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We all scream for ice cream! Icy treat trends

"Today" food editor Phil Lempert offers the scoop on new flavors, new trends and the truth about the ice cream headache.

It was during the Reagan Administration that ice cream finally got its 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 (which is Sunday, July 16). The U.S. ice cream industry is one of the supermarket industry’s largest segments, generating more than $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.

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 just what our own “Today” show consumer panel of ice cream experts have to say.

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 fourth First Lady, Dolley Madison, served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at Madison's second inaugural ball, in 1813.

Indulgence always comes first when it comes to ice cream. Here's a look at some of the newest products on the market:

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory:The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory was established in 1978 and produces quality authentic homemade ice cream using traditional Chinese recipes, including Lychee, a Chinese fruit that is considered a delicacy across the world; Taro, a tropical potato which the Chinese use in their dim sum and in many of their vegetable dishes; and Black Sesame, a sesame-based ice cream with toasted black sesame seeds that can be best described as "nutty."  $5.95/pint. (chinatownicecreamfactory.com)

Laloo's Goat Milk Ice Cream:Laloo's goat's milk ice cream is low fat, low in lactose, contains no growth hormones and is made the farmstead way, by hand from natural ingredients that are locally produced in Sonoma County. Flavors: Vanilla Snowflake, Black Mission Fig, Deep Chocolate, Strawberry Darling, Molasses Tipsycake, Chevre Chiffon, Pumpkin Spice and Chocolate Cabernet. $5.99/pint. (laloos.com)

Créme Delight The Smart Indulgence:Light ice creams feature lower fat and no added sugar (only 3 grams per serving), and a half-cup serving of Créme Delight provides six grams of protein and 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance for milk. Flavors include Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate with Caramel Turtles and Cookie Dough. $4.99/pint. (cremedelight.com) 

Baskin-Robbins:Two new All-American flavors for summer: Triple Play — caramel ice cream loaded with popcorn, candy-coated peanuts and chocolate-covered peanuts and pretzels. Apple Pie a la Mode — vanilla ice cream filled with real apples, pie crust pieces and swirled with a caramel cinnamon crème ribbon.Available for a limited time only (June 1-Aug. 31). Average retail price for a 4-ounce scoop, $1.99. Average retail price for a hand-packed pint, $3.99. (baskinrobbins.com)

Talenti Gelato:True artisan gelato elegantly packaged in clear containers. Gelato contains less fat, and this brand truly has a cleaner flavor profile. Retails for $2.15 per 6-ounce container or $4.99 per pint. (talenti.us)

Stonyfield Organic Ice Cream:Rich and creamy ice cream crafted with the finest all natural and organic ingredients, produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones or toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Flavors: After Dark Chocolate, Brownie Sundae, Chocolate Raspberry Swirl, Cookies 'N' Dream, Crème Caramel, Gotta Have Vanilla, Javalanche, and Vanilla Chai.  Suggested Retail: $3.19-$3.59/pint. (stonyfield.com)

And for those who truly want to go organic there are now organic ice cream cones:The world's first organic vegan ice cream cones and sugar cones from Edward and Sons. Made from organic stone ground whole wheat flour and other organic ingredients, these are the perfect complement to healthy frozen yogurts and low fat ice creams. The ice cream cones come 12 per 2.3-ounce box for $3.49, and the sugar cones come 12 per 5-ounce box for $4.49. (edwardsons.com)

And 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 those terms mean:

Make sure every bit of your ice cream tastes great! Here are the five things you need to know about ice cream:

1. Be sure your freezer temperature is set between -5°F and 0°F. 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 opened 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, what I always do is 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 a "brain freeze." Luckily the intense stabbing pain in your head usually lasts for only about 30 to 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.

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