There's a new brand of ice cream on the market. It touts single origin chocolate and vanilla flavors. Each one is meant to be an expression of the cacao beans or vanilla beans from a specific place, like Ghana or Costa Rica or Madagascar. I love the idea behind this story, heaven knows there are plenty of chocolate companies doing the same thing. Why not use ice cream as an expression of quality ingredients and terrior? Today I finally tracked down this elusive ice cream at a Trader Joe's here in Queens. It came in a four pack of individually sized chocolate flavors and I eagerly opened the first container. I took a bite and immediately went for the ingredient list. I was not surprised to see that the last four out of five ingredients were locust bean gum, guar gum, carageenan and lecithin.
Now we spend a lot of time teaching people about hydrocolloids and how to use them. The first rule in our book about these ingredients is that if you know they're in a product then you're probably using them the wrong way. Hydrocolloids are ingredients which may help a chef change and enhance the texture of food. If what you're making becomes unpleasant then you've failed at your task of creating a great dish. This was brought home to me tonight when I was chewing on my first bite of chocolate ice cream. Texture aside, there was no intense chocolate flavor. It was there and there were clearly nuances to the chocolate but the entire experience was muted. It was as though someone had put a filter over my taste buds so that I was getting a blurred version of something that could have been amazing in clearer focus. I'm not one to waste calories on things I don't like so after giving Alex a taste (sharing is caring after all), the ice cream went in the garbage.
Fortunately I had some Haagen Daz Chocolate Peanut Butter in the freezer. It's my current go-to flavor and I happily erased the memory of the other with it's smooth, creamy texture and well balanced, indulgent flavor. It's not perfect but it is as close to it as I'm going to get with a ready made product that is relatively easy to source. Ingredient list: Cream, Skim Milk, Sugar, Peanut Butter (Peanuts, Peanut Oil, Sugar, Salt), Egg Yolks, Chocolate, Cocoa Processed with Alkali. Now I'm not saying that one should never use hydrocolloids in ice cream. I'm saying that if adding them doesn't in some way improve on the original formula then there's no point to it. Some things are improved with a bit of tinkering, low fat chocolate milk with a bit of carageenan being a good example, other things not so much. In this case it felt like the hydrocolloids were in there to extend shelf life and stability at the expense of taste. There is something wonderful about the way that the flavor of ice cream blooms as it melts against your tongue that is lost when the texture is too thick and gummy. It's moments like these that give all hydrocolloids a bad name.