I love ice cream more than any other food. When the craving hits, nothing else will do except the sweet, creamy bliss of a bowl of the cold stuff, and sod the healthy diet. And when better to indulge than this sunny spring bank holiday?
Now, however, we can have our cake – or birthday cake flavour ice cream – and eat it too, if the new wave of ice-cream makers are to be believed. Their versions of cult favourites – salted caramel, cookie dough, cinnamon roll, and, yes, birthday cake flavours – have had their calorie count slashed, along with the fat and sugar content. The result is tubs whose entire contents claims to be around the same, in terms of how fattening it is, as a couple of scoops of the regular full-fat kind.
Brands like Halo Top and Breyers have been so successful that Ben and Jerrys – ice-cream heavyweights in every sense – have piled in too, and even Haagen Dazs has launched a discreet range of lower calorie “gelatos”. Now the supermarkets are in on the act with Aldi, Morrisons and Asda all launching low-calorie ice creams. And some of the brands claim positive benefits, with added protein and fibre, as well as lower fat and sugar.
Whether they actually are healthier is debatable. Most of the brands list the calorie count by the tub rather than by the serving, which seems to accept the fact that many people eat not a restrained scoop or two, but devour the whole tub at one sitting. On the one hand, this is admirably honest: the serving sizes listed are rarely realistic (who eats only two scoops of ice cream?) On the other, is this somehow enabling us to feel that scoffing the lot is a perfectly healthy thing to do? Oh yes, I’ve done it too and it’s heaven – a gloriously wilful rebellion against eating “properly” – but it’s not something for normal everyday eating.
Of course it isn’t, say the brands, by and large, and point to the serving sizes listed in tiny writing on the side to tell us that they certainly don’t endorse ice-cream gluttony.
Except, well, they kind of do. “If you’re like us, sometimes you crave nothing more than a cosy night in front of the tele. Just you, a tub of your favourite Ben & Jerry’s flavour… oh, and a spoon.” reads the blurb for Ben and Jerry’s Moo-Phoria on the Tesco website. The foils on the HaloTop ice cream tubs are even more direct, saying simply “Save the Bowl – you’re going to want the whole pint.” Aldi makes no bones at all about it. “Serving size: 1 tub” says the packaging.
As for if they taste as good as the luxury, fat-laden versions, I tried a bunch and the answer is no. Most were so artificially over-flavoured that you needed another icy spoonful to numb your tastebuds from the assault. But some were good enough to fill that ice cream-shaped hole.
So what is in them, if they’ve had the sugar and fat stripped away? Not much cream, that’s for sure, although the Breyers tub proudly proclaims it is “made with fresh cream” – 4.5 per cent or 22.5g, about four teaspoonfuls in the entire 500ml pot. Instead emulsifiers and stabilisers, which to be fair, are all ingredients you’ll find in regular ice cream too, but also other additives, such as inulin and erythritol some of which can cause distinctly unglamorous side effects when eaten in large quantities. Which, come to think of it, could be a good reason to stick to eating the whole tub when you’re on your own.
TASTE TEST: The low-cal gang
Halo Top sea salt caramel ice cream
£5, asda.com and other major supermarkets
320 calories; 20g protein; 12g fibre per 473ml tub
The market leading American brand with launched over here at the start of 2018. All the flavours we tried had a distinctive smooth but icy texture. We liked the mild, chocolatey peanut butter cup, but the salted caramel was oddly cheesecake-y.
Ben and Jerry’s Moo-phoria chocolate cookie dough ice cream
£4.80, sainsburys.co.uk and other major supermarkets
660 calories; 14g protein; no fibre listed per 500ml tub
The lower-cal versions of B&J’s popular with-bits-in ice creams are far higher in fat, sugar and calories than the other tubs of lo-cal ice creams, but they are around half the regular B&J flavours, and they don’t contain any artificial sweeteners. The caramel version was on the sugary side, but chocolate cookie dough flavour was sumptuous, with a rich, dark, not-too-sweet base.
Judes vanilla bean ice cream
320 calories; 12g protein; no fibre listed per 460ml tub
Family owned British brand, made on the farm in Hampshire. Our favourite of all the vanilla ice creams we tried, but the peanut butter version tasted artificially strong.
Gianni’s salted caramel ice cream
302 calories; 18g protein; 3g fibre per 480ml tub
Aldi are struggling to keep their new lo-cal ice creams on the shelf, they’ve been so popular. We only tried the salted caramel, but it had a nice custardy flavour and texture with a good, if strong, caramel flavour.
Oppo vanilla and baobab ice cream
342 calories; 16g protein; no fibre listed per 475ml pot
Set up by British brothers Harry and Charlie (Andy Murray is an investor) inspired by tropical fruit eaten in Brazil, so the vanilla includes baobab fruit and the chocolate has lucuma in it. We found the salted caramel had an overwhelmingly artificial flavour.
Morrisons salted caramel ice cream
285 calories; 15g protein; 1.5g fibre per 500ml tub
The latest of the lo-cal ice creams to launch, with three flavours Choc Chip Cookie, Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter. The cookie version had a pleasant vanilla base, which made us long to ditch the nuggets of cookie dough, and the caramel flavour is well balanced if a bit icy, with a good dark ripple and a fairly powerful flavour.
Breyers salted caramel cake
£5, tesco.com and other major supermarkets
340 calories; 20g protein; no fibre listed per 500ml tub
US company selling nine flavours of lo-cal ice cream over here. We liked the not-too-sweet, grown up tasting salted caramel cake (although the soggy cake bits were “a bit weird”) but the cookie dough version was inedibly bitter - perhaps an overload of stevia.
Asda vanilla ice cream
332 calories; 18g protein; 12g fibre per 473ml tub
At first glance Asda ices look like they’ve won the race-to-the-bottom in the calorie count stakes, but in fact (unlike most of the other brands) the big figure on the front refers to the calories in half a tub, not the whole lot. The vanilla flavour had an odd mousse-y texture and a cardboard flavour, while the birthday cake version was hideously artificial.