Inclusions Galore
by Lori Dahm
Imagination leads to creative ingredients making their way into the ice cream carton.
While trends come and go, ice cream remains a favorite food for most consumers. One of the reasons ice cream retains its popularity is because ice cream manufacturers offer continual excitement in the category with dynamic new flavors and varieties.
Inclusions play a big part in this variety rotation; the most innovative new ice cream products pay homage to the original chocolate chip cookie dough introduced by Ben and Jerry’s 13 years ago.
The inclusion ingredients available today have come a long way — what consumers now experience as chunks and pieces in ice cream were unheard of a decade ago. Inclusion suppliers have developed ingredients that change texture or color or even reproduce the experience of eating ethnic cuisines. This imaginative world of inclusions promises to keep consumers happily immersed in ice cream with a continual rotation of new varieties that include everything but the kitchen sink.
Baked Pieces
One of the constants in inclusions is cookie dough — one of the most popular inclusion pieces used in ice creams. Cookie dough was the first inclusion ingredient that originally delighted consumers’ imaginations, and continues to be one of the most widely embraced inclusion ingredients.
“Cookie dough remains in the top 10 flavors for most ice cream manufacturers, and more manufacturers are introducing new cookie dough ice creams continually,” says Subha Luck, industrial sales manager at Rhino Foods, Burlington, Vt. “It is amazing that the market is not over-saturated with cookie dough ice creams. Instead, the demand continues to grow and we are seeing retail outlets put cookie dough into their shakes.”
Extruded baked inclusions overall have become very popular; a close second to cookie dough is the fudge brownie-type inclusion pieces. Many inclusion suppliers indicate that cake pieces and pie pieces are growing in popularity.
 “The dough, cake and batter pieces are hitting home with consumers,” says Jay Brigham, executive vice president at Pecan Deluxe, Dallas. “We did a brownie batter Blizzard for Dairy Queen and it was the biggest Blizzard item on the map last year.”
As consumers have become accustomed to seeing the brownie-type baked inclusions in ice creams second to cookie dough in prevalence, other baked pieces have become more widely used, such as apple pie pieces, pound cake, muffin bites or chocolate cake.
“There are two key considerations when using the bakery inclusions. The first is that we want the consumer to have a fully decadent experience. But the second is that we want our ingredients to be operationally friendly for the plant,” says Richard Hauber, director of frozen and chilled desserts, Kerry Sweet Ingredients, Chicago. “So we might modify the fat system and use lower melt oils to deliver the same degree of lusciousness upon consumption that you would have at room temperature. Or we might alter the sugar balance to offset sugar crystallization and give a piece more chew.”
For the suppliers of bakery inclusions, it is important to find the balance between supplying an ingredient that is soft for the proper sensory experience but yet remains intact through the ice cream manufacturing equipment. Many of the inclusion ingredients are given a protective coating or barrier for this purpose. Perfection of such techniques opens the world of baked inclusion ingredients to limitless possibilities.
“We have developed new cake pieces that are starting to become a hit, like tiramisu or chocolate cake or blonde brownies. Some of the more innovative cake pieces we’ve shown include a pineapple cake piece, a ginger pineapple cake piece or a lemon ginger lowfat cookie dough,” Luck says. “We even had a bread pudding piece that we worked on and people loved, but these haven’t yet found a market.”
While the trend might be heavily weighted toward the baked-type pieces, the big news in the world of inclusions might be in variegates. New variegates have been developed called “textured variegates,” meaning that the liquid swirls contain pieces that add crunch or texture.
“Textured ribbons are getting big — delivering textures with pieces either included in the swirl or using a thick fudge variegate that sets up like a liquid chip,” Brigham says. “You can put pieces in the ribbons, like a pie piece, as long as the piece is small enough to fit through the variegator without getting stuck.”
While having pieces in a fudge or caramel swirl has become avant garde and trendy, there are technical considerations that must be considered during the formulation of these ingredients if they are to perform properly.
