Low Calorie Ice Cream – too good to be true?

Summer is finally here! And that means it’s prime time for frozen desserts. How many of us crave ice cream on a weekly….okay maybe daily…..basis? At the same time, how many of us are concerned about calories? It seems that ice cream and calorie counting cannot exist in the same sentence. A company that could create a low-calorie ice cream that actually tastes and feels like ice cream would really be on to something, right?

Well, lucky for us, there is hope! Halo Top Ice Cream has taken the world by storm and the company’s sales have increased a whopping 2500% over the last few years!

I put my taste buds to the test to reach a verdict for myself and took a deep dive into the process and ingredients to find out just what makes this ice cream so great.


For this post, I’ll introduce many technical term and industry processes to give you an idea of the life of a food scientist. Let’s start with the process of a typical organoleptic (taste test) evaluation you would find at a food company. These evaluations are often called cuttings and generally include a cross-functional team that tastes and compares products to offer comments and suggestions, or set standards for a product. Most evaluations typically include aspects such as appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture.


At first glance, you immediately notice the Ben & Jerry’s tub is more full and a bit lighter in color, while the Halo Top is more yellow-ish. However, you can see the Halo Top is definitely not short on inclusions (technical term for the bits and pieces added to the ice cream base to add more texture and flavor, e.g. the cookie dough pieces). 

I was also very surprised by how much lighter the pint of Halo Top physically felt versus Ben & Jerry’s. This is because more air is whipped into the product. Now, before you get concerned, it’s important to know that all ice cream has a certain amount of air whipped into it through normal processing, and there are laws regulating how ice cream can be labeled. This air is called overrun.

These definitions are called standards of identity and are defined for many foods, from mozzarella cheese to jellies and jams. These rules are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). To meet labeling requirements, ice cream must be a minimum of 10% fat and a maximum of 100% overrun, among others. This means a producer may, at most, double the weight of ice cream through the incorporation of air. Premium ice creams generally have less air, which affects the texture of the product.


Now let’s get to the good stuff, I know that’s what you’re waiting for!


Wow! I was truly impressed by the mouthfeel (physical sensation in the mouth, often associated with a feeling of fullness, e.g. creamy or fatty) of the Halo Top Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. The Halo Top felt quite similar to a full fat ice cream. I did note the texture to be slightly gritty and more “mousse-like” due to the increased air incorporation discussed above. However, in my opinion, the product was still smooth and rich when compared to other low fat options.

In ice cream, the formation of small ice crystals during freezing is crucial for creating a smooth texture. Rapid freezing at low temperatures creates these small crystals. Fat also contributes to this feeling, which is why low fat products are often less satisfying. In a product like this, texture and mouthfeel can have a great impact on the perceived taste of the product, so it is very important for developers to get this aspect right to ensure proper flavor delivery.


Both samples were very delicious and characteristic of cookie dough ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s actually created the cookie dough ice cream flavor that was first released back in 1991 and includes “gobs and gobs” of cookie dough, and they definitely know how to make a tasty pint.

I found that the further I ate into the Halo Top pint the fewer inclusions I found. The ice cream itself was flavored more heavily to resemble the cookie dough inclusions found in Ben and Jerry’s. I would have preferred to find more cookie dough pieces in each bite (of course this means more calories). I found the Ben and Jerry’s pint to be more rich and fulfilling, but the Halo Top ice cream had a great flavor and I didn’t want to stop eating.

Did you know? Flavor includes the sensations of both smell and taste. In fact, flavor is more prominently perceived by your sense of smell than by your tongue. The tongue senses the basic tastes:sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (meaty or savory). You couldn’t experience the full effect of flavor without your nose!

Overall Verdict:

I like it! I will definitely be purchasing more flavors and conducting more taste tests 😀 (like I needed an excuse). The appearance and flavor were very close to the Ben and Jerry’s sample. The texture wasn’t perfect, but still good, in my opinion (especially knowing the challenges of fat replacement). I am curious how other flavors may compare.

This is what I love about the field of food technology: using science to create a solution that tastes great and has fewer calories when you feel the need to indulge.

Important note: remember that this is not a health food, but rather a low calorie alternative to be used sparingly in the diet, just like any other dessert.


But wait! How did Halo Top create such a delicious product with so few calories??

The answer, according to Halo Top, lies in Stevia and Erythritol. Stevia is a natural  sweetener produced from the leaves of the plant. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol or polyol that is not fully digested in the body, meaning it does not add calories. Stevia and erythritol are often used together in foods because Stevia can impart a bitter taste.

Prebiotic fiber is also an ingredient not typically found in full-fat ice creams. This ingredient can mimic fat to improve mouthfeel and enhance flavor of products. Fiber is the non-digestible components of plant cells that has many health benefits, including gut health and cardiovascular health.

BONUS: Guar gum, carrageenan, and carob gum are polysaccharides (larger carbohydrate molecules) or hydrocolloids that are used as thickeners and stabilizers. While these ingredients may sound complex, they actually come from natural sources such as seaweed and seeds.

Take a look at the full ingredient lists below taken from the Ben and Jerry’s and Halo Top product information websites. What other differences do you notice?


Ben and Jerry Ingredients
Source: Ben and Jerry’s https://www.benjerry.com/flavors/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-ice-cream
Halo Top Ingredients
Source: Halo Top https://halotop.com/flavors/

That’s it, for now! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the product or any questions you may have. Check back for more posts on frozen summer treats coming soon!

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