Additives and gelato: let’s shed light on a debated topic


The topic “food additives” is always a sensitive one, as it tends to rise a lot of arguments. Generally, the word “additive” has a negative meaning. The additive is perceived as something “malicious”, added with who knows what scope. I have already explained here and here how we should have a more relaxed approach to certain additives. Just to be clear, I am not a fan of all food additives, but sometimes are needed or desirable.

Today, we will specifically go through a few additives used in the production of gelato or ice cream. Initially, I thought about making a long list with related explanation. But, eventually, I decided to present you a “real” case :)

I report here the label of an ice cream bought at the supermarket (the additives are in bold):

  • Cream
  • Modified milk ingredients
  • Sugar
  • Skimmed milk
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Soy lecithin
  • Guar gum
  • Mono and Diglycerides
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Carrageenan
  • Flavors
  • Coloring agents (Tartrazine, Indigotine)

Forget about the presence of almonds and cashews (sic!), probably added to low the production costs :P Besides the two coloring agents, which I found for the first time in a food product, I have seen the other additives on other foods, in particular ice creams. What are those additives and what they are used for?

Soy lecithin (E322)

I widely discussed about lecithin. It is a phospholipids (actually, a “family” of phospholipids) abundant in egg yolk and soy. It has emulsifying properties and it is used to link hydrophilic phases (=affine to water) with hydrophobic ones (=shunning water). You do not really need lecithin if the gelato contains eggs. Lecithin can be extracted either from egg yolk either from lecithin. For convenience, the soy lecithin is the most popular in the food industry.

Guar Gum (E412)

It is extracted from the seeds of the plant Cyamopsis tetragonoloba. It’s a sugar with thickening properties.

Mono e Diglycerides (E471)

They are molecules similar to phospholipids, obtained by the reaction of glycerol with two fatty acids. They have emulsifying properties (see lecithin) and they are largely used in the production of industrial ice cream.

Xanthan Gum (E415)

It is a complex sugar, obtained from bacteria fermentation. It has excellent thickening properties.

Carrageenan (E407)

You might have found it in many whipping cream. It is a polysaccharide extracted from a red seaweed, with jellying, thickening and stabilizing properties.

Tartrazine (E102) and Indigotine (E132)

They are two food coloring agents. Tartrazine is yellow, while Ingotine blue. Mixed together, they give a fantastic flashy green that is not even close to the real color of pistachio.

Additives are present at very low concentrations in ice creams (about 0.5-1%). Taken together, many of the substances listed above allow to obtain a gelato that doesn’t harden too much once stocked in the freezer and that doesn’t melt too fast. These mixtures have mainly been develop to meet the requests of the consumers.

When it comes to the additives used in the artisan gelato, things get complicated. On one side, we find gelato makers who limit the use of additives, while, on the other side, we have others using semi-finished products. Speaking of which, I recommend to check this article of the Compagnia Gelatieri, which I found very interesting. The article reflects my idea that a good gelato is not necessarily without additives, but that, however, we shouldn’t exaggerate with their use. Some additives slow the melting process down, while others give the ice cream more pleasant textures. I do not see anything wrong in using a few additives that improve the quality of the product. On the other hand, I do not understand additives as coloring agents. Why adding two coloring agents to create a fake-looking product? Pistachio ice cream is naturally pale-green/brown, why making him flashy green?  

I leave you with these thoughts. I will welcome back you on Friday for another recipe :)


H.D. Goff, Colloidal Aspects of Ice Cream-A Review, Int. Dairy J., 1997, 363-373

L. Di Carlo, Tradizione in Evoluzione, Chiriotti Editori, 458-460