“A textured variegate is one of the latest trends. This is a fat-based variegate which uses a fat matrix to distribute a crunch particle throughout the ice cream,” Hauber says. “The fat matrix has two functions: It allows the crunch particle to be processed through the variegating machinery at the ice cream manufacturer, and the fat protects the crunchy particle from absorbing water from the ice cream so that it delivers crunch upon consumption.”
The ice creams that are packed full of chunks and pieces and nuts often include a swirl or ribbon of fudge or caramel or another such liquid ingredient because variegates are a way of pumping up the indulgence quotient.
“We make our variegates as a complement to the overall flavor of the system, so maybe the acid or lemon of a variegate can allow the chocolate of the inclusion to pop more, or the salt in a caramel swirl might make a nut pop to give enhanced flavor perception,” Hauber says. “Sometimes we might use high amounts of cocoa in a variegate which tastes bitter by itself, but it makes another inclusion ingredient or the ice cream more balanced or stronger overall.”
And then sometimes variegates can be the creative tie-in for the overall ice cream product’s concept. For example, a chocolate cake piece in Perry’s Ice Cream plays off the chocolate variegate which emulates chocolate frosting — the entire product is akin to eating a piece of chocolate cake with ice cream.
“We did a french fry and ketchup ice cream concept for kids where we had a chocolate covered fry piece in ice cream and a red chocolate sauce variegate running through the ice cream,” Brigham says. “In another version of this concept we pulled the variegate out and made it into a chocolate red sauce to dip the chocolate fry into as an interactive frozen dessert for kids.”
This landscape of kids’ products is often the playground for some of the most innovative inclusion ingredients.
“We have used pop rocks in kids’ ice creams, which must be chocolate covered or they pop in the ice cream before making it into kids’ mouths,” Brigham says. “We just created an ice cream with a color-changing paint ball inclusion which makes kids’ mouths turn blue.”
On the more adult side from Pecan Deluxe, innovative inclusion ingredients have been of the ethnic cuisine variety, including a sesame-walnut inclusion piece, a fortune cookie piece, or the pastry pieces of Hispanic cuisine such as sopapillas or churros. In fact, inclusion ingredients representing Hispanic cuisine may be one of the emerging trends.
“We had an inclusion ingredient that was a cornbread-type piece called sweet tamale,” Luck says. “A molé brownie-type piece was another.”
Going Nutty
Nuts remain eternally popular as inclusion pieces. Butter pecan is a mainstay in the ice cream case, along with rocky road varieties or the plethora of ice creams that include almonds. The best-selling nuts are pecans, followed by almonds, walnuts and peanuts.
“The number-one inclusion piece in terms of nuts is the chocolate coated almond piece, but chocolate-coated nuts are popular in all forms — chocolate-coated cashews, hazelnuts in milk and dark chocolate and chocolate-coated peanuts,” says Mark Graziano, owner and vice president of sales, Terry Lynn Inc., Elgin, Ill. “Chocolate-coated peanuts are starting to make a comeback as a popular inclusion ingredient.”
Although U.S. nut harvests have been relatively large for the past few years, the growing popularity of nuts around the world has translated to higher prices for nuts here in the United States. Some manufacturers are altering the mix of nuts used in certain ice creams. For example, pecan prices are very high today, and manufacturers may try using cashews as an adjunct nut in certain products.
“One of the more innovative ingredient ideas I have presented is the option of a chocolate-covered cranberry piece,” Graziano says. “Considering that cranberries and almonds go together well, a great cost-savings could be an ice cream product with both of these chocolate-covered ingredients together in the mix, complemented by a dark fudge variegate.”
While market fluctuations may affect the ratio of inclusion ingredients used in combination, the development of new and innovative inclusion types continues to expand the repertoire available. But one mantra remains in the world of ice cream — products that are loaded with fun and tasty inclusion ingredients are what consumers want.
“It seems like ice cream is one category where consumers demonstrate a lot of loyalty, because manufacturers give them an indulgent experience they have come to love,” Graziano says. “The current ice cream products open the door for people to step out of their comfort zone and try something different, to try a new and exciting variation that their favorite brand offers. Overall, these innovative new products have been a great development for the ice cream case and the category.”  
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