Let’s Talk Frozen Desserts and Their Standards of Identity

July 10, 2024

Of course, we all know and love ice cream – but did you know it has a legal definition that is closely tracked by the U.S. government? We sat down with our ice cream experts to give you the scoop.

The Wikipedia definition of ice cream is “a sweetened frozen food typically eaten as a snack or dessert.”  A broader term is frozen dessert.  There are many types of frozen desserts: Gelato, frozen custard, sherbet, frozen dairy desserts, and ice cream. And on top of that, so many different flavors of sherbet, ice cream, and other frozen desserts.

In the United States, to be labeled as ice cream, specific parameters must be present in the product. Ice cream is covered under a legal “Standard of Identity”. There are many foods which are governed by federal guidelines, called a Standard of Identity in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Here are some examples from the CFR for ice cream:

  • Ice cream must be at least 10% milk fat.
  • The fat must be from a dairy source like milk or cream.
  • The amount of “milk solids”, AKA the part of the milk and cream that is protein, milk sugar, vitamins and minerals, and milk fat, must add up to 20%.
  • The amount of air added is limited to 50% by weight.

Did you catch that last one? Ice cream has air in it! The air in ice cream is called overrun, and it’s important to the texture of ice cream. If a product has very high overrun, meaning a lot more air, it may have to be labeled as “frozen dairy dessert”, according to the CFR. A frozen dairy dessert may also not have the required fat or milk solids to meet the labeling requirements for ice cream.

Additionally, ice cream manufacturers must follow specific definitions to label ice cream as low fat, light, reduced fat, or nonfat ice cream. For example, light ice cream must have 50% less fat and 33% less calories than standard ice cream.

There’s even more detail we could get into – like economy, regular, premium, and super premium ice cream. But this is a lot for us to “digest” in one post (did you like the pun? Now we’re hungry…). Want to learn more? Let us know what other topics you’d be interested in learning about on our Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and X (Twitter)!