Various types of ice cream

Frozen Desserts & Ice Creams – Why the Difference?

Why is there a legal difference between ice creams and frozen desserts? What is the reason? Sid Khullar explains.

Ice cream has to be one of the simple pleasures of our lives. Summer or winter, there will be those of us who can’t get through a day without digging into a white spiral of Ice cream mounted on a cone or biting into dual layers of mango and milk, the whole stuck on a stick! 

Given how sensitive we are to health related concerns, there’s recently been an uproar about how certain brands we’ve been consuming aren’t ice creams at all, but frozen desserts, widely believed to be made nearly entirely out of vegetable fat. Given how much cultural value we place on milk as a people, this revelation understandably disturbed quite a few of us.

Ice Creams – The Beginning

Ice cream makers such as these were needed to manually churn the mixture into ice cream.
Ice cream makers such as these were needed to manually churn the mixture into ice cream.

Let’s start from the beginning, around 18th century England, when ice cream recipes first began appearing, such as the instructions below in Mrs. Mary Eales’s Receipts in London in 1718.

Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream…

By the 19th century, ice creams had arrived at American shores too, as evidenced by books like Aunt Babette’s Cook Book from 1889 and Directions for Cookery from 1840, both of which include recipes for ice creams.

Rich, thick cream was mixed with powdered loaf sugar, flavoured with substances such as lemon zest and then churned in a bucket like contraption until about 2 hours later, the cook’s back-breaking labour was rewarded with thick, creamy ice cream. It stood to reason therefore that high values were placed on the use of milk, cream and other natural, dairy staples in the context of ice cream. The world however, hadn’t taken technological advancements or political circumstances into consideration.

World War II and Dairy Rationing

Shortage of supplies ensured vital foodstuffs like milk, eggs, meat and sugar, among others, were strictly rationed.
Shortage of supplies ensured vital foodstuffs like milk, eggs, meat and sugar, among others, were strictly rationed.
Special production facilities with different packaging for products were set up during World War II.
Special production facilities with different packaging for products were set up during World War II.

Around 1939, when World War II began, the United Kingdom imported 70% or more of its vital food supplies. Disrupted supplies due to attacks on shipping convoys (a favoured German strategy) among other reasons, resulted in the extreme shortage of these necessary foodstuffs and the British Ministry of Food introduced a rationing system to keep consumption in check of items such as bacon, butter, sugar, meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, lard, milk, and canned and dried fruit.

Around 1942, the United States followed suit, with the Office of Price Administration freezing prices on and rationing most everyday goods, including milk, butter, sugar, eggs and meat among other staples. Similar was the case with most other countries at the time; supply routes were being targeted as a matter of routine strategy and rationing food among other products like rubber and auto-mobile fuel became a necessity.

[quote]Even when faced with an acute shortage of ice cream ingredients, citizens still craved the stuff! Necessity being the proverbial mother of invention, ice cream production without the use of milk fat was pioneered and was immediately adopted by the people to satisfy their urge for ice cream. Sometimes as we’ve seen repeatedly throughout history, the results of necessity-driven substitution, even when contextually confined to an era, linger on long afterwards, even perhaps perceived as being better than the original. For example, consider soy sausages. They originated due to meat shortages, but today form a welcome substitute for vegetarians and even as fillers in economic brands of meat sausages.[/quote]

A few years later, influenced by the heavy shortage and rationing of ingredients for ice cream, such as milk, cream and sugar, the world saw the invention of Mellorine, which was identical to ice cream, but used vegetable fats instead of the traditionally preferred milk fat.

So, Why Separate the Terms?

In one word – Lobbying. A major political reality, lobbying largely refers to activities by big business that influence government policy to ultimately benefit big business. Around 60 years ago, when non-dairy ice creams were invented, the ice cream industry was up in arms, rightfully perceiving non-dairy ice creams as serious competition to their own businesses. Furious lobbying ensured the United States Department of Agriculture imposed standards on Mellorine:

  • Mellorine must be labelled as ‘Mellorine’.
  • It must contain pasteurized milk.
  • It may derive its fat content from a non-milk, vegetable or animal source.
  • Fat (vegetable or animal) must comprise 6 percent of its total composition and  
  • The product’s protein content must be a minimum of 2.7 percent.

Similar is the case with the Indian equivalent, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As per the Official Gazette notification published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the 1st of August 2011, the following are the legal definitions of ice creams and frozen desserts. As you’ll see, both are identical with the sole difference being in the type of fat used.

Remember, vegetable fat isn’t the same as hydrogenated vegetable fat. One is what most of us use to cook our daily meals, and the second has been long recognized as being economical but unhealthy for our bodies.

ParameterFrozen DessertIce Cream
Basic DefinitionFrozen Dessert / Frozen Confection (hereafter referred to as the said product) means the product obtained by freezing a pasteurised mix prepared with milk fat and / or edible vegetable oils and fat having a melting point of not more than 37.0 degree C in combination and milk protein alone or in combination / or vegetable protein products singly or in combination with the addition of nutritive sweetening agents e.g. sugar, dextrose, fructose, liquid glucose, dried liquid glucose, maltodextrin, high maltose corn syrup, honey, fruit and fruit products, eggs and egg products coffee, cocoa, chocolate, condiments, spices, ginger, and nuts.Ice Cream, Kulfi, Chocolate Ice Cream or Softy Ice Cream (hereafter referred to as the said product) means the product obtained by freezing a pasteurized mix prepared from milk and /or other products derived from milk with or without the addition of nutritive sweetening agents, fruit and fruit products, eggs and egg products, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, condiments, spices, ginger and nuts and it may also contain bakery products such as cake or cookies as a separate layer and/or coating.
Fat UsedMilk Fat or Edible Vegetable Oils/FatsMilk/Milk Derived
Total SolidNot less than 36%Not less than 36%
Wt/Vol (gm/L)Not less than 525Not less than 525
FatNot less than 10%Not less than 10%
(Milk Fat)
ProteinNot less than 3.5%Not less than 3.5%
(Milk protein)

Practical reasons exist too. Given the cultural importance given to milk and milk based products, it is important that the consumer be protected by the system to the extent of being compulsorily informed that the ice cream they’re enjoying was made using different technology. An easy way of doing so effectively, is to differentiate terms, hence ‘Frozen Desserts’.

At the end of the day therefore, frozen desserts and ice creams appear to have but one distinguishing feature – the type of fat used, and nothing else, both containing other milk solids and desired levels of proteins, etc. Imagine an omelette made using vegetable oil and another using butter. Can we say with any amount of authority that one is better than the other?

Next: Which is Healthier? Ice Creams or Frozen Desserts?