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A galaxy of sweetness: comparison graph of ice cream calories vs. sugar

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For some reason I really enjoy making visual graphs from data, something which can give new insight into relationships hidden in the data.

I decided to apply this hobby of mine to ice cream, and came with the above graph. It shows calories on the horizontal axis, and sugars (in grams) on the vertical one. Numbers are measured against a single serving, which is typically 1/2 cup.

I have captured data for around 50 products across 7 different brands, and highlighted some of the points on the graph.

As expected, there is a general correlation between calories and sugar, since adding more sugar usually means adding more calories. However there are some cases like Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter Pecan, which has a lot of fat that contributes to calories, but not sugar. We also see the other extreme, Talenti Lisbon Lemon, where the main ingredients (besides water) are lemon and sugar, both which contribute to sugar but not to calories.

Ice Cream – weight vs volume

In several of my previous blogs I had adjusted by weight (expressed in grams) when comparing across ice cream products. While the amount of weight per serving is an important value and in comparing using it gives useful information, in reality we eat ice cream by volume, not weight. When you scoop up some ice cream the real limiting factor is volume, in other words size, because ice cream will never be heavy enough for you to care about a spoonfuls worth of weight.

For this reason I’ll try to stick to comparing against volume in future posts. Originally I had started comparing using weight because I noticed this different across ice cream producers and thought it translated to different volumes, so it would be the most fair way to compare. However I was wrong – most ice cream/frozen dessert companies use a standard serving size of 1/2 cup, which yields 4 per pint.

Here is a sample of average weight per 1/2 cup serving for a few ice cream companies:

  • Talenti: 100 grams
  • Haagen Dazs: 100 grams
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk: 85 grams
  • Bryers: 66 grams

So how can the weight be almost double for the same volume? The basic ingredients, coconut/cow milk and sugar, shouldn’t differ too much in weight and the minor ingredients are in a lower proportion and have only a small effect on the total weight. The answer may be a little surprising to those who haven’t researched how ice cream is made:

Air.

Believe it or not air bubbles are actually a necessary component of (tasty) ice cream. If you want to see what I mean, you can try an experiment which I accidentally did the other day. Move a small portion of ice cream into your refrigerator and wait a few hours until it melts into liquid. Then transfer it back to the freezer and wait a few more hours. It will re-freeze but much of the air (and ice crystals) will be gone, so the texture will be ruined. Also you will see the volume is reduced. If you own an ice cream machine you’ll know that its primary purpose is to continually spin the cream so that these air bubbles form.

If you go back and look at the table above again, you might be upset since Bryer’s is essentially filling their ice cream with air. I found a great post which discusses this practice and does some research to discover the cheaper the ice cream the more air is puffed in. You can find it here.

Some might declare we need to stand up to ice cream producers and force them to stop saving money by giving us air-filled ice cream, but I would disagree. At least for a company like Bryer’s that produces great-tasting ice cream, I don’t think there is any reason for them to change. Personally, I have gravitated to more dense ice creams in the last few years, but I have no problem eating some Bryer’s now and then, albeit in small portions.

Besides a cheaper price to the consumer, there are other advantages to adding air – less calories and sugar content. But be careful, since a much larger container size (gallon vs a pint) means you are likely to gobble up more per sitting. You could also argue there is less nutrition, but most people don’t eat ice cream primarily for nutrition.

Regardless on how you judge things, I believe in transparency – consumers knowing what is really in the products they buy. This includes air, which is not listed on the label as an ingredient.

Company response: Caffeine content in Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

I recently got a response back from an email query sent to Haagen Dazs with regards to the amount of green tea and caffeine in their green tea ice cream product (which I recently reviewed here).

They were tight lipped on the exact amount of green tea in the product, classifying it as “proprietary information”, but they did respond about the caffeine content:

“there is approximately 25 mg of caffeine per ½ cup serving which is considered 1 serving.”

Haagen Dazs website lists how they use Japanese matcha tea for this product, and according to the energyfiend website, matcha has roughly 70 milligrams of caffeine in 1 cup (8 fluid onces) of tea. This can be twice to three times of that found in other green teas, depending on the company and brewing length. One reason matcha has a high caffeine content is because the whole leaf is present, ground up, instead of just brewing it as other green teas.

