Before we indulge in the sweet stuff, let’s talk about ingredient lists. They are found on any packaged food product, typically below the Nutrition Facts information. You may be thinking if I don’t have a food allergy or intolerance, should the ingredient list still be important to me? The answer is yes! Day in and day out we fill our bodies with food that part of what’s known as the “Standard American Diet”. Is it a coincidence that the acronym for this is S.A.D.? Our food products are filled with chemicals and stabilizers to preserve texture and taste, but should we be eating them? Why not avoid them when we can? With the heat of summer right around the corner, what better way to practice deciphering ingredient lists than with our favorite cool treat: ice-cream.
I did a little label reading research on a popular ice-cream flavors found in our local grocery stores. The first is classic vanilla, deemed “natural vanilla” which had 7 ingredients total including sugar as number 3 followed by vegetable gum, whatever that is. Did you know the ingredients are listed from what is used most to least in the product? So vanilla might be our base, but then we walk down the aisle and see fat free vanilla. We may think to ourselves, this is a healthier choice because they just remove the fat and there are fewer calories…. The calorie part might be true, but the fat free vanilla ice-cream isn’t just missing the fat, in fact it has 10 ingredients instead of 7. Corn syrup is listed as the number 2 ingredient which was not even in the list of ingredients for the original vanilla! Often, when the fat is removed from a product, companies add ingredients (namely sugars) to keep the product within our taste preferences. Yikes. Lastly, let’s talk about the ice-cream flavors filled with toppings, like our favorite candy bars….. I counted 40 ingredients, many of which I was unable to pronounce or identify, and 11 of which were forms of sugar! I challenge you to take a peek in your cupboards and freezers and start to notice the ingredient lists. I think you will be surprised how many “what is that?” and “why is that in there?” ‘s you ask yourself. Here are a few “food rules” as described by a famous author and foodie, Michael Pollan:
• Try to stick to food that doesn’t require a label/ingredient list – fruits, vegetables, etc.
• Avoid items with more than 5 ingredients or several that you don’t recognize or cannot pronounce
• Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot
• Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (think pop tarts, ding-dongs, etc.)
Even if ice-cream is just an occasional treat, why not make it yourself? This way you know exactly what you’re eating and can customize it to your liking. Check out the recipe for topping filled ice-cream below! It has 9 ingredients compared to 40, all of which we recognize!
Vanilla-Almond Ice Cream with Cherries and Pistachios
Makes about 1 qt.
6 large egg yolks
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ c whole milk
¾ c sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, slices lengthwise and seeds scraped
½ tsp pure almond extract
¾ cup fresh cherries, pitted*
½ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped*
*Substitute any berries, fruit, and nuts for these ingredients to customize it!
1. Set a medium bowl in a large bowl of ice water. In another separate bowl beat the egg yolks until pale (1-2 minutes).
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk the cream with the milk, sugar, salt and vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a simmer, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved. Very gradually whisk half of the hot cream mixture into the beaten egg yolks in a thin stream, and then whisk this mixture into the saucepan. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon (about 12 minutes); don’t let it boil!
3. Strain the custard through a mesh-strainer into the bowl set in ice water; discard the vanilla bean. Let the custard cool completely, stirring occasionally.
4. Stir in almond extract.
5. Pour into large freezer bag and seal, pressing out the air. Lay the bag flat in the freezer and freeze until firm (at least 8 hours or overnight).
6. Workings quickly, or in batches, transfer the frozen custard to a food processor. Pulse at 5 second intervals until smooth. Transfer the custard into a chilled 9×4 metal loaf pan (or other chilled metal dish) and fold in the cherries and pistachios. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm (6 hours or overnight). Lasts up to 1 week.