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Introduction

It’s a safe bet that the traditional recipe for ice cream didn’t include ‘E110 sunset yellow’ and residues of bovine somatotropin, but for some of the big-brand versions this may be the case. Many companies are now making an effort to reduce the number of additives in their desserts, but the only safe way to ensure an ethical, E-number free ice cream is to stick to the small producers and buy organic or dairy-free.

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Ingredients to avoid

Real ice cream should be made like an egg custard, then churned and frozen, but it inevitably becomes more expensive as the purity increases. The cheaper ice creams on the market are combinations of skimmed milk or milk powders, with lots of sugar and sweeteners, and added ingredients such as hardened vegetable fats, emulsifiers, colourings, flavourings, acidity regulators and other artificial processing aids, whipped up with lots of air.

A quick look at the ingredients list should be enough to tell us what level of additives a product contains. Look out for the worst E-numbers, such as annatto (E160b), sunset yellow (E110) and carmoisine (E122), as these have been linked to health problems including asthma, rashes and hyperactivity. Some have also been linked to cancer in test animals. Particular concern has been raised about E110, a coal-tar dye which is a by-product of the petrochemical industry: because of its potential toxicity, manufacturers have been persuaded not to use it in baby food.

The growth hormone bovine somatotropin (commonly called rBST here, or BGH in the US) was designed to be given to cows daily to increase their milk yield. Due to serious health concerns for the cows and for humans, the EU introduced a moratorium on the drug. This is still in effect, meaning the use of rBST is not currently legal in the EU. The Soil Association say that their organic standards prohibit the use of rBST in the production of milk, and naturally none of the non-dairy alternatives contain this hormone. The Organic Consumers Association in the US has an ongoing boycott of Haagen-Dazs in protest against its use of milk from cows injected with rBST.

Other options

Manufacturers of organic ice cream are generally more aware of the benefits of natural ingredients than the big name brands. All the smaller producers included in the table opposite state their commitment to minimising the use of artificial ingredients in their ice creams. Some larger retailers are also reducing the number of artificial additives in their ranges and selling more organic goods, which by definition are likely to contain a higher proportion of natural ingredients.

Dairy-free and vegan alternatives to ice cream are also available, most of which use soya in place of animal ingredients such as milk and cream. Soya is a good source of protein and essential amino acids, and has been linked to reductions in ‘bad’ cholesterol when eaten as part of a balanced diet – although in this case the added sugars in ice cream might outweigh any potential benefit!

Choose organic brands and those certified as GMO free to ensure no genetically modified soya has found its way into the product. Soya is one of the most widely produced GM crops, so it is worth keeping an eye on the label.

Taste tests

The UK Consumers’ Association has held taste tests for a range of ice creams and frozen desserts. Green & Black’s chocolate ice cream came out as a favourite, and its vanilla range went down well too. Rocombe Farm’s chocolate and vanilla flavours also tingled the taste buds, both coming out with an ‘above average’ rating. The Swedish Glace vanilla flavour came up trumps, although Tofutti’s equivalent didn’t fare so well, scoring an ‘average’ rating, as did its chocolate dessert.

Many ice cream cartons are not suitable for remanufacturing, even though they can be recycled. At the moment, facilities to carry out the process are rare. The best option is to find a new use for the tubs at home, rather than throwing them away.

Ethical Ice Cream Rankings Detailed Table


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Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Cream O’Galloway, Rocombe Farm, Yeo Valley, Food Heaven, Oat Supreme, Little Big Food Co, Ben & Jerry’s, Carte D’Or, Magnum, Swedish Glace, Tofutti, Wall’s, Green & Black’s, Lyons.

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