The other day, I spent the morning on the phone calling companies that make ice cream. I’d got a bee in my bonnet over their ingredients, you see, after reading the ingredient list of a well known brand only to discover that it didn’t contain any fresh milk or cream. Sure, it contained dairy–in the guise of modified milk ingredients– but for a brand that a lot of folks associate with “natural” ice cream, shouldn’t it at least contain fresh dairy? And what are these modified milk ingredients anyway?
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, modified milk ingredients are compounds derived from dairy but have been modified from their original form. This can include anything from calcium-reduced milk powder to milk protein concentrates to whey cream. Ultrafiltered milk also falls into this classification. Milk ingredients, in contrast, are dairy products that haven’t been chemically transformed but may not be fresh dairy. These include ingredients like dried skim milk powder, reconstituted milk and butter fat.
In traditional ice cream, fresh cream and milk is combined with sugar and fruit or other flavourings and slowly stirred while the mixture is cooled until it becomes frozen and creamy. To produce quality ice cream, the process is time consuming and the results can vary somewhat. To make the process easier, cheaper and the product more consistent, many mass-produced commercial ice creams are made by combining modified milk ingredients and milk ingredients in a proprietary formulation that gives the desired fat content, taste and mouth feel for the product. Sure it tastes great, but is it ice cream, really?
Also, is it Canadian? Modified milk ingredients and milk ingredients can be bought cheaply from foreign countries like the United States, New Zealand, and China. To get around tariffs on imported milk ingredients, many producers use a butter-oil and sugar blend. Since it’s over 50% sugar, the milk tariff doesn’t apply. Sneaky eh. And imagine what that does to the sugar content of the ice cream!
All’s not completely lost. There are still some supermarket ice creams made with real dairy, or at the very least Canadian milk products. In Quebec, Coaticook dairy still uses the traditional methods of making ice cream. They pride themselves on supporting local dairies and not using any modified milk ingredients. You’ve probably seen their products in the freezer section but ignored them because they don’t have fancy packaging and it’s inexpensive. (If it’s not pricey it can’t be good quality, right?) They keep their costs down by not doing a lot of marketing. They rely on word of mouth and simple quality for their sales.
Nestle told me that they only use Canadian milk products in their ice creams, which include Parlour and those candy-flavoured ones like Coffee Crisp. Their Haagen Dazs brand aside, all of the ones I looked at listed modified milk ingredients on the label, but at least they’re Canadian.
Most President’s Choice ice creams are made with a mix of Canadian and imported milk ingredients, however they do have some that use only Canadian milk. Look for the flavours with the little blue cow logo on the lid that that says “100% Canadian Milk”. I was puzzled by their “made with fresh dairy cream” claim on some of their blue menu products when none actually listed “cream” on the ingredient list. Customer service told me that the fresh dairy was probably listed under “milk ingredients”.
Breyers said they can’t guarantee the origin of their ingredients. It’s possible that the modified milk ingredients come from outside of Canada. Too bad because their ice cream is tasty.
This was an interesting exercise, and I have to say that all the customer service lines I called were very helpful and I never waited more than a couple of minutes to talk to someone. One company even called me back when they didn’t have the answer on hand.
So what do you think, should ice cream made with modified milk ingredients be called ice cream? Should labeling indicate when the dairy ingredients are not Canadian? Will understanding the ingredient list on ice creams change your buying habits?Photo credit: Adela Deras