How much butterfat is in your homemade ice cream? It’s a difficult question to answer. Recently I sat down with a pencil, a stack of paper, and a big eraser, with a mission to make an online butterfat calculator. I decided to start with a Sweet Cream Base recipe of cream, milk, eggs, and sugar. Should be simple enough.
The first problem was figuring out how much butterfat is in each ingredient. Even if you look at the labels on the milk and cream cartons, you’ll find inconsistent numbers like “5 grams of fat per 15 ml,” or “3 grams of fat per 30 ml” or “8 grams of fat per 240 ml.” These have to be converted to a percentage by volume, and then converted again to a percentage by weight.
There was no nutrition label on my carton of eggs, but it turns out that one egg is 9.94% fat by weight. Roughly. I know this because the nice folks at the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Agricultural Research Service” have a whole web site called the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Or if you prefer a shorter name, the USDA AGS NNDSR. ;-) This site is filled with useful info about the nutritional content of eggs, and just about any other food you can think of. And not just plain ol’ chicken eggs… there’s info about duck eggs, goose eggs, egg substitute, hard-boiled eggs, eggnog, and dried stabilized glucose reduced eggs, too.
After scrounging the fat percentages for all the stuff in a basic ice cream recipe, I was able to calculate that Ben & Jerry’s Sweet Cream Base #1 is 19.1% total butterfat by weight. Roughly. That sounds about right, because homemade ice cream tends to be much higher in butterfat than commercial ice cream. Super-premiums like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs top out around 16%, but they sometimes use things like stabilizers and NFMS (more on that below) to compensate. So our homemade versions need more butterfat to keep them smooth and creamy.
OK, great! Except that I have no way to know if my figures are correct, because Ben & Jerry’s didn’t tell us the butterfat content of that recipe. And it turns out that hardly anyone else on the internet tells the butterfat percentages for their recipes either. But fortunately Ben & Jerry’s did tell us the magic number for their Sweet Cream Base #2, and it’s 25%. Roughly. And when I calculate it? I get 24.8%. Excellent!
After I turned my pencil scratchings into a working calculator, where you could enter all the ingredients and get the butterfat percentages back, I realized that there are two numbers for fat content. There’s the percentage butterfat, which is the fat from just the milk and cream, and there’s the percentage of normal “lipid” fat, which includes the butterfat and the fat from things like eggs and chocolate as well.
And then there’s sugar, which doesn’t have any fat at all, but does have weight. And since we’re calculating the butterfat percentage by weight, not volume (because we don’t care about the amount of air added to the ice cream), any weight we add for things like sugar will affect the overall weight, and therefore it’ll affect the overall butterfat percentage by weight as well.
And if that wasn’t enough, I decided to also throw in the percentage of “Nonfat Milk Solids,” or NFMS as they refer to it in the commercial ice cream biz. NFMS is basically the “solid” part of skim milk. So if you took a cup of raw milk, skimmed off the cream to get “skim milk,” and evaporated the skim milk down to a powder, that powder would be the Nonfat Milk Solid part of milk. Which, in case you’re dying to know, is 8.7% of milk by weight. Roughly. NFMS doesn’t play a big part in making homemade ice cream, but it does in making commercial ice cream, where they add some amount of dry milk powder depending on the amount of butterfat in the recipe. The less butterfat you use, the more NFMS you use to make up for it. But that’s another post, and an opportunity for more experiments.
I think my butterfat calculator is correct, but with a validation suite of exactly one test case, who really knows. If you have any other recipes to test it with, leave a comment below!
So I give to you my Ice Cream Butterfat Calculator in all its glory! Go forth! and find out what percentage butterfat is in your homemade ice cream! Roughly.
Now, that is a fun and interesting study. I’ll have to try the calculator the next time I make ice cream. I assume that you have to give it a taste test to check the accuracy of your calculator.
What a great tool! It works great and should be very useful.
Thanks for making this calculator! Very useful! One remark though. It seems that your calculation is based on using eggs rather than yolks. According to my information yolks contain about 33% fat, which would result in a much higher overall butterfat content. What are your thoughts on that? It would be great if your calculator would include the yolk option. Thanks again.
