An academic has claimed that there is really very little difference between a cheap and cheerful Mr Whippy and a bowl of rich and indulgent Häagen-Dazs, despite what the ad makers say.
“Yes, there is variation in terms of quality due to the range of ingredients – top ice creams use fresh cream and eggs and the cheaper ones use milk powder – and of course there are differences in flavours [… But] there’s a limit to which they can differ from each other,” insists Peter Barham, a physicist at Bristol University.
“They all have a problem of storage which means that there’s a limit to how different their texture can be.”
With this in mind, Barham argues that there is little to choose between the mass-produced ice creams, except marketing image. Consultant psychologist Paul Buckley added in the Guardian newspaper: “At its most basic, ice-cream is little more than frozen emulsified fat with a flavour in it. There will be a difference in flavour but the real difference in quality for the price differential is relatively minimal. Obviously if you’re going to sell a product where there’s little real difference, the only thing you can do to differentiate is build up an image around it which suggests it’s superior to another.”
According to Barham, all ice cream manufacturers face the same problem in determining how to ensure that the product stays creamy, and that ice particles do not grow. “There are ways of doing this and one way is to freeze it incredibly fast – for instance by pouring over liquid nitrogen. But that’s not very practical.”
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Next weekend, Barham will be presenting his findings and his formula for perfect ice cream (871H2O + 16C12H22O11 + 7C39H76O6 at 0C +N2 at –196°C), at Ice Cream Sunday, a meeting organised by the Royal Institution of Great Britain and Royal Society of Chemistry.