How Much Milk Does It Actually Take To Make Ice Cream?

Who doesn't like ice cream? Whether you eat it with a slice of pie, all by itself, or with a side of french fries (per The Daily Edge), there is something about that creamy, silky smooth concoction that makes our hearts soar. On a hot summer day, it helps us stay cool, and even in the dead of winter, it is pure heaven whether you're under a blanket or snuggling up by a fire.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, Americans are so enamored with this frozen treat that we, on average, consume about 20 pounds or four gallons per person each year. With the U.S. projected to spend $73.61 billion on ice cream in 2022 (via Fortune Business Insights) and the sheer volume of the United States market, a natural question to ask is just exactly how much milk is involved in satisfying the nation's ice cream cravings.

Ice cream's surprising ingredient

A basic ice cream base will consist of milk, cream, sugar, and possibly eggs. There is one other ingredient, though, that is required to turn this essential group of elements into ice cream — air. An article published by the American Chemical Society explains how air is the secret ingredient that makes ice cream so luscious and prevents its sweetness from overpowering our taste buds.

Just as air causes whipped cream to taste less sweet than heavy cream, the 30% to 50% air content in ice cream slows down the rate that the flavorings stimulate our taste buds when eating ice cream. As explained by the International Dairy Journal via Science Direct, churning introduces these microscopic air pockets during the freezing process.

Naturally, this air content lowers the amount of milk and cream required to make a gallon of ice cream. At the same time, our cool treat wouldn't hold so much air without the cream.

A lot of milk goes into ice cream

Reading from Cornell University's Ag Informer, we find that you need approximately 3 gallons of fresh milk to make 1 gallon of ice cream. In the same article, we also learn that ice cream production accounts for almost 9% of all milk used in the United States. That may seem like a large amount of milk, especially considering what we just learned about air content via the American Chemical Society, but you must also consider another factor.

According to Milk Facts, whole milk only contains about 3.4% fat (cream). That tells us that for 1 gallon of milk, you will only receive a few ounces of cream. What we found astounding is that even at this low yield rate, an average dairy cow will produce enough milk daily to make 2 gallons of ice cream. As Ag Informer reports, that equates to 730 gallons of milk a year.

Those are some hard-working cows. The next time you devour a delectable ice cream treat, say a small word of thanks to our industrious dairy farmers and those marvelous bovines that made it possible.