Veronica: great suggestion! I’ve now added egg yolks to the calculator, as well as soy milk and soy creamer (which I needed for my own tests). The USDA web site I mentioned in my post above lists egg yolks as 26.54% fat, and since their numbers seem pretty accurate, I went with that. Give it a try and see what you think. Thanks!
Butterfat percentage relates to the butterfat content of the dairy components.
The fat content of other ingredients such as egg yolks is not butterfat and has no bearing on the butterfat content other than its weight in the mix.
To calculate butterfat percentage of a particular is simple. Divide the total batch weight into the weight of the butterfat of the dairy components.
Homemade ice cream, especially high butterfat recipes, can be problematic for several reasons. Long churning times can cause actual butter particles to form causing an unpleasant grittiness. Commercial ice cream mix is homogenized before freezing and less time is spent in the freezing process eliminating butter chunks.
The other problem is final freezing, commercial manufacturers freeze in -40 blast freezers, home freezers are lucky to get to below zero and are slow doing even that which compromises the ice cream’s texture.
How do I know?
I set up a ice cream shop to manufacture all the ice cream from fresh ingredients. By fresh I mean unpasteurized cream directly from a herd of Jersey cows and fresh brown eggs from free ranging hens with access to a high protein all grain diet, the yolks are actually orange in color compared to the megamart’s eggs of light yellow color.
Since the mix is heated to 170 degrees, it is pasteurized. The purchase of a low volume homogenizer and a blast freezer was necessary to obtain the texture “mouth feel” customers expect in a high dollar product.
Only a couple ingredients, but making high quality ice cream isn’t easy.
Hi! I applaud that you’ve included coconut milk (as I’m a coconut-milk user). The question I have is what kind of coconut milk you’re using in your calculator though, since the fat proportions vary dramatically between coconut milk and “light” coconut milk, and the percentage of fat also varies between different brands. The brand of coconut milk I use for making ice cream is 18% fat, but I’m always on the lookout for a brand with a higher fat percentage. :) “Light” coconut milks are generally around 10% fat, from what I’ve seen, which means there’d be a big difference between using regular coconut milk and “light” coconut milk. Maybe you could include the fat percentage of the brand you used along with the “coconut milk” entry in the calculator, so we know whether we have to adjust it up or down for our particular brand’s fat?
Wow! You are the man for making that calculator. Seriously, thanks for taking the time to do it, it’s much appreciated.
Hi – this is great but I have a recipe with butter in it. I’m trying to create one to replicate a Scottish taste.
Trees: I’ve updated the Butterfat Calculator to include butter. Thanks for the suggestion!
Great tool. I was looking for something like this and found yours!!! I need also the calculation for sugar %.
Stacie: I’ve updated the Butterfat Calculator to include the percentage of sugar by weight in relation to the total weight of the mix. Thanks for the suggestion!
So I own a small farm and I just got approved to make and sell ice cream. To my dismay, I am NOT ALLOWED to make a pure, all natural ice cream product and sell it. I am FORCED by law to add crap to my ice cream product which they call milk solids. Ok, so since I can not just make a pure ice cream to sell, would anyone PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be kind enough to share a basic recipe with me that meets the crazy definitions of commercial ice cream? I can’t seem to get my head around all this calculating and downloadable spreadsheets to figure weights of quantities and all that… just a really basic recipe would be absolutely wonderful… like how much cream, dry milk powder and what ever else to make a simple batch of basic ice cream??? Then I could build from there to build my flavors and types… anyone know where I could get such information??? Searches on the internet keep leading me to sites about how to calculate and such… I just need a basic recipe. :)
Kathy I got a free basic recipe from the Dairy guy at dairyscience.info. Cream, powder, milk, sugar.
Such a useful tool! I’m so impressed by the amount of work you put in. Any chance you could add double cream at 48% to it though? It would be really useful to loads of people in the UK I bet. :)
Georgia: I’ve updated the Butterfat Calculator to include Double Cream. Thanks for the suggestion!
