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Phil Lempert's scoop on ice cream

You scream, I scream, we all scream for... TODAY food editor Phil Lempert gives us the  cold hard facts on this summer treat and which cartons we should be adding to our freezer.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Did you know that it takes the average person just about 50 licks to finish a single scoop ice cream cone? Well get ready for some more ice cream facts as we prepare for National Ice Cream Month.

Last year, the average American consumed 23 quarts of ice cream; and that translates to over $20 billion in sales. While no one is quite sure who should get the credit for inventing ice cream, we do know that in the fifth century BC, the ancient Greeks sold snow cones mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. Both Julius Caesar and the Emperor Nero of Rome claimed credit for the idea to mix snow with nectar, fruit pulp and honey. 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 third First Lady, Dolly Madison served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at the second inaugural ball in 1812.

The ice cream headache
Just about every one of us has experienced that "ice cream headache" and the best way to avoid it is to keep the ice cream on the side and away from the roof of your mouth. The pain you feel is triggered by the sudden change in temperature as the ice cream touches your mouth’s roof and signals 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 a "brain freeze." Luckily the intense stabbing pain in your head usually lasts for only about 30-60 seconds and doesn’t do any permanent damage.

  1. Make sure every bit of your ice cream tastes great!
  2. Be sure your freezer temperature is set between -5°F and 0°F.
  3. 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 opened and shut.
  4. 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.
  5. Keep the ice cream container lid tightly closed when storing in the freezer, in fact what I always do is to 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.
  6. Don't store ice cream alongside uncovered foods; odors can penetrate ice cream and affect its flavor.

Before you scoop… read the 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 those terms mean:

  • Ice cream is a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, containing at least 10% milk fat.
  • Gelato is an Italian frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, typically made with fresh fruit or other ingredients and in the manufacturing process is super-cooled while stirring to break up ice crystals as they form. Like super premium ice creams, gelato generally has less than 35% air - resulting in a dense and extremely flavorful product.
  • "Reduced fat" ice cream contains at least 25% 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% less total fat or 33% fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands.)
  • "Low fat" 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.
  • "Super premium" ice cream tends to have very low overrun and high fat content, and the manufacturer uses the best quality ingredients.
  • "Premium" ice cream tends to have low overrun and higher fat content than regular ice cream, and the manufacturer uses higher quality ingredients. It is the largest category in terms of sales with over 50% of the volume.

Here's a look at some of the newest, and best, products on the market:

Haagen-Dazs Reserve — The brand that created the super premium ice cream introduces even a more upscale “reserve” line filled with rare ingredients and unique flavor combinations.

  • Hawaiian Lehua Honey and Sweet Cream Ice Cream — Rich sweet cream ice cream blended with fragrant Hawaiian Lehua honey.  
  • Pomegranate Chip Ice Cream — Fruit ice cream with sweet and tart Mediterranean Pomegranates and dark chocolate chips.
  • Brazilian Açai Berry Sorbet —  Sorbet made with the rare Açai berry which tastes similar to a combination of blackberries and blueberries.
  • Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle Ice Cream —  Ginger-infused sesame brittle, lightly toasted coconut and coconut milk are folded into a very rich tasting ice cream.

Price: $4.99 a pint,

Glace Devino — Is a new brand of ice creams that adds award winning wines right in the mix — and what is surprising is that these very tasty flavors only have 7 grams of fat per serving!

  • Chocolate Amaretto Cream Sherry — Cream sherry wine cooked with natural amaretto flavors then swirled into a rich chocolate ice cream. 
  • Chocolate Cabernet Sauvignon — Dutch cocoa cooked with cabernet sauvignon swirled into a lite chocolate ice cream.
  • Strawberry Cream Chardonnay — Fresh strawberries cooked with chardonnay swirled into a creamy vanilla/cheesecake ice cream.
  • Raspberry Merlot Cheesecake — Fresh raspberries cooked with a merlot swirled into a very creamy vanilla/cheesecake ice cream.

Price: $5.99 a pint,

GIANNI New York — It’s the ultimate New York experience — Italian traditional, old world style recipes and homemade super premium ice creams!

  • Soho Cappuccino Chunk,
  • "The Big Apple"
  • Apple Pie
  • Broadway Birthday Cake
  • Empire State Bing Cherry Vanilla
  • Little Italy Spumoni

Price: $3.99 - $4.29 a pint,

And even some “healthier” indulgences

Hola Fruta! (Hello Fruit)
— A new line of super premium sherbet from Pierre's Ice Cream Company.  Blended with fruit purees and pieces of real fruit and these are all-natural, low in fat and cholesterol free. Flavors are based on those fruits which are high in antioxidants

  • Margarita
  • Peach
  • Pina Colada
  • Pomegranate
  • Pomegranate & Blueberry
  • Raspberry and Strawberry

They are between 130-150 calories per ½ cup. $4.79-$4.99 a quart, pint $3.79-$3.99,

Turtle Mountain’s Purely Decadent® Dairy Free Pints —  Is certified dairy free, lactose free, and less than half the fat of dairy based ice cream.

  • Coconut Craze — Creamy coconut dairy-free ice cream with shredded coconut, roasted almonds and crispy flakes of dark chocolate.
  • Pomegranate Chip — Fruity pomegranate dairy-free ice cream with crisp flakes of rich dark chocolate.
  • So Very Strawberry — Strawberry dairy-free ice cream laced with a ribbon of strawberry sauce and real chunks of ripe strawberries.

Price: $3.49 a pint, turtlemountain.comAnd when you want to go back to your childhood…

Sheer Bliss Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Ice Cream Bar is an all natural product made with 100% pure Pomegranate juice and covered in dark chocolate.

Price: $2.50 for a 3.67 oz bar, 3 pack $4.99,

Blisscotti® is an ice cream sandwich for adults with a super premium ice cream between two thin slices of buttery crisp almond biscotti — with each slice blanketed in fine European chocolate. Flavors include:

  • Milk Chocolate/Vanilla
  • Milk Chocolate/Coffee
  • Dark Chocolate/Chocolate
  • Dark Chocolate/Raspberry

Price: $3.99 for a box of three,

MaggieMoo's Ice Cream Cupcake — The first-ever Ice Cream Cupcake (but you’ll want to eat it with a spoon) consists of MaggieMoo’s award winning dark chocolate ice cream, a layer of moist chocolate cake and marshmallow filling, all topped with rich chocolate ganache and a swirl of icing.

Price: 6-pack $12.95 / 4-pack $8.95,

For more food and health information as well as recipes, check out Phil’s website at

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .