We have long commented on the technical and economic challenges of formulating specialty products such as Greek-style and similar hybrid frozen desserts. These challenges include ingredient options/selection, formulation, mix making, whipping/freezing, handling/flow characteristics, compatibility with the rigors of heat shock and desirable sensory properties.

Applying other popular good-for-you concepts (such as high-protein) to frozen dairy desserts is similarly daunting and may require multiple approaches to be considered concurrently to insure that all consumer expectations are satisfied. Those expectations include desirable eating qualities reflected in body (bite and chew), texture (smoothness, creaminess and richness) and, ultimately, flavor.

What does high protein mean?

How “high” is high? In the United States, nutrient content label declarations such as “high”, “enhanced” and “fortified” are allowed if the finished food delivers > 20% Daily Value (DV) of protein (> 10 grams protein) per serving. Such declarations may not be made if any “disqualifying” nutrients are present on a per-serving basis, such as total fat (>13 grams), total saturated fat (> 4 grams), total cholesterol (> 60 milligrams) and sodium (> 480 milligrams).

Evolving regulations related to transfat labeling may also apply. Ignoring any such interfering limitations, standard ice cream may range from approximately 2 grams to 4 grams of protein per 4-fluid-ounce serving, depending on the protein content of applied milk-solids-not-fat and final weight per gallon (overrun). In most cases, conventional frozen desserts fall short of any “high-protein” declaration.

‘Greek’ means 2X protein

Conventional wisdom connotes that “Greek-style” products deliver at least twice the protein of more conventional forms of the given standardized food.

In many instances, Greek-style frozen desserts, although compatible with conventional wisdom, may not inherently qualify as high-protein products.

The higher the protein and the higher the overrun (fewer grams per serving), the more demanding are the formulation challenges to achieve a high-protein declaration. This does not take into account the actual type, amount or functional attributes of the specific protein(s) used, nor their influence on key factors, such as mix viscosity, whip-ability (ability to take and hold air), fat agglomeration, water immobilization and flavor delivery.

Adding protein-containing bulky inclusions (nutmeats, protein crisps and the like) is a good way to contribute to total declared protein content of the finished high-protein frozen dessert. Without such added ingredients, challenges are burdensome, as most conventional frozen dessert mixes are designed for flavors, which are best delivered in low-protein environments.

To achieve a total protein content consistent with a high-protein declaration in a frozen dairy dessert format, the protein must be 15% to 16% of the mix, or about 5 times that of conventional ice cream.

The effects of processing

As the amount of total protein is increased, the quality and functionality of any given protein-containing ingredient is affected by “freeze concentration” as water is frozen into ice during freezing. The effect on the complexity of the unfrozen portion is reflected in significant differences in handling (rheology exiting the freezer) and eating quality. Good qualities are smooth, creamy and offering superior resistance to heat shock. The not-so-good results include muting of flavor delivery and negative indirect or direct flavor influences of the amount/type of protein used.

Formulation options include using concentrated dairy protein ingredients, such as milk protein concentrates/isolates and whey protein concentrates/isolates. Each brings positive and negative influences while supporting the allowable protein content claim and ultimate sensory appeal. Thus, the selection of a specific supplemental protein source(s) should be made based on effects on those properties at the level or levels needed.

Other mix components are also highly desirable. These include milk fat for functionality and as a carrier of flavors; sweeteners compatible with any given desirable flavoring; bulking agents to manage both freezing point and resistance to heat shock and mix density; anticipated use of low- or no-protein bulky flavors, such as fruit/fruit solids and cocoa powders; and the need for conventional stabilizers/emulsifiers.

Few things worth doing are easy. However, when you know what ingredient options are available and the influences each compositional decision makes, it is possible to manufacture and market an economically viable “high-protein” frozen dairy dessert with superior sensory appeal.   


 Join Bruce and Steve at “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream Technical Short Course, Workshops, and Clinics”, Dec. 3 to 5 in Las Vegas. Call 610-975-4424 or 281-782-4536, or go to onicecream.com. “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream: An Encyclopedic Guide to Ice Cream Science and Technology” is a rich resource of supplemental and applicable information. Purchase it from the Dairy Foods store, dairyfoods.com.