I love ice cream. I wish I could say it's because I have some deep emotional connection with ice cream, like how one of my favorite memories is my grandmother buying me an ice cream cone at the zoo when I was 4 years old and I got to see an elephant for the first time. Or maybe I would associate the ice cream truck with my memories from elementary school when I was going through a tough time due to my parents' divorce. But neither of those things would be true; I just really like ice cream and there's no reason other than the fact that I think it's really tasty. Ice cream is one of the few foods I've been able to consistently eat through the course of my chemotherapy chiefly because of the really weird things that chemo has done to my sense of taste; but even that doesn't explain it either because I have always eaten an embarrassingly large amount of ice cream.
It probably wouldn't surprise you to learn, then, that I've become something of an ice cream snob. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not likely to turn my nose up at any type of ice cream if it's offered to me. But some flavors are better than others and some brands are definitely better than others. In terms of what you can buy in stores around here, my go-to brand is Häagen-Dazs, which is impressively considered "superpremium" ice cream by the standards of the International Dairy Foods Association. The IDFA recognizes four tiers of ice cream: economy, regular, premium, and superpremium. There are a few different things that go into receiving these designations, including both price and the quality of the ingredients, but the big determining factor is how much "overrun" is in the final product. Overrun in this case refers to air, and the more aeration the ice cream has, the lower it falls on the quality scale. So a big ol' bite of Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's is going to be heavier and denser than a bite of the Wal-Mart brand ice cream since the latter has more air content.
But that leads us to an even deeper and more existential question: what is ice cream? Believe it or not, there are some incredibly specific requirements that a product must meet in the United States to be allowed to label itself "ice cream." It must be comprised of at least 10% milkfat, 9-12% non-fat milk content, 12-16% sweeteners, no more than 0.5% stabilizers/emulsifiers, and 55-64% water. "Ice cream" legally defined also cannot contain more than 100% overrun; I know this sounds mathetmatically impossible, but what they mean is the ratio of overrun to actual product per package, meaning that you can't sell what you claim is a gallon of ice cream if more than half of it is really air.
Realistically looking at all of this, the bar for what we can call "ice cream" is kind of low. I mean, as little as 19% of the product can be actual milk and you're allowed to aerate it pretty significantly. This sort of bottom of the barrel, bare minimum ice cream generally falls into the "economy" class and it's the kind of stuff you'll see in gigantic tubs in school cafeterias and in those gross old freezers you see at Chinese buffets. But if there's room to go lower and still get away with it, you know someone will.
Enter the frozen dairy dessert. "Frozen dairy dessert" is a term used as a label for a type of product that has all the accoutrements of ice cream but just...isn't. Breyers is probably the most famous brand to make use of this designation but they're far from the only ones who do it. Frozen dairy desserts generally have all the same ingredients as ice cream, but the proportions are different enough that it makes them not legally allowed to be called "ice cream." It's kind of like how Velveeta and American cheese technically aren't "cheese;" we still use them like cheese and you'll still find them with the other cheeses in your grocery store, but the way they're made requires them to be called something like "cheese product." Yummy!
I can't find any good information as to when exactly Breyers et al began selling frozen dairy desserts but eating a bowl of one is distinctly different from eating real ice cream. For one thing, they usually include an obnoxious amount of chunks of chocolate or candy or other shit to such an extent it's impossible to take a bite without getting a mouthful of these teeth-rotting add-ins. Frozen dairy desserts are usually highly aerated and even when they've been in extremely cold freezers, they're still mushy. They are also chocked full of emulsifiers and sweeteners like the sinisterly omnipresent high fructose corn syrup. The texture is also strange, bringing to mind soft serve -- which is also technically not "ice cream" -- but not anywhere nearly as smooth. I also think the taste is generally pretty gross too. Like I said, I love ice cream. I also happen to detest frozen dairy desserts.
It's worth noting as well that Breyers continues to sell products that do meet the legal and technical standard for being considered "ice cream," but this now represents a smaller percentage of their product line than frozen dairy desserts. Bryers maintains that they created this line of products in response to changing customer tastes in sweetness and texture. Personally, I find this argument almost as hard to swallow as the actual product. I can accept an increased demand for sweeter products and even a desire for a greater variety of ice cream products with things like Oreos or Reese's peanut butter cups mixed into them. But I refuse to believe there was some great movement on the part of consumers to get less cream in their ice cream.
The fact that milk is a more expensive ingredient than, say, air probably plays a role here. Actually, I'm willing to bet that's the main role. I'm also willing to bet that ALL of the ingredients added to these products are less expensive than milk and the other traditional ice cream additives. It wouldn't really be an issue if these chunks of candy or whatever were just added into regular vanilla ice cream. That might also mess with the proportions slightly, but not to the point where it would morph into the unappetizing and goopy mess that we call "frozen dairy dessert."
Also, how could someone possibly complain about the texture of ice cream? Have you ever heard someone go "eww gross, this ice cream is too creamy!"? No. You know why? Because it's fucking ice cream. The only times I've ever had texture issues with ice cream were in cases of freezer burn or when I discovered I was eating frozen dairy dessert, made myself throw up because I didn't want that filth in my body, and had to deal with the all the chunks of vomit leftover in my mouth afterward. Seriously, though, I get that maybe people with sensitive teeth don't want the really heavy and dense superpremium ice cream because it would probably be painful to chomp. But Breyers ice cream was already aerated to the point that it fell into the category of "regular" ice cream by IDFA standards. In other words, one step above the product you get in those tiny styrofoam containers at the hospital.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, so I better wrap it up. In summation, ice cream rules and frozen dairy dessert drools. I recoil in horror from it. I refuse to buy it. Frozen dairy dessert deserves to die and go to hell. If you've never heard of frozen dairy dessert before now, I'm glad that I could warn you so the next time you go to the store, you can be on the lookout for it and save yourself, your family, and your friends from its insidious grasp. You're welcome!