27 August 1999

The science of great tasting low fat ice cream

by Kate Melville

Well a taste test research program run by the University of Missouri found "no significant difference" in the flavour of low fat versus regular chocolate ice cream. Unfortunately before you all go rushing off to the local shop to stock up on low fat dairy comestibles, the report also says that this bonus is unique only to chocolate ice cream due to the complex mixture of chemicals that make up that distinctive flavour. In the USA, chocolate is the second favourite ice cream flavour (after vanilla), according to Dr. Ingolf Gruen, of the university's Department of Food Science. "There has been research done with vanilla ice cream, but there was absolutely no published research done on chocolate ice cream….the reduction of fat in vanilla ice creams resulted in a less smooth and harsher taste, and people disliked it more, we wondered if that was true for chocolate ice cream."

In vanilla ice cream a single chemical compound carries the flavour, but in chocolate the flavour is a mixture of many chemicals whose complexity helps make chocolate less susceptible to flavour degradation. This sounds fine except when Dr Gruen notes that. "In fact, chocolate is often used to cover up off flavours. It's a masking flavour." The research team used trained panellists who found the intensity of the flavour varied with the fat content - akin to the difference between milk chocolate and dark or semi-bitter chocolate. So for those of you who are health-conscious and who love chocolate ice cream lovers, this new report is good news. Dr Gruen's final word is that "When it comes to chocolate ice cream, the decision to buy a good-tasting ice cream is independent of the fat content. Most likely, you will like the ice cream and not be able to tell the difference."