Category: Foodie Fodder

bowl of vanilla ice cream with strawberries

Some of our blogs are written about recipe shortcuts, time-saving tips, or quick-and-easy tricks. This isn’t one of them. In our mind, there are times when something worth doing is only worth doing if you can make it better (or in some cases more unique) than what you can buy.

We think of ice cream that way.

But before we continue, just a couple of facts …. vanilla ice cream is the most popular in the US, accounting for nearly 30% of all sales. In addition, we can thank Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson with introducing it to our shores. To learn more about this history, click HERE.

Now, Michigan is home to a number of local ice creams. Some of them are VERY local, and all are quite good. We have Calder’s, Guernsey, Ray’s and Hudsonville, just to name a few. So to go to the trouble of making your own ice cream when you can have any one of these terrific products…Well, it better be worth it.

What’s the difference between good ice cream and GREAT ice cream?

The easy answer is ingredients, but that isn’t the whole story. Let’s take vanilla ice cream, for example.

Quality ingredients are a must, but it’s what those ingredients contain–namely, butterfat–that matters most.

As the name suggests, it’s ice CREAM not ice milk. Although you can make a version of ice cream with milk, it’s not the ice cream we prefer to invest my appetite in. Ice cream high in butterfat is rich and, well, creamy. That’s the ice cream world we want to live in.

Vanilla? It likely goes without saying that it should be pure vanilla (and we also like to add the vanilla bean seeds, too). Lastly, we prefer French vanilla, which means eggs. Like custard, eggs further enrich the fat content and add that golden color that, to my eye (and taste), just makes it special.

We would rather eat a tablespoon of great ice cream than a bowl full of bad ice cream any day. Now you know how we feel about ice cream ingredients. The next difference is how long it is churned, and as a result, how much of the ice cream is ice cream, and how much is something called air.

It’s hard to know exactly how much you’re paying for ice cream’s (costly) original liquid batter and how much you’re paying for air. Ice cream is sold by volume not weight. If you filled up a half-gallon carton of liquid and froze it, it would weigh nearly 4 pounds, and it would be nearly impossible to scoop because it would be so hard. So some air in ice cream is a good thing, too much isn’t.

What to do?

Because you won’t find a scale next to the frozen food aisle, if you DO buy a brand ice cream, hold each one to see if you can estimate its weight per volume. You’ll generally find the more expensive/higher-quality ice creams are churned a bit less. As a result, they weigh a bit more. The average amount of air in a super-premium ice cream is about 20% to 25% and goes as high as 50%. That’s a big difference because you’re paying for volume not weight, which means you’re paying just as much for the air as you are ice cream’s other ingredients. For a guide, a typical half-gallon of premium ice cream weighs about 2 ¾ lb. That’s roughly 32% air. So more weight equals more flavor because air has no taste.

Having said that, the KING of churn is soft serve ice cream. It can be as much as 60%+ air (which the industry calls overrun). Thankfully, it’s hard to package in a box, which is why it’s on a cone.

Now, to make this volume/weight exercise even MORE challenging, some ice cream is sold by the liter, some by the pint, some by the quart, and some by 48 fl. ounces (which is 1.5 quarts). Then, of course, there’s the good old half-gallon.

Bottom line, if we see anyone in the Nino’s ice cream aisle with a calculator and a puzzled look on his or her face, we’ll know they have probably read this blog. But we’re not expecting that. Instead, make a batch of great ice cream someday, and then taste everything against it. You’ll decide to pay for quality.

Ok, enough. I’ll step down from my ice cream truck and give you my recipe for French vanilla ice cream.


Give our recipe a churn and let us know what you think.


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