Ice cream scoop: Babcock rolls out new lactose-free flavors

It’s tough being lactose intolerant in America’s Dairyland, especially on the UW-Madison campus. The Babcock Hall Dairy Plant churns out two dozen flavors of iconic ice cream, but they’re off limits if you’re lactose intolerant—unable to digest the milk sugar lactose—unless you take pills or drops containing lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose.

Until now, that is. This fall the Babcock Hall plant started producing two ice cream flavors: Vanilla Lactose-Free Ice Cream and Hazelnut Café Lactose-Free Ice Cream. Both are available for purchase at the Babcock Hall Dairy Store and can be sampled for free at the store this Friday, Nov. 1 from 8 – 11 a.m.

“They’re delicious and taste very, very similar to regular ice cream,” says UW-Madison food science senior Sandy Hughes, who helped develop the new ice cream formula under the guidance of Babcock Hall Dairy Plant manager Bill Klein.

Hughes posed for the accompanying photo with CALS Dean Kate VandenBosch, who inspired the idea for the new product. VandenBosch—like 30–50 million other Americans, or about 10 percent of the U.S. population—is lactose intolerant, although she doesn’t let it get in her way.

VandenBosch consumes dairy products fairly regularly with the aid of lactase pills, particularly when she is travelling. But she prefers the simplicity and certainty of lactose-free options when they’re available.

“With the pills, you’re always asking yourself, did I take enough lactase for the amount of ice cream I’m going to eat? Did I take a double serving? Should I take more lactase? You can be off the mark,” she explains. “With lactose-free ice cream, you just open the freezer and eat it.”

Babcock’s lactose-free ice cream starts out with some of the same basic ingredients as regular Babcock ice cream: milk, cream and sugar. After the milk is pasteurized, the enzyme lactase is added to the mixture and allowed to do its work, cutting the lactose molecules into two smaller, easy-to-digest sugars: glucose and galactose. Then flavors and other ingredients are added and the mixture is frozen.

Originally, Hughes explains, the lactase step caused some problems. “The first time I tried it, the ice cream turned out super stringy and snotty, like pudding,” she says. “It was weird.”

So she set about tweaking the ingredients added after the lactase step until she had a product that could live up to the Babcock name. Both flavors were tested and certified lactose-free before being offered in the store.

Hughes is delighted with the results. “Ice cream is my favorite food on earth, and I would totally eat these because they’re so good,” she says.

VandenBosch was among the first to sample the new offerings. Coffee is her favorite flavor, so she particularly enjoyed the hazelnut café.

“It’s really good,” she says. “The coffee flavor is more prominent than the hazelnut, but it’s a very good gestalt—all of it together.”