Any relevance to having vanilla extract added? Awesome calculator, thank you!
I think since the amount of vanilla extract normally used is so small in comparison to the rest of the recipe, and since vanilla extract has no real fat to speak of, it probably wouldn’t make much difference.
OMG! Thanks for this! Makes my excel spread sheet feel archaic! Any chance you can add sour cream and cream cheese.
Also, this may be pushing it but are you running this from an excel sheet? would you mind sharing the document with me?
I’m trying to figure the fat content and/or butterfat content in some Nutella ice cream that I’m making. The first batch I made, I used 1 part Nutella to 1 part heavy whipping cream. It was really good, and really, really smooth, but I think there was probably way too much fat in it.
I’m shooting for a super-premium feel to the ice cream, so I was aiming for butterfat content around 20%. I’m making a small batch first to get the numbers right, then I’ll scale it up later. I’m using 26oz. of Nutella (which contains 8.5oz of fat), and 22oz. of cream in order to make 48oz. of finished product.
By my calculations, the cream portion can only contain 1.1oz. of fat in 22oz. of cream (which would make it 5%. Is this right? So, by my calculations (since I know I need 22oz. of liquid) I can use 19oz. of skim milk and 3oz. of heavy whipping cream and I’ll end up with a fat content (of the cream portion) of 5.2%.
Am I way off here?
…the cream portion (19oz. skim & 3oz. heavy whipping) would contain 1.1oz fat. The Nutella portion (26oz.) would contain 8.5oz. That makes a total fat content of 9.6oz fat in 48oz. of ice cream.
That makes 20%, right?
I’m attempting to use this to calculate the freezing point depression of the mix. What’s needed to calculate this is the percentage of water. I’m assuming it’s 100 – %total fat – %NSMF – %sugar. I have a method of calculating freezing point using a lookup table and formulas. I’d be glad to help get this included in the calculator.
Here in Japan they sell 42% and 45% cream as well as 36%. I’ve also seen recipes (especially, for strawberry ice cream) calling for condensed milk. I wonder if you’d care to add any of these to your calculator? Perhaps you’d like to add a “cream” option that lets the user input the fat percentage of whatever product is available to them locally?
As many others have written this is a fantastic tool! With many of my flavour variants I am adding liquid that has 0% fat (e.g. lemon juice, bourbon, pureed strawberries, etc). Is there any way you could add something to the calculator that would allow me to account for the impact they have on the fat content of the finished product? Thanks!
A while ago I came up with the same ~25% fat content calculation for Ben & Jerry’s Sweet Cream Base #2.
Then I went into the supermarket and saw that Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen Dazs, and all the super premium ice creams seemed to be about 16 to 18% fat – which is what the University of Guelph’s Food Science/Ice Cream dept also states.
So I decided there was something wrong in my calculations – like it was a volume calculation or something.
But you’re saying what’s actually going on is, the commercial versions actually use less fat, and that’s why, alternatively, homemade ice cream recipes calculate out with more fat percentage ?
The Best Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Ever
8 cups (2 qt) – Heavy Cream
2 cups (0.2 lbs or 16 htbsp or 32 tbsp) – Good Cocoa
26 oz (1.6 lbs) – Good Dark Chocolate 62%+
4 cup (1 qt) – Milk
20 – Egg Yolks
2 cups – Sugar
1 to 2 tsp – Salt
2 tsp – Vanilla Extract
Optionally, add 0.5-2 cups Drinking alcohol (e.g. Amaretto, Kahlua, Grand Mainer, Dark Rum, Peppermint Schnapps, Brandy, etc.)*
1. In a medium pot heat 1 qt of heavy cream with cocoa; whisk well to ensure the cocoa gets integrated properly.
2. When cream is bubbling at the edges, remove from heat and add dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds then give it a good stir until it’s all incorporated.
