It is hot.
It is July and it is summer, so it’s not out of the ordinary that temperatures will be rising to 99 degrees Fahrenheit this week here on the east coast. The line has been long at my New Jersey town’s Dairy Queen.
The ingredients in the soft-serve ice cream that Dairy Queen proffers are quite a far cry from what some ancient Persians and Romans put into their versions of “ice cream”: ice, snow and (fruit- and plant-based) sweeteners. Commercially-produced ice cream contains quite a list of ingredients (ice crystals, some kind of fat, sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, flavorings, salts, various proteins, even meat) as well as — to mix all that together smoothly — emulsifiers (polysorbates, carrageenan, guar gum, mono- and diglycerides and others).
While polysorbates are said to be for the most part safe, some people (including those with Crohn’s disease) are sensitive to them. Carrageenan, a highly processed additive made from red seaweed, has been linked to gastrointestinal problems in lab animals. A lot of the ice cream you’ll find might cool you off at first, but not make you feel so great afterwards.
If you don’t eat anything dairy and you’d prefer to avoid eating processed foods replete with refined sugars,various chemical-based food colorings and such (that is, anything on the menu at Dairy Queen), there are plenty of frozen and cold treats (that are kinder to your arteries) to enjoy on hot and sticky summer days.
1. Fresh Fruit
Frozen overnight or just for a few hours, bananas (with nuts or, on a more indulgent note, chocolate) turn into healthy and cooling snacks, as do grapes. Or, use very ripe bananas, peel, freeze, blend and voila: one-ingredient ice cream (that you can flavor with fruit such as strawberries or some nut butter — or, why not, chocolate.)
Or, rather than freeze the ingredients for your popsicles in molds, drink them up as a smoothie.
Ice shavings topped with red or azuki beans — or green tea (matcha), taro, fruit and many other toppings — might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect hot weather treat. It is a longstanding refresher in East Asian countries including South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and other Asian countries (and one that I found much more appealing than any ice cream when, two decades ago, I spent a really steamy summer in Taiwan).
Topped with rose water or cucumbers, shaved ice is also a popular hot-weather treat elsewhere around the globe, in India and Mexico, to name just a few places.
5. Non-dairy “Ice Creams”
If nothing will assuage your need for an ice cream fix but something similar to “the real thing, “there are more and more vegan choices. Some are made from rice milk, soy milk and nut milks; others also from coconut milk. You can also make your own coconut milk ice cream, perhaps with cherries or nectarines.
Top photo via Lablascovegmenu/Flickr; other photos from Thinkstock