Make Mine a Tuna Fudge Sundae

Could ice cream with a fish-oil boost be the next big thing? It's good for you, doesn't smell if refrigerated -- and may even cure depression

Marvin Rudolph has discovered a way to beat the summer heat -- a way that baby boomers should love. A chemist and principal at food technology firm Arthur D. Little, Rudolph has figured out a way to make a new kind of low-fat, fully flavored ice cream that can fight heart disease and arthritis -- and maybe even make you smarter.

Sound fishy? Actually, "fishy" would be the correct term. The secret ingredients in Rudolph's magical ice cream are the so-called "omega-3" fish oils. Favorites of cardiologists and nutritionists, these oils are found in highest concentrations in fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna. Numerous studies have established links between the fatty acids in the fish oils and health benefits for the heart, brain, eyes, and nervous system.

A 1999 study by physician Andrew Stoll and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that 64% of manic-depressive patients who took 10 grams of fish oil per day over a four-month period reported significant improvement in their symptoms vs. less than 20% of placebo-poppers. No wonder, then, that the American Heart Association in its 2000 Food Guidelines recommended two servings of fish per week.


  Despite all these benefits, recorded in hundreds of academic studies, Rudolph says, "Most people don't consume adequate levels of omega-3 through natural dietary sources." Fish consumption in this country lags behind rates of consumption in Europe and Japan. To some degree, this reluctance is due to pollution fears; right now, women of child-bearing age are being warned not to eat fish caught on the East Coast due to high levels of heavy metals found in this summer's catch. Plus, a diet rich in fish can break the bank -- fresh fish usually costs three times to five times as much per pound as chicken or beef. But much of America's reticence toward eating scaly creatures with gills is simply due to a taste that is too...well, fishy.

That's where the ice cream comes in. According to Rudolph, it's a perfect vehicle: As Mary Poppins put it, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Omega-3 oils are highly sensitive to light, heat, and air. When exposed to any combination of the three for significant duration, the oils become malodorous. That's why fish -- especially old, dead fish -- smell so nasty. Ice cream, on the other hand, is kept cold, dark, and isolated in a package. "It's usually kept in the dark. It's packaged pretty tightly, and it's kept frozen. I put two and two together and said, 'Why not try to get these omega-3s into something that is very palatable that will also help its storage properties?'"


  Over 18 months, Rudolph and a team of eight researchers worked to create a low-fat ice cream fortified with fish oils. They learned that vanilla was not sufficiently strong enough to mask the fish flavor and that orange creamsicle best hid the oceanic aroma. He also determined that the ice cream had to be quick-pasteurized at temperatures of 180 degrees Fahrenheit for only 15 seconds -- enough to kill most bacteria but not hot enough to unravel the chemical bonds of the fish oil. Rudolph settled on putting 250 milligrams of fish oil into a 100-gram serving (about three ounces) of ice cream, about one-quarter of the daily recommended amount of fish oil, according to many health experts.

Although Rudolph loves the stuff and says his family and co-workers feel the same, don't expect to find the fish oil in a supermarket near you anytime soon. Arthur D. Little has yet to mount a marketing effort, and Rudolph himself wonders how the public would react to the concept of fish oil in ice cream. That seems especially true in light of the public beating suffered by fat substitute Olestra, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest claimed had the nasty side affect of causing diarrhea. "If people taste the product and realize how delicious the ice cream is, that would be less of a barrier," says Rudolph. Perhaps baby boomers who want to have their H¨aagen-Dazs and eat it too will someday get hooked. But for now, make mine a single.

By Alex Salkever in New York

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