Since matcha should be the only ingredient with any significant amount of caffeine present, we can use the above information to get a ballpark figure for how much green tea is in this product. It works out to be roughly one-third cup  (1 teaspoon of matcha powder) in a single serving, and almost one and half cups in the entire package (one pint). This is useful information for those trying to make their own homemade ice cream with a similar flavor.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a huge amount of tea, so those looking to reap the health benefits of green tea would be better off keeping to matcha tea, or mixing in extra matcha powder into your ice cream.

References

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/matcha-green-tea

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/green-tea

Product Review: Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

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[Note: I have taken a break from this blog to focus my energies on my new blog, which is about learning Japanese language. Please check it out here if you are interested: http://selftaughtjapanese.com ]

Green tea has been used in China since at least 2737 BC, and also has been drank for hundreds of years in other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand, and Korea. It is sold both as a beverage and as a treatment for a variety of medical ailments. Green tea is made from the same plant as everyday black tea, Camellia Sinensis, but there are major differences in how the plant is processed and grown. For example, green tea is processed with methods such as oven-drying or steaming to minimize the oxidation and fermentation. Also, certain types of green tea are made from tea plants grown in shade, including “matcha” which is the type of tea typically used for green tea ice cream (and also happens to be the same tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony). Because of these things, green tea has a very different taste and nutritional profile than other types of tea.

Grocery stores usually sell green tea from a few brands, though some of them are very diluted. If you want real green tea, try ordering some at an authentic Japanese restaurant (buffets that also serve Chinese food don’t count), or even better buy powdered matcha green tea at an Asian supermarket and mix it yourself. The flavor is very bitter, but tea lovers might just fall in love at first sip.

Green tea ice cream has been made in Japan for at least 100 years, if not longer, and has been sold in the US since the late 1970s. When it was first introduced there was some manufacturers using artificial flavors instead of real green tea powder, but that has declined greatly since. However, as I discovered recently when trying some green tea ice cream in a local Asian buffet, there is still some around that tastes nothing like green tea and shares only the deep green color.

Although many ice cream companies make green tea flavored products, in typical (non-Asian) grocery stores where I live it is pretty hard to find one on the shelves. We were lucky to discover a store recently that sold Haagen Dazs’s version, so we picked up a pint right away.

Flavor

This ice cream has a simple, creamy milk flavor with a good balance of cream that gives a nice texture without being overly fatty. If you have tried the same company’s vanilla ice cream you’ll find the texture is almost identical, which is no surprise considering the ingredients are mostly the same.

The attractive green color hints at the green tea hidden within, and there is a definite authentic green tea flavor. But in all honesty, it’s more of an aftertaste – the milk flavor dominates the experience for me.

Being a fan of green tea, I wish there was much more used. Of course, this would make the flavor significantly more bitter and possibly scare away all but the most hardcore green tea lovers.

Overall, the flavor is better than any I’ve eaten in a restaurant, but not quite as good as the homemade version we made at home. For those interested, you can simply add matcha green tea powder to a standard vanilla ice cream recipe and it should turn out great. You can even mix it into a store bought vanilla ice cream, though you have to make sure the ice cream doesn’t completely melt in this process and run the creamy texture. In our case, we added a good amount of green tea powder which may be why I am slightly disappointed in the flavor of this product. Having said that, the rest of my family loves this ice cream so maybe I’m just overly picky about the flavor.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single 102 gram serving contains 250 calories, which is about average for Haagen Dazs ice creams, but slightly higher than some other companies. Sugar is also pretty standard at 19 grams per serving.

There is 5 grams of protein per serving, a value typical of milk-based ice creams.

My favorite thing about this ice cream is that there is only 5 ingredients: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, and green tea. There is a few others made by Haagen Dazs (such as coffee) and I really appreciate their simplicity and lack of mysterious or unnecessary ingredients like colorings, natural flavor, or thickening agents. This fact alone puts this ice cream above over half of the products out there.

The other benefit of this is the green tea itself. It contains flavonoids and catechins, and research points to a large number of health benefits ranging from increased brain function and increased physical performance, to lower risk of certain cancer types and heart disease. Though further research on these nutritional benefits is still needed, some of the existing studies show impressive results. For example, a study of over 40,000 Japanese people showed that those who drank 5 or more cups a day were much less likely to die in an 11-year period.

