Processing / Ice Cream/Novelties / Dairy Foods Columnists / Sweeteners
Tharp & Young On Ice Cream

Formulating low-calorie ice cream

There is more than one route to reducing calories in frozen desserts. The choice of dairy ingredients, sweeteners and processing techniques all play a role.

For years, processors have reduced the fat and total sugars in a wide variety of frozen dessert formats with varying degrees of technical, nutritional, sensory and economic success.

Even given past successes, products in general fall short of further “low-calorie” and “calorie-free” targets that may broaden the appeal of ice cream and related products. The challenges to this are multidimensional. A broad overview of the ingredient tools available, novel processing approaches and management of the product line can help understand why.

Technical and non-technical barriers to breaking any caloric barrier include the following:

Managing mix/final product composition, ingredient caloric loads, overrun, freezing point management. It is most instructive to keep in mind the final product caloric target as well as how much overrun is allowed/achievable and how to maximize caloric reductions while using GRAS ingredients and standard whipping/freezing/hardening techniques. Developed or newly evolving technologies such as utility of ultra-low temperature freezing might also help.

Regulatory limitations. To truly reduce calories and retain a classical frozen dessert format, a combination of mix composition, GRAS ingredient tools, process technologies, management of chemistry and physics, etc., may need to be applied.

Even so, whether one can use classical terminology such as calling the final food “ice cream” must be determined. Invariably, one or more calorie-rich nutrients as well as finished weights (that is, higher overruns) will need to be reduced to achieve significant caloric reduction beyond what we now can accomplish.

The Food and Drug Administration allow this, but still processors should consult the regulations to determine the regulatory status of a specific composition. For example, is reduction in fat and sugars to produce “low-fat sugar-free ice cream” acceptable?

Laws of chemistry and physics. Processors must take into account the following —  management of freezing point, mobility of water, stability of air bubbles, agglomeration of limited and variable fat content, how the ice cream is to be used (packaged; filled, extruded or molded novelties; soft-serve delivery; etc), and resistance to heat shock. In most instances, to reduce caloric levels beyond current ability requires technical and scientific skill.

Availability and properties of low- and/or no-calorie ingredients. When developing lower-calorie products, processors must carefully consider the possibility that alternative GRAS low/no-calorie ingredients may negatively influence body, texture, freezing performance flavor, overall acceptability and economics.

A short punch list of ingredient tools would include polydextrose, digestion-resistant maltodextrin, microcrystalline cellulose, algal flour, non-triglyceride lipids (omega-3s, phytosterols, etc), gelatin, erthyritol, polyglycitols and the ever-growing list of GRAS high-intensity sweeteners.

Need to deliver sensory appeal. At the end of the day, the sensory appeal of the product cannot be underestimated. The following factors, albeit critical to success, are not mutually exclusive of each other:

• Body. Delivery of expected bite or chew. Varies by brand, flavor and other factors.

• Texture.Delivery of smoothness or richness in the absence of significant amount of total solids and fat and the need for sugars and other carbohydrates for flavor and other functionalities.

• Flavor.Influenced by appearance, aroma, taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, savory), body and texture. Many “fine” flavors (e.g., vanilla and its components) are carried and released via fat and may need a specific amount and “type” of sweetness to enhance final desirable perception. Then, the rules change for chocolate, fruit flavors and the like.

• Inclusions.Many low/no-fat and/or no-sugar-added or sugar-free inclusions exist. These may differ enough from conventional inclusions to require use at non-typical rates and have non-traditional properties in the ice cream.

• Economics.Economics needs to be watched closely to adhere to any corporate financial decision-making. How any given company accounts for applied costs (as one example) may render any given formula compliant or not. The economic rules-of-the-road vary by company, by product line, by product and by flavor.

For more on how to reduce calories in frozen desserts and other nutrient-modified frozen desserts join us at “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream,” Dec. 4 to 6 in Las Vegas. Go to for information, registration, and applicable discounts. For purchasers of “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream: An Encyclopedic Guide to Ice Cream Science and Technology,” additional discounts may apply. Ask for details at 610-975-4424 or 281-782-4536.

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