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"Today" food editor Phil Lempert shares a look at some new flavors, new trends and the truth about the ‘ice cream headache.'
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msnbc.com

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. It’s sweet and delicious and there’s no better treat to cool you down on a hot summer day. As National Ice Cream Day approaches, here’s a look at some of the latest flavors and trends, and some tips for keeping your favorite frozen treat fresh in your fridge.

IT WAS during the Reagan administration that ice cream finally got it’s place in history with our 40th president designating July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. The U.S. ice cream industry is one of the supermarket’s largest and generates about $20 billion in annual sales, which (according to the USDA) translates to about 23 quarts per person per year. And just in case you ever wondered, it takes the average person just about 50 licks to polish off a single scoop ice cream cone.

The trend in ice cream is certainly towards indulgence and the sales prove it as premium and superpremium quality ice creams (with 41.4 percent of the total dollar sales) continue to outsell regular ice cream as well as the light (7 percent of overall sales), reduced fat (0.7 percent of overall sales), lowfat (3 percent of overall sales) and nonfat (2 percent of overall sales) products are all showing declines.

There are hundreds of brands, thousands of flavors and more ice cream choices than ever, so we’ve selected a sampling of some of the newest trends and flavors to see what we think are the best.

But first, a little history:

Who gets the credit for inventing ice cream? History isn’t perfectly clear so we have to credit many: Julius Caesar and the Emperor Nero of Rome both took credit for the idea to mix snow with nectar, fruit pulp and honey. Another tale credits Marco Polo, who is said to have brought with him from the Far East the recipes for water ices.

Here in the U.S. our history is a bit better with our nation’s first ice cream parlor reportedly opened in New York City in 1776. Our second First Lady, Dolly Madison served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at the second inaugural ball in 1812.

For our trivia buffs: Drinking soda water was considered improper during the Victorian age, and towns banned its sale on Sundays. One druggist in Evanston, IN, reportedly concocted a legal Sunday alternative containing ice cream and syrup, but without the soda. To show respect for the Sabbath, he named his creation the “sundae.”

So what did we taste?

INDULGENCE ALWAYS COMES FIRST:CRÈME CREMAILLERE: Three flavors featured: Whole Forest Strawberry, Coffee Chocolate Espresso Bean, Crème Brulee. La Crémaillère Restaurant started serving its fabulous ice creams when it opened over 50 years ago. These French custard-style ice creams are all natural and use only the freshest ingredients. The word “crémaillère” in French literally means a trammel, which is the adjustable hook on which the stewing pot is attached.

CIAO BELLA: Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet, Blood Orange Sorbet, Green Tea with White Chocolate Chunks Gelato, Dulce De Leche Gelato. Ciao Bella Gelato, is a purveyor of high-end artisanal gelato and sorbet, which is handmade and uses the freshest of ingredients. The flavors are unique and intense, for example, the Blood Orange Sorbet uses Ruby Red oranges that are grown exclusively at the foot of the Mount Etna volcano in Sicily.

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GODIVA: The “ultimate’ in chocolates are also trying to tempt us with their ice creams and ice cream bars. Sold exclusively in the 150 Godiva boutiques nationwide, the Godiva Ice Cream Bars are truly decadent!

NEUHAUS CHOCOLATIERS: Bite-sized dark chocolate cups filled with vanilla, chocolate or coffee flavored ice creams are sold in boxes of 4 ($6), 8 ($10), 12 ($14) and 20 pieces for $23. The ice cream is French style and custard like with high butterfat content.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE SCOOP STORES CHECK THESE OUT:COLDSTONE: Cold Stone Creamery has just opened up a store in New York’s Times Square and specializes in “personalized desserts.” Each time you order, Coldstone’s scooper takes fresh sweet cream, places it on a frozen marble stone and blends in ingredients (fresh brownies, fudge, fruit and/or coconut).

BASKIN ROBBINS: Sinbad’s Triple Punch Sherbert is July’s flavor of the month and is a swirled combination of strawberry, orange and lemon sherberts.

STRAUS ORGANIC ICE CREAM: Raspberry, Dutch Chocolate, Vanilla Bean. Straus is an organic dairy farm who makes products with their own milk and is committed to taking care of the land, their animals and reducing waste. Their ice cream is made from the simplest and purest ingredients available with no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.

HÄAGEN-DAZS: Pushing the superpremium edge, has unveiled Desserts Extraordinaire ice cream, a line of seven ice cream flavors inspired by the world’s most indulgent desserts. We tasted Bananas Foster, a smooth banana ice cream enhanced with a hint of brown sugar and rum and Crème Brûlée, their silky custard ice cream with a swirl of caramelized sugar.

ST. CLAIR ICE CREAM: Is a small specialty ice cream and sorbet dessert supplier located in South Norwalk, CT, that carries on the artisanal tradition of hand-molded frozen desserts the likes of which graced the tables of royalty for centuries. In the Victorian era, household servants would use pewter molds to produce ice cream desserts in the shape of swans, flowers, birds, and even vegetable bouquets.

