Ice Cream Anyone?

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A glorious array of multi-coloured ice creams.

Ice cream is one of the great delights of summer especially its warmer days. It is consumed throughout the world and is viewed as a delicacy. 

The Roman emperors would have slaves travel into the mountains to collect snow where it was flavoured in the cucina to make a basic ice-cream. The food developed very much in Europe and was taken to other parts of the world including the USA.

In the USA, in 1851, a wholesale ice cream factory was started in Baltimore, Maryland. In the USA nowadays, people consume something like 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream annually.

The USA was producing something of the order of 1.53 billion gallons or 5.79 billion litres of the stuff in all sorts of guises in 2011 (USDA reports, 2011). It is the leader in this dessert with phenomenal growth expected through to 2050.

The number of products in the ‘better for you’ frozen desserts category has really expanded in the last few years. There were 136 high protein, low sugar ice cream launches in 2018 for example alone according to Mintel.

Halo Top overtook Ben and Jerry’s to become the highest grossing pint of ice cream in the USA. 

Here, we describe in brief detail the structure and manufacture of this dessert. Numerous texts are available on the subject by Arbuckle (2013).

What is Ice Cream?

Ice cream is a frozen aerated mixture of water, milk solids and cream, usually sweetened with sugar. It can also be described as a partly frozen foam containing 40 to 50% of air by volume.

The continuous phase is mainly ice crystals, dissolved and colloidal solids including proteins, salt, sugars and stabilizers. The fatty phase is always present in an emulsified form.

The product developer then adds other ingredients such as flavours, fruit pieces, colours, chocolate, stabilisers and emulsifiers (Berger, 1976). 

Legal Definitions

Ice cream is best defined as a frozen blend of a sweetened cream mixture and air with various added flavourings.

Ice-Cream Formulations

Formulating an ice cream is a complex process when all the ingredients are considered.

Typical formulations for ice-cream might look like this which is a basic formulation:

Ingredient Percentage (wt/wt)
Milk fat 12
SNF (Milk solids non-fat) 9.7
Sucrose (Extra fine granulated cane sugar) 12
Corn Syrup Solids 4
Stabilizers 0.3
Total solids 38

Lactose produces a sandy texture in ice-cream if handled poorly.

The Addition Of Fat

Fat is a vital ingredient and without out produces poorly textured products. As we will see through legal content values, fat is 10 to 15% of a product’s formulation. It can be dairy or vegetable. Fats produce a creamy texture and it helps reduce melting by stabilising the air structure in the product.

Milk fat may be added in the form of whole milk, butter, cream, butter oils, ghee, anhydrous milk fat (AMF).

Some ices use skimmed milk and the fat is provided by coconut oil.

In non-dairy applications, vegetable fat is used such as hydrogenated and refined or hardened coconut oil and palm kernel oil. The use of vegetable fat is carefully regulated in many countries to prevent fraudulent formulations.

Types Of Ice Cream By Fat Content

In US law which is termed a Standard of Identity, the first feature is a typical ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat and 20% total milk solids (TMS). This level of fat determines the type of product and label i.e. reduced-fat, light, low fat and nonfat. Milk solids includes protein, lactose and minerals and well as air.

The US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) has explicitly defined ice-cream as such in Part 135 of the  Standards Of Identity. The relevant sections are 21 CFR 135.110 for ice cream, 21 CFR 135.115 for goat’s milk ice cream, and 21CFR 135.140 for sherbet.

The other key aspect of the regulation on Standard of Identity is the completed ice-cream must weigh at least 4.5lb/gal (449 kg/m3)and contain at least 1.6 lb of food solids per gallon. 

These limits also establish the maximum overrun, which is the  increase in volume from aeration resulting from whipping at about 100%. The average mix often weighs about 9 lb/gal (1,080 g/L).

Milk Solids Non Fat (MSNF)

MSNF is protein, mineral salts and lactose which are derived from various milk sources. This ingredient has considerable nutritional value. It also helps stabilise the ice structure because of its emulsifying and water-binding benefits. It also has a positive effect on air distribution in the product during the freezing process which adds to improved body and creaminess.

The MSNF is always formulated in relation to water content. The optimal amount is 17 parts MSNF to 100 parts of water.

It is calculated as:

%MSNF = 17(100-other solids in percent)/117

The Use Of Whey

Whey is the protein fraction of milk. It is used heavily in frozen desserts because it is relatively cheap and a good source of milk solids. The USA allows 25% of the MSNF to be substituted with whey solids.

Whey comes in many forms ranging from whey protein concentrates (WPCs), milk protein concentrates (MPCs), milk powder, caseinates and whey powders with lower protein levels than skim milk powder. The latter is also used widely. 

The Addition Of Sugar

Sugar is used to increase the solids content of a product (reduce freezing point), to improve texture by making it firmer and provide an appropriate level of sweetness. Most frozen ices contain between 12% and 20% sugar. That usually makes sugar the second largest ingredient by weight behind milk on the ingredient list.

