Summer's the perfect time to scream for ice cream

President Reagan had such a soft spot for ice cream that he declared July National Ice Cream Month. Since the Reagan years, ice cream and other frozen treats have been reinvented to suit the many dietary, cultural and taste preferences of the consumer. Long gone are the ice cream days of my childhood when the Good Humor guy in the silly red-and-white striped hat offered choices you could count on one hand. Here's the scoop on the weird, wacky and wonderful list for this summer's lineup:

Frosty foreigners

Japan wins the award for the most "Frightful Frozen Exotics" with such ice cream flavors as shark fin noodle, raw horseflesh, saury fish, poisonous pit viper, ox tongue, eel and octopus. And for those with a yen for savory, try wasabi, garlic or sesame, soybean and dried kelp.

In France, bon vivants indulge in the high-quality frozen treats from the upscale Berthillon ice cream parlor in Paris. Pristine and preservative-free, these divine delights are hand-crafted with fresh milk, cream, eggs and fruit such as apple, pear, raspberry and orange along with a wide variety of sorbets. In India, Kulfi is the ice cream of choice, a blend of milk, cardamom, sugar and sliced almonds. Mexico has a fried version, while Italy has gelato, a creamy, dense ice cream with 55 percent less air than conventional ice cream. It is traditionally flavored with fresh fruit, biscotti pieces, bittersweet chocolate or nuts.

Some classic flavors include coffee, mandorla or almond, nocciola or hazelnut, limone or lemon and tiramisu. Milk-based gelato originated from northern Italy, while fruit and water-based sorbetto was a product of the more temperate southern regions. Other countries have emulated the art of gelato-making such as Argentina, its adaptation called helado.

Tender tummies

For those lactose-intolerant ice cream lovers, some of the major players are churning out low-lactose versions. Of course, nondairy-based frozen goodies such as soy decoys, icy rices, hemp temptations, nut "milks" and sorbets are also easy on the gut along with frozen goat milk treats. You can create your own simple fruity pops by filling assorted molds with crushed fruit and juices, inserting sticks and freezing them.

The Purists

Vegans and organic folks can indulge in frozen bliss that incorporates such nouveau ingredients as organic, young coconut milk, raw nuts, dates, agave syrup, Celtic sea salt, beet sugar, organic Dominican chocolate and vegetable fats. They are free of dairy, refined sugar, wheat, soy, growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, and yet they taste pretty good, too!

When health-conscious gurus marry ice cream mavens

This brilliant collaboration makes ice cream indulgence more guiltless and forgiving on the body. Dreyer's has a line of "Better-For-You" products including Slow-Churned Light, No Sugar Added and Yogurt Blends. "All natural" Breyers has launched CarbSmart, Double Churn Fat Free and No Sugar along with Pure Fruit Bars. Even Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's, the frozen treat hedonists, have jumped on the ice cream health bandwagon. Ben & Jerry's has creations with "less body and more soul" - reduced fat, carbs, calories, cholesterol and sugar. "From cow to cone," their bovines also are never treated with rBST growth hormones. Haagen-Dazs scoops up frozen yogurt, sorbet and its two new product lines - Reserve, with rare ingredients such as pomegranate chips and Brazilian acai berries, and Haagen-Dazs Five, with simply milk, cream, sugar, eggs and flavoring.

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