Mellorine isn’t actually ice cream at all — like sherbet, custard and frozen yogurt, it’s a frozen desert all its own. This ice cream alternative rarely appears on grocery store shelves in the 21st Century, making it more of an interesting historical relic rather than a part of contemporary recipes. Nonetheless, foodies will find that exploring mellorine makes for an intriguing look at the landscape of frozen treats, providing insight as to what exactly makes ice cream different from its cousins.

What Makes Mellorine?

At first glance, mellorine looks just like ice cream. It even comes in traditional ice cream flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and the mix-all Neapolitan. However, while ice cream relies on butterfat for its fat content, mellorine contains vegetable or animal oils. Like ice cream, mellorine does contain dairy to make up its milk proteins. As William Shurlteff’s book, “History of Soy Ice Cream and Other Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts,” puts it, “[mellorine] bears the same relation to ice cream as margarine bears to butter.” While mellorine aims to replicate the flavor of ice cream, it typically features a slightly less creamy taste and consistency.

An Icy History

Mellorine first appeared as an ice cream substitute in the early 1950s, proposed as a more affordable alternative to ice cream. At the time of its introduction, the production of mellorine made with soybean oil cost about 18 to 40 cents less per gallon than the production of ice cream. As some members of the ice cream industry viewed mellorine as a threat, the United States Department of Agriculture imposed standards on the product. According to the USDA, mellorine — which must be labeled as such — must contain pasteurized milk, but it may derive its fat content from a non-milk vegetable or animal source.

Standards of Sweetness

USDA standards stipulate that mellorine’s vegetable or animal fat must make up at least 6 percent of its total composition and that the product must contain a minimum protein content of 2.7 percent. USDA standards provide an insightful look at how mellorine compares to other ice cream alternatives. For instance, sherbet must contain 2-to-5 percent milk fat and 2-to-10 percent fruit, depending on the fruit. Frozen custard differentiates itself from the pack because it exceeds the 1.4-percent egg yolk limit imposed on ice cream, which gives it its richer flavor and denser texture. Like regular yogurt, frozen yogurt must contain the healthy bacteria streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus. Freezing often kills these strands, however, so they do not have to be live cultures. When it comes to mellorine, the USDA imposes no standards involving fruit content, egg yolk content or the presence of helpful bacteria.

More to Consider

Nowadays, you’re unlikely to walk into a grocery store and find mellorine, though a limited number of manufacturers, such as Selecta and Hygeia, still produce the treat. Some specialty stores even carry savory flavors of mellorine, such as cheddar cheese flavored varieties. Aside from its oil content — typically soybean or coconut oil — modern mellorine shares many common ingredients with off-the-shelf ice cream, such as corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, sugar, calcium hydroxide, guar gum and natural and artificial flavors.