Sugar in this context covers a multitude of saccharide ingredients. These range from glucose and fructose through to sucrose (granulated sugar), invert sugar, dextrose, lactose (milk sugar), honey, and starch derived sugars such as glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup (corn syrup) and HFGS (high fructose glucose syrup). Sugar is usually dissolved into the mixture otherwise if it remained in a granular form, it would ruin the sensory appeal by making it gritty.

One of its main functions is to lower the freezing point so that it is easier to handle. Careful selection of sugar makes it easier to handle especially when scooping or pouring.

Then it comes to texture, the type of sugar added affects the texture of the ice-cream. It is one of the major contributors to this aspect and is treated with the same importance as the use of fat.

Glucose syrup (corn syrup) is commonly used because it reduces if not prevents crystallization of any other sugars in the mix.

Sweeteners are used to replace sugar in low-sugar or sugar-free formulations. aspartame, acesulfame K and even stevia have been used. The texture must be provided by maltodextrins, lactitol, sugar alcohols and polydextrose if anything like a sugar-free variant is to be produced successfully with the right texture.


The emulsifiers help keep the milk fat evenly dispersed throughout the product. They are essential when the product is frozen and stored. A fair and equitable distribution of fat helps stabilise the air incorporated into the ice and enhances the smoothness.

Emulsifiers include egg yolk, lecithins and mono- and diglycerides.

Emulsifiers help in creating an even more creamy feel and texture. To create a thicker mouthfeel and body, gums may be added. This concoction is literally frozen into whatever shape we like.

Types Of Ice Cream

Premium Ice cream

Premium Ice Cream generally has between 11% and 15% fat, a total solids content of between 38 and 40% and 60% to 90% of overrun, which is the air that is pumped into the ice cream.

This creates a denser, heavier, creamier, richer and more caloric product than regular ice cream, and is reflected in the price.

Super Premium ice cream

This has even more butterfat— greater than 14%, with some having up to 18% and more—and less overrun, from as low as 25% up to 50%. The total solids content is above 40%. Premium and super premium ice creams come in more complex flavors in addition to the basic ones. The super premium ice cream producers category includes smaller companies that make particular gourmet flavors.

In addition to lower overrun and greater butterfat, the third way in which a super premium ice cream can be made richer is by using an egg custard base, which is known as French or French-style ice cream

Regular Ice Cream

This cream is less dense: it contains 10% to 11% butterfat and more air with a 90% to 100% overrun. It is usually sold in standard flavors, since the addition of rarer flavours adds to the cost increase. Some consumers prefer the texture and reduced degree of richness, and prefer it in milkshakes where the subtlety of the richer ice cream can be lost.

Economy Ice cream contains exactly 10% butterfat – the minimum USDA standard, a legal minimum in terms of total solids of 36%, and 95% to 100% overrun but the legal maximum could be up to 120%. It is made in basic flavors.

Light Ice Cream means that there is either 50% less fat or 33% fewer calories than the company’s standard ice cream. Read the labels carefully: the “light” ice creams of a super-premium brand often have more calories than the “regular” ice cream of other brands.

Low fat Ice Cream has 25% less fat than the company’s regular ice cream. Similar to the light ice cream analogy above, it can contain more calories than a regular ice cream of another brand.   

The Physical Aspects Of Ice Cream

In a pure physical chemistry perspective ice cream is a multiphase frozen product. These phases comprise ice crystals, fat globules, and air cells which are distributed throughout an unfrozen serum phase (Goff and Hartel, 2013).

In terms of fat content it contains between 8 to 15% fat (Li et al., 1997). This fat has the most important role of giving ice-cream its most desirable properties which is a smooth, creamy and very soft feel to its texture when in the mouth. Good flavour is the other but sensory studies show that it is nothing if the texture is not right (Guinard et al. 1997).

The most widely accepted model is of a solid foam with a network of coagulated fat (Sherman, 1965). The fat globules are coagulated when ice cream freezes at a low enough temperature. Plenty of agitation and whipping during manufacture distribute the solidified fat particles throughout the liquid phase between air cells and ice crystals.

The fat globules are held in this solid emulsion by strong London-van der Waals’ attractive forces.

Much of the physical structure has been determined using rheology experiments.


All ingredients are blended and mixed in a specific mixing tank according to specific formula. Ingredients are weighed in, then blended together to produce the ‘ice cream mix’. rapid and vigorous agitation is needed to incorporate all the powders together. Very high speed shear mixers are employed for this purpose. The blending operation depends on the type of pasteurisation process that follows.


The mixture is pasteurised usually in a scraped surface heat exchanger or plate pasteuriser if a the operation is continuous and HTST (High Temperature Short Time).  Typical operating conditions for pasteurisation are 68.3°C (155°F) for 30 minutes or 80°C (175°F) for 25 seconds. Pasteurisation conditions are a little more severe compared to milk because ice-cream is more viscous.

The intention is to completely destroy harmful bacteria or pathogens and reduce spoilage organisms such as psychrotrophs  to an acceptable level. It is usually the main control point in a HACCP plan. Additionally, some ingredients improve their hydration and solubility during this critical heating phase.  