GOOD TASTINGS THAT ARE GOOD FOR US:DEAN’S ICE-CREAM: Calcium Enriched Vanilla, Dean’s No Sugar Added Moose Tracks. Dean’s has given their two most popular flavors a beneficial boost with the introductions of Dean’s Calcium Enriched Vanilla and No Sugar Added Moose Tracks.

WHOLESOY FROZEN CULTURED SOY: (Black Cherry, Lemon Ginger) is launching the

first non-dairy frozen dessert made with live active cultures and uses natural food processing technology to prevent enzymes in soybeans from developing a strong soybean flavor.

SOY DELICIOUS: (Dulce De Leche, Cookies ‘n Cream, Butter Pecan) and SINGULAR

SENSATIONS: (Vanilla and Almond, Big Buddy, Mint Mania) are low in saturated fat

and have zero cholesterol. They have no lactose, no hydrogenated oils (studies

have linked this oil to heart disease) and offer more than 20 percent of the daily

requirements of dietary fiber. The fiber comes from chicory root extract

AND WHAT’S SUMMER WITHOUT ICES?NSPIRED: Cool Fruits (shelf stable) Grape and Cherry Flavor are all natural, no sugar added and only 23 calories per pop. A great fun alternative for kids that is 99 percent fruit juice.

COLUMBIA’S BEST: Premium Coffee Ices (shelf stable) are a convenient iced snack for coffee lovers made with real mountain grown Colombian coffee. They do not contain artificial coloring or artificial flavors and contain just 60 calories and 15 mg of caffeine per serving (about 1/3 the amount in a cup of coffee).

BEFORE YOU SCOOP: READ THOSE LABELS!Ice cream packages can be as confusing as any in the supermarket, so be sure you know what you are buying. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the standards for ice cream, and here are some of the terms on those ice cream cartons — and exactly what the terms mean:

Ice cream is a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, containing at least 10 percent milkfat.

“Reduced fat” ice cream contains at least 25 percent less total fat than the referenced product (either an average of leading brands, or the company’s own brand.)

“Light” ice cream contains at least 50 percent less total fat or 33 percent fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands.)

“Lowfat” ice cream contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving (1/2 cup).

“Nonfat” ice cream contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.

“Overrun” refers to the amount of aeration the ice cream undergoes during its manufacture that keeps the mix from becoming a frozen mass. Overrun is governed by federal standards in that the finished product must not weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.

“Superpremium” ice cream tends to have very low overrun and high fat content, and the manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients. This category accounts for just 3.5 percent of sales.

“Premium” ice cream tends to have low overrun and higher fat content than regular ice cream, and the manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients, and is the largest category in terms of sales with 51.5 percent of the volume.

THE 10 MOST POPULAR ICE CREAM FLAVORS (As reported by the International Ice Cream Association)

(Flavor, percent preferring)

1. Vanilla, 29 percent

2. Chocolate, 8.9 percent

3. Butter pecan, 5.3 percent

4. Strawberry, 5.3 percent

5. Neapolitan, 4.2 percent

6. Chocolate chip, 3.9 percent

7. French vanilla, 3.8 percent

8. Cookies and cream, 3.6 percent

9. Vanilla fudge ripple, 2.6 percent

10. Praline pecan, 1.7 percent

MAKE SURE EVERY BIT OF YOUR ICE CREAM TASTES GREAT!1. Be sure your freezer temperature is set between -5F and 0F.

2. Store ice cream in the main part of the freezer. Never store ice cream in the freezer door, where ice cream can be subject to more fluctuating temperatures since the door is repeatedly open and shut.

3. Never allow ice cream to soften and re-freeze. As ice cream’s small ice crystals melt and re-freeze, they can eventually turn into large, unpalatable lumps.

4. Keep the ice cream container lid tightly closed when storing in the freezer. In fact, I always put a covering of heavy duty plastic wrap or aluminum foil around the mouth of the container first, then put the lid over that to insure a tight seal.

5. Don’t store ice cream alongside uncovered foods; odors can penetrate ice cream and affect its flavor.

And by the way, that “ice cream headache” you always wondered about is triggered by the sudden change in temperature as the ice cream touches the top of your mouth and initiates a nerve reaction that swells blood vessels in your head. The nerve center on the roof of your mouth overreacts to the cold temperature and tries to “heat” your brain. This swelling of the blood vessels is what is more commonly known as “brain freeze.” Luckily the intense stabbing pain in your head usually lasts only for about 30-60 seconds.

Tip: The best way to avoid getting an “ice cream headache” is to keep the ice cream on the side of your mouth, away from the roof of your mouth.

For more information about all of these products (including company contacts), visit my Web site at www.supermarketguru.com.

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru®, analyzes the food marketing industry to keep consumers up-to-date about cutting-edge marketing trends. He is a regular “Today” show contributor, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and host of Shopping Smart of the WOR Radio Network. For more food and health information, you can check out Phil’s Web site at: Supermarketguru.com.

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