In 1984, President Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month, and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. He recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by 90 percent of the nation's population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities."
So who am I to argue?
I invited three friends, Al, Alexis and Campbell, to my ice cream parlor to help me celebrate. And with me I brought a few of the healthiest, best tasting and weirdest ice creams to hit the shelves.
Last year, we Americans spent just over $20 billion on this treat: Vanilla is still the number one flavor, followed by chocolate, flavors with nuts or caramel, neapolitan and strawberry.
But not all ice creams are alike. In fact when judging ice cream, always taste and look for the balance of flavor, color, aroma, and texture. And always make sure you taste the vanilla — it's the hardest flavor to make and you can easily discern the good from the great!
Here are my favorites for this July 2005!
SheerBliss Ice Cream is full-fat, and comes in old-fashioned metal tins. Flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, Cal. Pomegranate, Vanilla-PomSwirl, Pom-ChocoChip, Freedom, coffee. All of the pomegranate flavors feature pomegranate juice from Pom Wonderful. www.sheerblissicecream.com; $5.99 / pint
Haagen-Dazs Light Vanilla BeanRich flecks of the world's finest imported vanilla beans immersed in pure sweet vanilla ice cream make this an instant classic, with only half the fat of regular Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Other flavors: Cherry Fudge Truffle, coffee, Dulce de Leche, Dutch Chocolate, mint chip, s'mores. www.haagen-dazs.com; $3.69 / pint
Straus Family Creamery Organic Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Made in very small batches with organic milk from three small family farms located on the coast of northern California with NO added emulsifiers or coloring. Other flavors include: vanilla bean, dutch chocolate, raspberry and coffee. www.strausmilk.com; $3.99 - $4.49 / pint
Soy Delicious Organic Li'l Buddies Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches
Made with organic soymilk, these are a low-fat, healthy alternative to the classic ice cream sandwich. These sandwiches have no hydrogenated oils and so have zero trans fats, and they're lactose free, cholesterol free, certified vegan and contain half the fat of regular dairy ice cream sandwiches. The mint variety has 150 calories; 25 calories from fat, 3 g fat. Other varieties: vanilla (3 g fat), chocolate (3 g fat), peanut butter (4.5 g fat). www.turtlemountain.com; $3.79 / six individually wrapped sandwiches per box
Il Dolce Futuro (The Sweet Future) Premium light ice cream with only 4 net carbs, 5 grams of fat, 90 calories and no added sugar. Unlike other light ice creams, Il Dolce Futuro doesn't use sugar alcohols to enhance the flavor. Instead, they use a patented derivative of Splenda that allows for smooth, creamy texture and flavor without any aftertaste. Developed with diabetics in mind, but great for anyone watching carbs, fat grams or sugar. Varieties include: Butter Pecan Abandon, Chocolate Surrender, Vanilla Bean Embrace, Java Elation, and Chocolate Almond Crush. www.dolcefood.com; $3.49 - $4.29 / 16-ounce container.
And for the ice cream lovers who want to taste test the latest flavors, try these:
Baskin Robbins Summertime Fun Ice Cream Flavors SPF 31: Coconut ice cream with coconut macaroon pieces, swirled with banana ice cream. Bumble Buzz: Honey ice cream with chocolate-coated honeycomb pieces and a dark fudge ribbon. Splish Splash: Blue raspberry sherbet swirled with blueberry sorbet. Thunder 'n Lightning: Chocolate fudge ice cream with chocolate pieces swirled with milk chocolate mousse and a marshmallow ribbon.www.baskinrobbins.com
This is a new line of all natural Mexican-style ice creams. Intense traditional Mexican flavors: Elote (Sweet Corn), Cajeta (Mexican Goat Milk, Caramel & Cookies), Flan, and Mexican chocolate. These are delicious and made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Available in 4 fluid ounce and 1 pint. www.palapaazul.com; $3.99 / pint
Cold Stone Creamery In honor of National Ice Cream month, Cold Stone Creamery has introduced five new, dynamic flavors for July. Ginger Wasabi, Fruit Loop, Oatmeal Cookie Batter, Black Licorice and Tangerine Sorbet. www.coldstonecreamery.com
And what would ice cream be without the toppings? These are my two favorites:
Gold Brick Topping - The Original Chocolate Hard Shell Ice Cream Topping
Rich milk chocolate that forms a shell full of crunchy pecans. Put on ice cream, chilled berries or your favorite cake. Available in 8-ounce jars — just heat and pour. www.elmercandy.com; $27.95 for three-jar pack (includes shipping & handling)
Easy Whip Half Pint whipped cream dispenser A stylish tool for preparing your own whipped cream at home without the preservatives and artificial ingredients. The Easy Whip Half Pint holds a half pint of liquid whipping cream and aerates. It yields about 2-1/2 pints of whipped cream in seconds. Both food coloring and flavoring syrups can be used in the whippers to create colored and/or flavored whipped cream. www.isinorthamerica.com; $40 (includes two cream chargers and a charger holder)
So get those spoons ready and head to the nearest ice cream shop!
Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to