The Reason Ice Milk Isn't A Thing Anymore

Before the 1990s, most people knew what ice milk was — a lower-fat, lower-calorie version of ice cream. However, few people born in the past 30 years know what ice milk is, or even realize that it still exists in stores but under a different name: It is now called low-fat ice cream.

In the olden days, before the '90s, product label rules required ice cream to contain at least 10% butterfat, and anything that contained less than that — yet had the same amount of sugar or sweetener — was called ice milk. In 1994 that changed when the FDA decided to allow these frozen sweet desserts to finally be recognized as ice cream, albeit with a label that specifies the butterfat amount is lower. When the rule went into effect on September 14, 1995, ice milk officially became 'low-fat' or 'light' ice cream in grocery stores.

People who grew up eating ice milk recall it being cheaper to buy, but also having a grittier texture and taste compared to the smoothness of regular ice cream. On a Reddit thread in which someone asked where they could find ice milk now, one cheeky commenter replied "Hopefully it died and went to ice cream hell where all those freaking little ice crystals melted away forever!"

Fast food soft serve used to be called ice milk

Ten years after the term ice milk was made obsolete by the FDA, the USDA categorized ice cream labels even more narrowly. To be called premium ice cream, the fat content must be 11 – 15%. To be called superpremium, the fat must be over 14%. Superpremium is also heavier with a lower overrun, weighing about 80 grams per half a cup versus 73 grams for premium. The overrun is the amount of air that is blended in with the ice cream to create greater volume. The lower the overrun, the denser the ice cream. Standard and economy ice creams have ten grams or more of fat, but their overrun is higher, resulting in a lower weight, but also a lower price than the premium ice creams.

Many current popular frozen desserts were once categorized as ice milk and more in fast food restaurants than most people realize. According to Dairy Queen, its soft serve cannot be labeled ice cream because it only contains 5% butterfat and was called ice milk until the FDA eliminated the category. "DQ® soft serve fits into the 'reduced-fat' ice cream category and our shake mix qualifies as 'low-fat' ice cream," it states.

Dairy Queen is far from the only fast-food chain that doesn't actually carry ice cream — at least not the legal definition. The next time you order a Chick-fil-A's Icedream or McDonald's ice cream, you're eating the modern version of ice milk.