Batch pasteurisers are used for smaller operations. Some manufacturers believe that a batch pasteurisation alters whey protein denaturation which creates a different mouthfeel in the ice-cream.


The heated mixture is homogenised at a pressure of between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds per square inch which reduces the milk fat in the mixture to smaller globules. Some manufacturers will use a two-step homogenisation. This also keeps the globules in suspension with a more uniform distribution throughout the liquid phase of the system. The milk fat globules are now less than 2 micron diameter which is a size that helps them remain dispersed and keeps the emulsion stable. 

The benefits of homogenisation include a greater surface area of the fat globule, improved viscosity and stability. A key aspect of mouthfeel and sensory pleasure comes from the smooth and creamy taste, and texture of these fat globules. The process also blends the emulsifiers and stabilisers better and helps them maintain fat globule stability. 

Cooling (Aging)

The mixture is rapidly cooled to just above freezing (about 5°C /40°F), held for on average 4 hours and then frozen. Aging the mixture cools it down before freezing, allows the milk fat to partially crystallize and the gives the proteins stabilizers time to hydrate. This improves the whipping properties of the mix.


Freezing is a key aspect of the process. During the freezing process, the mix is aerated by ‘dashers’ which are revolving blades in the freezer unit. Ice forms at the barrel surface and is scraped off by the dasher blades with air being incorporated as tiny air cells through a form of whipping. Air injection may be applied or though this is not always necessary. The whole freezing process takes about 30 seconds.

The whipping action produced by air prevents the formation of a solid mass of just frozen material which would be like an ice-cube.

Shear forces during the freezing process can create partially-coalesced fat globule clusters that provide structural integrity and stabilize the air cells (Goff et al., 1999).

At this point, the ice-cream is a mixture of ice crystals, entrained air, sugar, water and milk solids. Ice crystal size is affected by formulation and processing conditions such as draw temperature, throughput rate, freezer type, and storage conditions.

The mix exits the freezing barrel where it is pumped through a second ingredient tank or feeder so that other ingredients are added. Examples are flavourings, fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, sprinkles etc. In some systems, a swirl or variegate is produced.

A portion, roughly 50% of the serum (water) phase remains unfrozen due to freeze concentration of the solute. The quantities and sizes of these microstructural components governs the behaviour and sensory properties of the final ice cream.  Soft serve ice cream is generated at this point in the freezing process.

Premium ice creams have less overrun (approximately 80%) and are more dense than regular types. 

The frozen ice which is now at 20°F is packaged quickly into moulds such as packets, cups, cones and the like.


The packaged ice-cream is cooled as rapidly as possible to a holding temperature of less than -25°C(-13°F).  Rapid cooling will promote quick freezing of water and create small ice crystals. Storage at -25°C(-13°F) will help to stabilize the ice crystals and maintain product quality. It  is kept in a hardening room where the sub-zero temperatures allow the product to maintain a frozen temperature before further packaging, storage and distribution.

Every year, the Ice Cream Technology Conference of the International Dairy Foods Association honours the best frozen dessert innovations in the dairy industry.


Overrun is a term used heavily in frozen food parlance. It means the percentage amount of air contained in a frozen product.

All frozen products contain air. Without it the food would be hard, dense and lacking in a desirable smooth texture.

Air increases the volume of the finished product. Too much overrun and the value and quality is reduced and may well make it illegal by definition.

One litre of liquid ice cream mixture prior to freezing weights about 1 kilogram. The density is around 1kg/l. On freezing, the mixture expands from about 1 litre to 1.4 litres because air is incorporated into the mixture during the freezing process. It is one of the reasons why ice cream is sold by volume not weight.

Different frozen products have different percentages of air:

A scoop ice cream contains 50 to 60% air, a scoop gelato contains much lower levels of between 25 and 30%. A soft serve ice cream dispensed from a gravity machine will be higher at 30 to 35%. A pump machine delivers soft serve ice cream at between 60 and 80% air

The formula used to calculate the overrun of a frozen product is:

Weight of liquid mix minus the weight of frozen product divided by the weight of frozen product, times by 100 = % Overrun.


Arbuckle, W. S. (2013). Ice cream. 4th Edt.  Springer. ISBN 978-1-4757-5449-0

Berger, K.G. (1976). Ice cream. Ch. 4. In Food Emulsions,Stig Friberg  (Ed.), p. 141. Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, NY.

Goff, H.D., Hartel, R.W. (2013) Ice Cream. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer.

Goff, H.D., Kinsella, J.E., Jordan, W.K. (1989). Influence of various milk protein isolates on ice cream emulsion stability. J Dairy Sci 72(2) pp. 385-397
Guinard, J.-X., Zoumas-Morse, C., Mori, L., Uatoni, B., Panyam, D., Kilara, A. (1997). Sugar and fat effects on sensory properties of ice cream. J. Food Sci 62(5) pp. 1087-1094
Li Z, Marshall, R., Heymann H, Fernando L. (1997). Effect of milk fat content on flavor perception of vanilla ice cream. J. Dairy Sci 80(12) pp. 3133-3141.
Sherman, P. (1965). The texture of ice cream.  J. Food Sci. 30, pp. 201
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