By Leslie Kelly

If you read food labels, there's a good chance you've wondered "what's carrageenan?" and "why's it in ice cream?"

Photo by Meredith

The Scoop on Carrageenan

This common food additive is made with red seaweed and processed with alkali. It's considered "natural" by the FDA. Yet some research shows that it leads to gastrointestinal inflammation, and in rare cases, malignant tumors, according to a 2016 report released by the Cornucopia Institute, a food watchdog group.

Carrageenan often shows up on a long list of ingredients that might include guar gum, carob gum, and locust gum. These are all used as emulsifiers (instead of going the old-fashioned route of making a velvety custard, and then pasteurizing freezing it). Using those ingredients allows commercial ice cream producers to save time and money, skipping the step of making the custard. These gums also act as stabilizers, so, if the ice cream thaws, it can be refrozen without ice crystals forming.

Photo by Jens

Less is More

There are some exceptions to the rule, though it takes some detective work to find those ice cream producers that take the minimalist approach. A few years ago, Häagen-Dazs launched a line called Five. There were just five ingredients in five featured flavors. Not sure why Five fizzled, but it did. Fans of Five will celebrate the good news that the mission lives on in its chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, and green tea flavors, which still have only five ingredients: cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks and flavoring.

The DIY Game Plan

You can avoid these emulsifiers by making your own ice cream. If you've never tried, it's much easier than you might imagine. If you're a seasoned ice cream maker, there are so many new recipes to explore, including versions that are done lickety split without a machine, and vegan variations. And building on the success of that project, consider checking out this guide to making the best milkshakes and ice cream sandwiches and building the ultimate make-your-own-sundae bar.

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