If you think you’re missing out on the full ice-cream experience if you opt for a low-fat version of your favorite scoop, new research might make you rethink your choice.
A study carried out by Penn State food scientists and published in the Journal of Dairy Science found that most people can’t tell the difference between fat levels in ice cream, and enjoy an ice cream with a lower fat content just as much as its high-fat counterpart. (Did you know ice cream tastes best at this temperature?)
The researchers recruited 292 regular ice-cream consumers to take part in blind taste tests to determine their overall acceptability of various fat levels in fresh ice cream and to see if they could tell the difference between samples. They changed the fat content by adjusting the levels of cream and by adding maltodextrin, a mostly tasteless, starch-based material that is used to add bulk to products, such as frozen desserts. Throughout the tests, tasters were unable to distinguish a two percent difference in fat levels in two vanilla ice cream samples as long as the samples were in the 6 to 12 percent fat-level range. While the subjects were able to detect a four percent difference between ice cream with 6 and 10 percent fat levels, they could not detect a four percent fat difference in samples between 8 and 12 percent fat. (What does your favorite ice cream flavor say about you?)
What does all this mean for you the next time you’re trying to make up your mind at the ice cream counter? “The most important finding in our study was that there were no differences in consumer acceptability when changing fat content within a certain range,” says Laura Rolon, a former graduate student in food science and lead author of the study, as reported in ScienceDaily. “There is a preconception of ‘more fat is better,’ but we did not see it within our study.”
Significantly, the tasters overall liking of the ice cream did not change when fat content dropped from 14 percent to 6 percent, suggesting that products with higher fat levels don’t necessarily taste better.
The aim of the study wasn’t to create a healthier type of ice cream (the researchers acknowledge that maltodextrin is not necessarily a healthy fat replacement alternative) but rather to challenge ice cream marketing and offer ice cream manufacturers information to help them decide whether a high fat product offers any economic advantage. Fat is always the most expensive bulk ingredient of ice cream, meaning premium ice cream tends to have a higher fat content (and cost more), while the less expensive economy brands tend to have lower fat content. People think premium ice cream means only high fat ice cream, but it doesn’t, says Robert Roberts, professor and head of the food science department. (By the way, you don’t need to cut out all fat to be healthy; here are healthy fats that can actually help you lose weight.)
Now go out and enjoy a scoop or two at the best ice cream shop in your state.