contain any actual cream. It might be better described as ‘frozen dairy by-products and vegetable oil’ – but that probably would not sell quite as well.
 
The fat provides a ‘creamy’ taste and texture and is a lot cheaper than adding fat in the form of dairy cream. The milk powders, proteins and whey solids are easier to store than liquid milk and have a much longer shelf life, which makes them attractive to manufacturers who need to work with bulk quantities.

Sugar is still added to the mix, but often in unfamiliar ways. Sucrose (household sugar) is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet, but glucose, fructose, glucose-fructose syrup and corn syrup are derived from highly processed starches.

Another sugar, lactose, is extracted from whey, which is a by-product of cheese production. The sugars do not just add sweetness and calories, they are also important in creating and maintaining the right sensory qualities – something which artificial sweeteners cannot do. This is why even a ‘low calorie’ ice cream like Skinny Cow Triple Chocolate contains almost three teaspoons of sugar.

Salt isn’t something which you would expect to find in an ice cream, but it seems some manufacturers just can’t help adding a pinch to their products. We found it in Feast, Cornetto and Snickers Ice Cream.

Woman eating ice creamDairy ice cream
Ice cream can only be described as ‘dairy’ ice cream if it contains no fat other than dairy fat, obtained from milk. However, most ice creams contain added vegetable fat (which is cheaper than dairy fat) so they cannot be described as ‘dairy’ ice cream.

Ice cream also doesn’t need to contain any actual cream. It might be better described as ‘frozen dairy by-products and vegetable oil’ – but that probably would not sell quite as well.

Holding it all together

Traditional dairy ice cream is made from three principle ingredients: cream and/or whole milk, sugar and egg yolks, with additional flavourings such as vanilla or strawberries. The egg yolks contain proteins which act as emulsifiers, and these prevent the dairy fats from clogging together and separating from the rest of the mixture.

Rather than use eggs, most ice cream manufacturers use food additives, including: E471 (mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids); E442 (ammonium phosphatides); E476 (polyglycerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids) and E322 (lecithins). Although lecithins occur naturally in egg yolk, most lecithins are now produced from soya, which may or may not have been genetically modified. E471 and E476 can be obtained by the processing of glycerol, which is increasingly produced as a by-product during the manufacture of bio-diesel fuel from plant crops.

Along with emulsifiers, additives known as stabilisers are also needed. Stabilisers prevent the separation of ingredients (such as water and fat), improving a product’s appearance and prolonging its shelf life. In the ice creams we looked at we found: E401 (sodium alginate); E407 (carrageenan); E410 (locust bean gum); E412 (guar gum) and E417 (tara gum). All of these additives are derived from natural sources, such as algae, seaweed and other plants.

What is your favourite flavour?

Flavourings are widely used additives which mimic the flavours and aromas of real ingredients. Food manufacturers can choose from thousands of flavourings to pep up the taste of their products.

Manufacturers save money because they do not have to purchase real ingredients like fruit, but consumers lose out because the flavourings have no real nutritional value. There is also a real danger that the over-use of flavourings can make nutritious, home made food seem dull and insipid when compared to highly flavoured, processed foods.

Flavourings are not listed as separate ingredients so it is impossible to know which ones, or how many, have been added to a product. We found flavourings in almost all of the ice creams we looked at.

Getting the colour right

Ice cream and lolly manufacturers have been quick to heed the public’s preference for ‘natural’ colourings rather than artifical colourings, and most of the products we looked at had been coloured using plant derived additives such as E100 (curcumin); E160(b) (annato); E160(a) (beta-carotene) and E162 (beetroot red).

Rowntrees Fruit Pastil Lollies – previously coloured with a range of contentious azo dyes – are now free of artifical colourings. Many products make a point of declaring ‘no artificial colours or flavours’ in a bid to attract the consumer’s eye.

Melting Ribena lollyPreservatives

Frozen ice creams and lollies are unlikely to need any additional preservatives. The low temperatures at which they are kept prevents spoilage. However, Ribena have managed to squeeze two preservatives into their Blackcurrant Ice Lollies – E211 (Sodium Benzoate) and E223 (Sodium Metabisulphite).

Sweets on a stick

Confectionery manufacturers have recently made a major incursion into the traditional ice cream and lolly market – introducing new frozen variants based on familiar brands such as Galaxy, Cadbury, Mars, Snickers, Maltesers and Rowntrees. So if you are looking for hefty doses of frozen vegetable fat, milk by-products and sugar, held together with additives and stuck on a stick, there is now more choice than ever!

Research by Ian Tokelove