What is the appeal of ice-cream?

Ice-cream is a bit of a weakness for me. My wife bought a whole lot of ice-cream half-price along with wafer cones, and I find it hard to justify not eating it.

So let’s deconstruct the appeal of ice-cream and see if we can shift it.

Why does it taste good? Because it contains cream and sugar, both of which trigger very primitive and deeply ingrained biological responses.

In a state of nature, concentrated sugar and fat are hard to come by. Our bodies have evolved to relish these treats on the assumption that they are rare and will provide us much-needed energy.

Take a look at the ingredients and nutritional information for the ice-cream.

You can see that the ice-cream is about 16% fat and 20% sugar, and as you might know from cooking in general, fat and oil are made more palatable by the addition of sugar or salt, and vice-versa. In other words people will eat a lot more sugar and cream combined than separate.

What about all the other stuff in there? If you’ve ever made ice-cream you’ll appreciate that these manufacturers have gone to additional lengths to change the mouthfeel and flavour of this sugar-and-cream-delivery-system.

Maltodextrin and dextrose are just different forms of sugar with different levels of sweetness. If they used only regular sugar the ice-cream would be sickly sweet. Checkout this great site for a breakdown of how and why different sugars are used in ice-cream.

Thickeners, emulsifiers, anti caking agent and vegetable gum are also added to control the texture of the final product. Colours are as important as flavours when it comes to food, and salt is a frequent unexpected ingredient in desserts, as it enhances and balances the flavours…which is to say it helps you eat more of it.

So it’s no accident that this ice-cream tastes good. The manufacturers have gone to a great deal of effort to make this ice-cream taste good and feel good in your mouth.

And if you look at it as a cream and sugar delivery-system, tasting good and feeling good encourages you to eat more.

But if I had to make it myself, it’s far too much effort, relative to the nutritional value. It doesn’t make sense to make this for yourself. And if you made a simpler version of it at home, you wouldn’t want to eat as much because your body would tell you “enough!” much sooner.

This isn’t to say that ice-cream is bad or should never be eaten, but it doesn’t make sense to buy and eat it except for the experience. In other words, foods like ice-cream are highly susceptible to escapist eating. If you were eating to give yourself energy and nutrients, ice-cream would be a very poor choice.

And then there’s the cone.

I won’t bother with an ingredients list for the cones. Suffice it to say that I wouldn’t be bothered trying to make waffle cones at home on a regular basis, and yet the texture and flavour in combination with the ice-cream are a big part of the appeal for me.

Stop buying cones and I’ll probably stop buying ice-cream too. I can’t stop my wife buying them, but I can use a process like this above to deconstruct the appeal of the food, and bring to the forefront of my mind the unsavoury aspects of such confections.

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