Ice Cream and Frozen Dairy Treats


The delicious frozen dairy treats of today evolved from the flavored ices popular with the Romans in the 4th century B.C. The hand-crank freezer, patented in 1846, led to the establishment of the first commercial ice cream plant in Baltimore in 1851. Frozen yogurt was introduced in the late 1960s and has since enjoyed increased popularity.


  • Ice Cream is made by stirring a pasteurized mix of one or more dairy ingredients – milk, concentrated fat-free milk, cream, condensed milk – sweetening agents, stabilizers, emulsifiers, optional egg or egg yolk solids and other flavorings while freezing. 

    Added flavoring must be identified on the label as naturally flavored (i.e., raspberry ice cream) or artificially flavored (i.e., raspberry-flavored ice cream or artificially flavored raspberry ice cream). 
    Federal standards require ice cream to contain a minimum of 10% milk fat (about 7 grams (g) of fat per 1/2 cup serving) and 20% total milk solids by weight. Some premium ice creams contain 16% milk fat.
  • Frozen Custard (French ice cream, French custard ice cream) is similar to ice cream but contains a higher content of egg yolk solids.
  • Reduced-Fat Ice Cream, Low-fat Ice Cream, Light Ice Cream and Fat-Free Ice Cream all contain less fat per serving (1/2 cup) than full-fat ice cream:
       - Reduced-fat ice cream contains at least 25% less total fat
       - Low-fat ice cream contains 3 grams (g) or less of fat
       - Light ice cream contains at least 50% less total fat 
       - Fat-free ice cream contains less than 0.5 gram (g) of fat
  • Sherbet contains 1 to 2% milk fat and 2 to 5% total milk solids. Water, flavoring (e.g., fruit, chocolate, spices), sweetener and stabilizers are added. Sherbet has more sugar than ice cream.
  • Frozen Yogurt is made by freezing a mixture of pasteurized milk, with or without other milk products, flavorings, seasonings, stabilizers, emulsifiers and lactic acid cultures. Because there are no specific standards for frozen yogurt, its ingredients and characteristics can vary. Frozen yogurt is pasteurized before freezing so it generally does not contain live, active cultures like many unfrozen yogurts. Non-fat, low-fat and full-fat varieties of frozen yogurt are available. Frozen yogurt may be soft (as in cones or sundaes) or hard-frozen.
  • Gelato is Italian-style ice cream made from milk and sugar, combined with other flavorings. Gelato contains less air (also known as overrun) than ice cream, which results in a denser, more flavorful dessert. Gelato has a higher percentage of solids, giving it a smooth, velvety texture. It also contains less cream and more milk, so it has less fat than ice cream.

Storing and Handling

Store ice cream and other frozen dairy treats tightly covered in the freezer at 0ºF. To avoid crystallization and volume loss, when scooping keep the surface as level as possible. Cover the surface of ice cream with plastic wrap before reclosing and return to the freezer immediately.
For ease in serving, soften ice cream by transferring it to the refrigerator 10 to 20 minutes before serving.


Commonly Asked Questions About Ice Cream and Other Frozen Dairy TREATs

  • Why Do Ice Crystals Form in Ice Cream?
    Ice crystals form when some of ice cream's water separates from fat and eventually develops into larger ice crystals. The result is a grainy-textured ice cream. As long as water remains trapped in an emulsion with fat in ice cream, the original ice crystals do not get larger. To protect ice cream from developing large ice crystals, do not thaw and refreeze ice cream, and do not store ice cream well below 0ºF for a prolonged period.
  • Isn't Frozen Yogurt a Healthier Choice Than Ice Cream?
    A variety of frozen yogurts and ice creams with different calorie and fat contents are available. The best way to compare frozen yogurt to ice cream is to check the Nutrition Facts panel on product labels. It is also important to note portion sizes. 
  • If I'm Lactose Intolerant, Can I Eat Ice Cream?
    Although the lactose content of ice cream varies by brand and recipe, you may be able to enjoy it in moderation. There are also lactose-free dairy options available in varying flavors. (View more information on Lactose Intolerance.)
  • What is Overrun in Ice Cream?
    Overrun is a measure of the volume of air whipped into the ice cream mix. Overrun does not have to be declared on the label. Quality ice creams have lower overruns than those of reduced quality. Generally the more overrun, the lower the cost of the ice cream.