3. Add 1 qt of heavy cream to pot, stir to combine
4. Pour the contents into a large non-metal bowl. Place a strainer on the bowl for later.
5. Place the pot back on the stove, and add 1 qt of heavy cream, 2 cups sugar and 2 tsp salt.
6. Heat the milk and sugar gently on the stove while you get your egg yolks ready.
7. Whisk the 20 egg yolks together and then grab the pot from the stove.
8. SLOWLY drizzle warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking the entire time (this is called tempering) until everything’s all combined.
9. Dump the liquid back into the pot. Stir constantly (so you don’t cook the eggs) with a wooden or other heat-safe spoon or spatula over medium heat until the eggs thicken a bit, into a custard. You’ll know it’s done when you can hold up the spoon and run your finger through the egg-milk mixture and the line you drew with your finger stays there.
10. Pour custard through the strainer into the bowl.
11. Add 2 tsp vanilla extract and stir.
12. (Optional) Add drinking Alcohol*
13. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl, literally touching the entire surface of the ice cream base. (This means you won’t get any nasty “skin” on top of the liquid.)
14. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours then prepare according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
15. Once you’ve got it into your final container, freeze again for at least 6 hours – trust me this stuff tastes WAY better cold, cold, cold.
16. Remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before eating so it has time to soften a bit before serving.
*Note: If adding alcohol, you may need a super-low temperature freezer, or preferably ignore steps 13-15 and use liquid nitrogen, to adequately freeze the ice cream.
Hello Russell, This is very helpful tool. Can you please include Stabilizer and emulsifier proportions in this tool? Thanks.
hi, I was wondering if you could include evaporated milk to your calculator (different than condensed). It has high milk solids and makes a very smooth ice-cream when used for about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total dairy.
This is the most helpful calculator I have used! It’s awesome! Is there anyway you could add cashew milk or almond milk or coconut cream for those of us making vegan ice cream?
Great Calculator, But would appreciate if you can add Vegan products like Coconut Cream etc.
This calculator is an awesome tool thanks! I didn’t know adding sugar to my mix lowers the butterfat content, how does that work because I thought sugar didn’t add any volume?
Regarding your question about sugar lowering the butterfat content… Yes, sugar does add both volume and weight, so the percentage of butterfat will go down. I’m not a physicist or a chemist but here’s my understanding of it.
For volume, dissolving 1/2 cup of sugar into 1/2 cup of water gives roughly 3/4 cup of mixed solution. This is because when the sugar dissolves, it takes up some of the space between the molecules in water, which results in a solution that’s about 75% of the combined volume of the two ingredients measured separately. So the sugar’s volume goes down by about half as it dissolves.
But measuring the butterfat percentage of ice cream is always done by weight, so that’s what I used in my calculator.
For weight, adding 1 pound of sugar to 1 pound of water results in 2 pounds of solution. And that weight doesn’t change as the sugar dissolves into the water. The volume changes, because the initial dry sugar takes up more volume than it does after it dissolves into the water, but the weight stays the same.
So in the case of measuring butterfat percentage, it’s easy because we can just take the weight of the dry sugar and include it in the calculations. It’d be harder if we were doing it by volume because the volume changes as the sugar dissolves, and I believe the ability for it to dissolve would probably be different in ingredients like milk, cream, and eggs, rather than just water.
Might I suggest adding some sugar calculation for sweetened condensed milk? It’s a lot more like adding sugar to your base than milk, in terms of properties :) Around 65% sugar by weight iirc.
Would there be a way to add corn starch, honey, and cream cheese to this calculator?
So, first of all, this is a great tool. I was getting ready to start working on an Excel sheet to figure this out. So, thanks for saving me the time!
One comment: You’re using the same weights for all of the liquids. That’s not quite the case. Assuming an ambient temperature of 20°C (68 F for the rest of us), one cup of heavy cream weighs 8.3 oz, while a cup of whole milk weighs 8.6 oz. Roughly. So, yes, it isn’t much, but it can throw the values off by a small amount.
Also, I’ve had occasion to put water (in the form of coffee or fruit juice) into my ice cream base. You might want to consider that for the calculator. Personally, I just add in skim milk in the calculator as a workaround, so it’s really not a bother if it doesn’t happen.
Once again, thank you VERY much for having developed this. I’ll be using it frequently.