The Food and Drug Administration has proposed changes regarding the nutrition labeling of foods. Elements of the proposal, if implemented, create multiple technical challenges to the way ice creams and related products are formulated, made, marketed, distributed and sold.

Proposed changes to the nutrition facts panel are both visual (emphasis on specific nutrients that reflect desirable dietary objectives; font size; reporting of multiple servings per container; etc.) and analytical (new/updated nutrient definitions; modifications of select daily values; etc.). Beyond these are considerations that challenge the basic nature and appeal of the products we make. These include composition, formulation, ingredient selection, manufacturing, resistance to heat shock and other characteristics reflective of desirable sensory appeal.

Technical challenges come from proposed doubling of serving size for packaged ice cream, from one-half cup (4 fluid ounces) to 1 cup (8 fluid ounces). Novelties and other single-serve-package serving sizes are assumed to be self-defined.

Such an increase in serving size has a dramatic effect on products making nutrient content claims. Relative claims (“reduced fat” or “reduced calories,” for example) are based on a proportional change in comparison to a clearly defined reference product (typically, a 25% minimum reduction of the declared nutrient). Since the serving size of the reference product also doubles, the relative comparison may not be affected.

Beware the fat trap

However, products making specific nutrient content claims (i.e., “low,” “free,” etc.) are at risk; most particularly claims related to fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, “sugars” and calories. Products that now conform most likely will no longer automatically qualify for similar declarations once the serving size doubles.

Maintaining regulatory conformity requires substantial changes to composition (for example, lower levels of fat, “sugars,” total solids, etc.) and/or processing (that is, higher overrun). Not to mention consideration of redefinition of terms such as “added sugars” and its effect on “no sugar added” declarations.

Also involved are challenges related to the management of influences on the development of characteristics that affect handling properties during production and sensory properties, such as perception of body, texture and, ultimately, delivery of flavor.

Fortunately, technologies and approaches are available to help mitigate possible negative effects. These are related to the key phenomena that affect ice cream structure: the contribution of fat to structure via the influence of fat agglomeration (partial coalescence) and the control of the development and stability of small air bubbles and ice crystals.

Maintaining creaminess

Fat agglomeration contributes directly via inherent creaminess and indirectly through the development of an agglomerated fat matrix providing structure and resistance to bite or chew (body). Fat contributes to the strength of air bubbles needed to maintain small air bubble size. Small air bubbles, in turn, provide added perception of creaminess. Fat is also a key deliverer of flavor. Thus, any further fat reduction in products that are already “reduced,” “low” or “nonfat” reduces the influence of what little fat is available on body, texture and the release of flavor, not to mention added stress on heat-shock resistance.

To compensate, an increase in the degree of fat agglomeration is desirable. This might involve changing the amount and type of emulsifiers used. Such changes may include alternatives including the use of judicious levels of polysorbate 80 or unsaturated alternatives to mono-diglycerides, always being aware of off-flavor development from the ingredients themselves. Using known fat-sparing effects of mix components such as microcrystalline cellulose, low D.E. maltodextrins and plant sterols can be considered. It would also be useful to reduce ice cream draw temperature, since agglomeration increases as temperature decreases. All this, in turn, is reflective of demands on mix and ice cream viscosities during mix making and whipping/freezing.

To avoid negative effects of increasing overrun, it is important to understand the need to maintain a very small air bubble size for structural integrity and the perception of creaminess. A corollary effect of managing fat agglomeration is the significant effect on adding to air bubble strength, thus, stabilizing bubble size created during whipping/freezing. Air bubble stability can also be enhanced by the use of ingredients such as MCC-based stabilizers, dairy protein concentrates or isolates that increase the viscosity of the unfrozen portion of the ice cream. It would also be appropriate to evaluate emulsifiers such as lactylated mono- and diglycerides reported to maintain small air bubble size in high overrun products.

 Like all of ice cream science and technology, there are a lot of moving parts that interact in complex ways to deliver desirable compositional and functional properties. Understanding the influences on these properties provides guidance as to what to do in the face of pending regulatory challenges ahead.