Published September 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.
Can you replace your favorite full-fat vanilla ice cream with a lighter version?
Update: February 2012
Our winner Häagen-Dazs Light Vanilla Ice Cream, has since been discontinued.
A new generation of light ice creams—appealingly described as "slow-churned," "double-churned," and the like—are filling supermarket freezer cases. How do they taste? To find out, we rounded up four samples.
Low-fat ice creams and ice milks used to be grainy and icy, because they didn't contain enough fat to counterbalance the ice crystals that inevitably form when ice cream is churned. For the last year or two, manufacturers have been using a process called low-temperature extrusion, which freezes light ice cream at an extremely low temperature. The idea is to freeze the ice cream so quickly that the air-fat-water emulsion does not break and grainy ice crystals never have a chance to form.
Overall, our tasters weren't terribly impressed. They gave low marks to the leanest sample in the group, which had just 2.5 grams of fat per 1/2-cup serving. Tasters genuinely liked the only brand in the lineup made without stabilizers or emulsifiers. But with 7 grams per 1/2-cup serving, this brand has as much fat as many brands of regular ice cream.
How can something with so much fat be considered "light"? Federal labeling allows manufacturers to use the term "light" on ice cream with no more than half the fat and two-thirds the calories of the company's regular ice cream. If a regular brand has much more fat than the competition, its light offering will, too.