Nondairy Desserts

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Many items available in the "ice cream" section of your local supermarket are not derived from dairy products. Referred to as nondairy frozen desserts, these ice cream substitutes are derived from either soybeans or rice.

Soymilk and tofu are the base of soybean-based products. Water, fructose or other sweeteners, vegetable oil, and flavorings are added. Rice-based desserts are treated with a special process that enhances the rice's sweetness while breaking down the proteins and starches. This base also needs sweeteners and additives.

These ice cream substitutes contain no milk or lactose, so they provide an alternative for persons who have milk allergies or who are lactose-intolerant. They also contain no cholesterol. But some types, especially the items made from tofu, can have just as many calories as ice cream.

However, it was not until 1926 that refrigeration allowed the mass production of ice cream. With subsequent decades came better freezers and an increase in ice cream consumption. Today, the average American eats more than 15 quarts of ice cream in a year.

Part of ice cream's popularity can be attributed to its smooth, creamy texture. The process of homogenization helps create its unique taste by breaking down the size of the fat globules in the milk, making a smoother product.

Adding air also makes ice cream smoother. After flavors and colors have been added, but before any mix-ins such as fruit or candy pieces are added, the mixture is whipped to increase its volume by 150 percent. Without this added air, the density of ice cream would resemble that of an ice cube. Too much air, though, creates an ice cream that is too mushy and unsatisfying in texture to serve. Air does not determine the difference between soft-serve and hard ice creams, however. Soft-serve ice cream is not allowed to freeze fully, so it maintains its "soft" consistency and can easily be manipulated by machine into cones or containers. Hard ice cream is allowed to freeze so it can be scooped or spooned out of containers.

Ice cream can be made at home with an ice-cream maker, milk, cream, sugar, and flavors. Many recipes also call for eggs.

Homemade ice cream does not contain the stabilizers used in commercial ice cream to increase body and stave off melting. Nor does it contain artificial flavorings, as many commercial products do. The result is a texture and taste that are very different from those of commercial ice cream.

Most commercial ice cream has around 10 percent milk fat and added sweeteners and so a high calorie count. The count increases with the number of high-calorie mix-ins: pieces of fruits, nuts, candy, and cookies with flavored syrups in ribbons, swirls, and ripples. Many of these ingredients have added fat.

Types of frozen dairy desserts include:

Ice milk — Ice milk has fewer calories from fat because it is prepared in the same manner as ice cream but with only 3 to 5

percent milk fat. (Regular ice cream has around 10 percent milk fat, and premium varieties can be as high as 16 percent.) Most varieties of ice milk also have fewer calories overall, but some brands add more sweetener and flavoring to compensate for the less creamy texture.

Sherbet or sorbet — Sherbet's main ingredients are frozen, sweetened fruit juice and water, but it also can contain milk and egg whites. Therefore, sherbet is not a safe alternative to ice cream for persons with milk or egg allergies. Sorbets and ices may be better choices, because they are supposed to be prepared without these ingredients. Their names are not regulated, so always check the label before purchasing. Both contain a liquid base (usually fruit juice), sweetener, and water, but sorbets are less creamy

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