There's a cold war going on. The scene? An icy battlefield of frozen indulgences.
The contenders? Scoops, bars, cones, swirls, mini-bites of ice cream desserts ranging from heavyweight gelati to slimming sherbets in a wild gamut of flavors. Still running strong is old-time winner Rocky Road. You can't miss Tutti Frutti, or the nostalgic colors of Neapolitan. Current raves like Cookies and Cream and frozen yogurt dolloped with all sorts of nuts and berries will likely get loud cheers.
And just stepping into the rink are Brassicaceous Beer (would you believe root beer and horseradish?) and the palate-boggling flavors of Pumpkin Licorice.
Who could be in line for the big chill? Almost any ice cream fan. Vice President George Bush will take a lick of vanilla anytime, particularly when gooped with butterscotch sauce, while Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis casts his vote for mocha ice cream. Counselors Ann Landers and Dear Abby both want their Pralines 'N Cream. And joining New Yorkers in their passion for coffee ice cream are Olivia de Havilland and Princeton grads Brooke Shields and Malcolm Forbes.
The obsession for icy treats is global, with the United States scooping up the big lead, followed by New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Sweden. Nationwide, California ranks as the largest manufacturer and consumer of ice cream and related frozen products, according to the California Milk Advisory Board. Thus in 1987, California made 109 million gallons of ice cream with 4 gallons per capita consumption.
A more serious ongoing frozen dessert competition resulted from the battle of the bulges. Fighting to become the calorie watcher's addiction are the wide selection of low-calorie treats now available, ranging from tofu- or soybean-based ices, frozen fruit yogurts to the skinniest citrus, vegetable or herbal sorbets. Last year, the California Milk Advisory Board reports, Californians consumed 32 gallons of commercial ice milks (ice milk contains 2% to 7% milkfat), 4.9 million gallons of sherbet, 159,000 gallons of imitation ice cream (not a big seller), and 121,000 pounds of imitation ice milk. Frozen yogurt was the big gainer, up 26% to 11 million gallons.
Trying to become as decadent as their heavyweight counterparts (premium ice creams that contain 15% to 20% milkfat) are the new breed of light dairy desserts. These contain about 7% milkfat, at least 40% less fat than ice creams but are slightly creamier than ice milks, which contain a minimum of 2% milkfat. Last June 29, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a national consumer research, education and advocacy organization based in Washington, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to create a new standard for "Lite Ice Cream," urging them to allow manufacturers to use that name in place of ice milk.
Some of the products competing in this light dairy dessert category are Low, Lite 'N Luscious from Baskin Robbins, Jerseymaid Old-Fashioned Natural Light, Dreyers Grand Light and Lite from Pierre's French Ice Cream Co.
In a recent blind tasting done in the Times test kitchen by the Londre Co., which represents the Jerseymaid Corp., results showed that the majority of light ice creams were accepted fairly well with regular ice creams in overall flavor, color and texture. Creaminess for both regular and light types was given mixed ratings, indicating uncertainty. Interestingly, a popular premium ice cream was not well received in general.
Maximum pleasure in a miniature treat is offered by Dove International in its Rondos, individually wrapped, bite-sized chocolate-covered ice cream bars.
"You don't have to eat a lot to be satisfied," says Elliot Grover, marketing manager for Dove International. "If quality is not there, you still have the urge to eat more. Whereas if quality is there, an innocent little size can make you go on with your day."
The message of "eating less is in" is likewise being relayed by tiny fruit-shaped ice creams from St. Claire Ice Cream Fruits, South Norwalk, Conn. Also available as fruit sorbets, the half-ounce frozen miniatures are shaped like pears, peaches, strawberries and walnuts in brilliant natural colors.
And now, move over frozen yogurt--creamy frozen fruit whip has arrived. Called Vitari, the product looks and tastes like soft-serve ice cream but is made of 99% fruit and fruit juices with 1% vegetable stabilizers, and no added sugar. Containing only 20 calories per fluid ounce, a cone serving of Vitari soft serve, as I discovered, was surprisingly satisfying.