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The chilling truth about ice cream

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When I was growing up, my dad?s cousin, struggling to make a living as a farmer after the introduction of milk quotas, decided to turn his hand to making ice cream.
I remember peering into the dairy where expensive machinery churned the fresh milk and cream from the cows that I could see grazing in the fields.
And I remember, too, how delicious it was to eat those cornets, piled high with dark chocolate ice cream, licking and slurping and being careful not to lose a single drip.
There can?t be a child in Britain who doesn?t know that ice cream is made from gloriously rich, frozen double cream, sugar and sometimes eggs ? after all, it?s there in the name, isn?t it? Ice cream. Or is it?
Most people would lose their appetite pretty quickly if they knew what actually went into some of the thousands of tubs of ice cream that are sold from supermarket freezer cabinets every day.
This week, it was revealed that Unilever, who own Wall?s, Magnum, Carte d?Or and Ben & Jerry?s, have applied to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for permission to add to a diet range of frozen fruit ices a protein created using GM technology from the blood of an ocean pout, an eel-like creature that lives in the North Atlantic.
So far, so bizarre. But almost as shocking is what goes into everyday, big brand ice cream and, even more surprising, what is left out. Let?s take a look at a Magnum, the UK?s top-selling ?hand-held? ice cream brand.
In Britain, we eat more than 100 million each year and it is ?the pinnacle of indulgence in ice cream?, according to its manufacturers who promote it with dreamy, sensual, images.
Yet for all the emphasis on luxury, one thing is conspicuous by its absence from the ingredients: cream ? and even, in many cases, fresh milk. According to Unilever, this omission is actually to save us from ourselves. ?It?s in line with our policy on removing saturated fats,? explains a straight-faced spokeswoman.
A supermarket buyer is perhaps more candid. ?Taking cream out of ice cream is actually quite normal,? she says.
?You can now buy a two-litre tub of soft scoop for less than a pound. Don?t forget there?s 17.5 per cent VAT on that, and the store needs to take a profit of 25-30 per cent. If you also take away the cost of the lid and the tub, you?d think there was hardly anything left for the ice cream makers.?
So if there?s no money to spare for fresh cream, what is in it?
The whipped ice cream squirted out of a nozzle to make the cones which you buy from an ice cream van, used to contain pig fat or lard. Today, filling ice cream with commercial vegetable oils is a common practice.
Virtually all basic supermarket lines from own-brand soft scoop to Carte d?Or rely heavily on it. ?A lot of people don?t realise that. It?s quite scary,? admits a spokeswoman for Richmond Foods, who manufacture ice cream for Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury?s and M&S. P> She explains that the most common vegetable fats in ices produced by Richmond Foods come from coconuts, and the fruit of the oil palm tree. (Magnums, like other Unilever frozen desserts, utilise corn and rape seed oil.)
The oil palm is a tropical plant now farmed so extensively that, according to Friends Of The Earth, its plantations are ?the most significant cause of rainforest loss in Malaysia and Indonesia?.
The oil is not only industrially cheap, it is also unhealthy. Used in margarines, lipstick and detergents, this yellow liquid is high in saturated fat, a known cause of cardiovascular problems.
The amount of dairy produce an ice cream must contain in order legally to qualify for the name is appallingly low. The FSA requires ?dairy ice cream? to have a minimum of 2.5 per cent of milk protein and an additional minimum 5 per cent of dairy fat. That?s all.
The only good news is that in ?dairy ice cream? vegetable fat is not allowed. But this is not the case with anything labelled simply ?ice cream?.
Here, the product is merely required to contain 2.5 per cent milk protein and 5 per cent of any kind of fat. This rarely comes from any fresh ingredient. Partially reconstituted skimmed milk is one source. Another is whey solids.
?Whey is the liquid left over when milk is turned into cheese,? explains Ian Tokelove, of the Food Commission. ?It is produced in vast quantities by the dairy industry.?
A hugely problematic waste product, whey was for years dumped into rivers, or discharged into the sea.
Dried out to a pale green powder for ease of storage and transportation, it now acts as an exceedingly cheap protein carrier and sweetener, although sometimes even the sugar is taken out to be repackaged and resold.
All of these vegetable fats and milk-based products are what the industry, with refreshing honesty, refers to as ?bulking agents? or ?fillers? ? cheap ways of adding volume but not cost to the ice cream.
There is one more: thin air. Ice cream is sold by volume, not weight, so a way of making it go further is to whip as much air into the mixture as possible before freezing it into plastic tubs.
The bland bulk of this mix is then titivated with a slew of other unappealing extras. There are the colourings, often referred to by name, because, like annatto, they often sound pretty, rather than E number (in this case, E160b).
It is used in place of the controversial colouring tartrazine (E102) to tint the mixture to something that more closely resembles the rich colours we associate with clotted cream. The Hyperactive Children?s Support Group considers it to be an allergen.
Emulsifiers such as ?diglycerides of fatty acids? prevent the fat and water content separating into a greasy puddle.
Meanwhile, stabilisers are often derived from seaweed.
Perhaps most worrying is the flavouring. Manufacturers are coy about revealing how they have achieved a specific taste, passing off goodness knows what in the ingredient list under the meaningless catch-all ?flavouring?.
If you hope for an ice cream whose taste relates in some intelligible way to the words on the carton, it also pays to be label aware.
Producers can use pictures of fruit on the label or tub only if the ice cream actually has some real fruit (as opposed to synthetic flavouring) in it. Anything marked ?raspberry-flavoured? ice cream, however, has probably never seen a raspberry in its life.
Suddenly, the rousing jangle of the ice cream man?s van doesn?t seem quite as appealing.

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