The only catch is that, with green tea listed last on the label and a very mild green tea taste, the actual amount of green tea is probably very small. I sent an email to Haagen Dazs asking about the amount of green tea present and will write another blog post when I get the result.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Publix for around $5.00.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 8.0

Summary

A very flavorful ice cream with simple, natural ingredients, and a taste of authentic great tea. Unfortunately for me its a bit lacking, and may leave some wishing for a slightly stronger concentration of green tea.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2781

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_tea

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_tea_ice_cream

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-difference-between-black-green-white-tea-7215974.html?cat=5

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16968850

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Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream

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Introduction

I typically don’t eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream, but since it was buy one get one free I decided to try their Butter Pecan flavor, which was one of the lower sugar choices in their lineup. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this brand per se, but Haagen Dazs feel very generic to me in that it has been around as far as I can remember and isn’t marketed as being particularly healthy or different. I guess being around since 1961 you could call it a ‘classic’ ice cream company. Having said that, I’ll try to put aside my biases aside when reviewing this product.

Flavor

This ice cream tastes like your typical butter pecan, except that it it has a very strong cream flavor. I’ve made ice cream myself and used a large proportion of heavy cream (which contains 36%-40% milk fat) and it tasted similar.

My problem with this product is monotony – in both appearance and flavor. The brown pecans set against the plain white aren’t particularly visually appealing, but more importantly the flavor of the thick, creamy base isn’t different enough from the sweet pecans (which aren’t exactly crunchy), and as a result I get tired of eating this ice cream quickly. To put it another way, this ice cream lacks balance between two opposing flavors and textures. If I was tasked to improve the flavor, first I’d make the base lighter, possibly adding some other mild flavor and natural food coloring. Then I’d add more pecans, using larger ones if they exist, and possibly removing or reducing the butter from the pecans. Yes, I realize this would make the flavor less “butter pecan”, but the butter flavor and the cream flavors are too close for my taste.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 100 gram serving there is 300 calories, slightly higher than the average of other Haagen Dazs ice cream products I’ve looked at, but very high if you compare to some other companies such as Talenti and So Delicious desserts. Sugar content is a bit below average with 17 grams per serving

There is a nice portion of protein with 5 grams per serving, but the fat per serving (22 grams) is off the chart – its literally the highest I have seen in recent memory and helps to explain why the flavor is so heavy. I checked a few other brands and their versions of butter pecan all had less fat, with Bryer’s butter pecan containing less than half fat per serving (roughly 10 grams). Personally, I value overall number of calories more than fat content, but as I mentioned those are quite high as well.

The full list of ingredients are: cream, skim milk, sugar, skim milk (lactose reduced), pecans (pecans, coconut oil, salt, butter [salt, cream]), corn syrup, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract

In spite of my problems with high calories, fat, and taste, the ingredients in this ice cream are actually quite healthy, as least as far as ice creams go. There are no preservatives, no artificial colorings, no artificial flavorings, or even natural flavorings.  In fact, there aren’t any thickening agents such as guar gum either. Though I don’t consider this latter category to be necessarily unhealthy, I almost always prefer less ingredients, especially ones that are not everyday items I would use in the kitchen.

Some may spot “corn syrup” and associate that with “high fructose corn syrup”. While its true they are both made from corn, plain “corn syrup” contains more glucose as opposed to fructose, which is sweeter. While there is some research showing high amounts of fructose are harmful to the body if consumed frequently, some people maintain that these sugars all have similar effects on the body. After all, fruits naturally contain fructose (as well as gluctose and fructose), and table sugar is roughly half glucose and fructose.

Price/Availability

This sells all over but typically can be bought at Publix for around $4.69.

Ratings:   Flavor: 5.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:8.0    Overall: 6.8

Summary

A high-fat, high-calorie ice cream with reasonable ingredients that is worth a try for fans of butter pecan, but I found its heavy cream flavor a little too much.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2449

http://candy.about.com/od/candybasics/a/creamguide.htm

http://nutrition.about.com/od/grainsandcereals/f/fructosesyrup.htm