June is National Dairy Month and, if you live in the north country, you will know that is something to celebrate. Dairy is a significant and important industry, it generates substantial local business, pays a huge share of school and property taxes, helps maintain our rural landscape and best of all, makes a product that almost everyone can find something to love about.
Even if you are not a milk drinker, you may still be able to enjoy yogurt, cheeses, lactose-free dairy products, filtered milk or A2 milk.
One of the best dairy creations may be ice cream. Like other dairy products took thousands of years to perfect. Food science has been hard at work unraveling the physical, chemical, biological and nutritional science behind this product. The art of making delicious, rich, smooth, creamy ice cream includes a science lesson.
I am not going to pretend ice cream is a health food and it should be consumed with moderation. Neither, however, should we villainize a product that Alexander the Great, King Solomon and Nero Claudius Caesar found wonderful enough to go to extraordinary lengths to enjoy. Even President George Washington spent nearly $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (I don’t know how much that would be with inflation, but I bet it would be a lot). By 1874, the American soda shop and the profession of the “soda jerk” emerged with the invention of the ice cream soda.
In response to religious criticism for eating “sinfully” rich ice cream sodas on Sundays, ice cream merchants left out the carbonated water and invented the ice cream “Sunday” in the late 1890s. The name was eventually changed to “sundae” to remove any connection with the Sabbath. So you see, dairy may even have given rise to political correctness.
During World War II, ice cream was used as a morale booster with the first floating ice cream parlor built for sailors in the western Pacific. By 1946, Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person. That number has not budged much over the years and holds true today. Top picks are vanilla, chocolate, cookies ’n’ cream, mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, buttered pecan, cookie dough, strawberry, Moose Tracks and Neapolitan.
The options only grow. Today you can choose from premium, gelato, low fat, low calorie, sugar free, lactose free, bars, cups, cakes, mini cups, sticks, sandwiches, cones and my personal favorite, a big spoon in a half gallon.
Read labels to find surprising ingredients that are used in modern ice creams to add texture, sweetness, thickening or gelling such as carrageenan, erythritol, glycerin, milk protein isolates, soluble corn fiber, inulin and chicory root (listed as fiber), agave, rice syrup or tapioca syrup. You may want to choose an ice cream that includes just the basics, like cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks and flavor such as vanilla. Ingredients that read “natural flavors” are allowed by the Food and Drug Administration but may employ solvents and preservatives that are not disclosed on the ingredient panel.
If you want to learn more about the science that transforms cream, milk and sugar into ice cream and is fun to make at home with kids, visit Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County’s website at ccejefferson.org/4-h-youth.
Cathy Moore is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and the agriculture program leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson county. Contact her at 315-788-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.