People who can’t tolerate dairy can now get a taste of one of UW-Madison’s most beloved products.
The university’s dairy program, which brings cheeses, ice cream and other tasty creations to the city’s masses, unveiled its first-ever lactose-free ice cream Thursday. After several months of development, two flavors – vanilla and “Hazelnut Café” – hit shelves in the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, with an official sampling scheduled for Friday.
While companies like Lactaid and Breyers already make lactose-free ice cream, there aren’t many options for lactose-intolerant individuals as the condition’s prevalence is increasing. On average, 80 percent of Asian and Native Americans are lactose intolerant, according to the University Health Center at the University of Georgia. That number is slightly lower at 75 percent for African Americans, 51 percent for Hispanic Americans and 21 percent for white Americans.
Bill Klein, manager of the dairy plant, said that in his 27 years at Babcock the two new lactose-free flavors were the first the facility has developed. The lactose-free ice cream was developed by student intern Sandy Hughes and Klein with College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Kate VandenBosch in mind. VandenBosch, who started at UW-Madison in March 2012, is lactose intolerant.
Hughes, a senior food sciences major, started work on the new flavors in June. She and Klein started by doing a number of small samples – about one gallon – in a lab before the recipes were used for production in the plant.
The process of making lactose-free ice cream isn’t all that different from traditional ice cream, Hughes said.
To make the ice cream lactose-free they added a lactase enzyme, which breaks down the sugar into another sugar that is digestible for lactose-intolerant people. But the process wasn’t without challenges.
“We added the enzyme so it would break down the sugar before you eat it but it made the ice cream more stringy — a weird texture,” Hughes said.
Breaking down the lactose also altered the sweetness of the dessert.
“In doing so it makes the product somewhat sweeter. … Our goal is to essentially match the same vanilla that we’re currently making. Now it’s a little too sweet so we have to start out by reducing the amount of sucrose that we add to the formula,” Klein said.
After tweaks to the recipe, the end result was an ice cream that stands well on its own. The vanilla is not as creamy as its lactose-rich counterpart but unless tasted side by side, it’s a viable substitute, said Alisa Reif, 28, who was diagnosed as lactose intolerant when she was in high school.
“The texture was a little bit grainier but I did like the hazelnut lactose-free a lot. … It would definitely be nice because you don’t always have the lactase pills with you,” she said.
As for other flavors, Klein said it’s too early to tell what Babcock’s lactose-free future holds.
“I have no idea what the interest is in lactose free ice cream. I tend to think it’s not that great. … We’re really at the test basis right now so we’re just going to feel it out and see where it goes,” he said.
Yet, Klein is confident that whatever they make would taste just fine.
“(Orange custard chocolate chip) is a fan favorite ... if you asked me could I come close to that, you bet I could come close to that with lactose-free,” he said. “There’s always going to be some subtle differences though.”