What's in Italian Ice?

Photo: julie corsi/Flickr.

Rita’s Italian Ice is an East Coast institution. Each year on the first day of spring, every store gives away free Italian ice (also called water ice) to all customers. While I’ve never gotten in the long lines to get a freebie, many of my friends will travel from store to store to get more than one free water ice. It’s a tradition for some families.

If you’re not familiar with Italian ice, it’s a frozen dessert made with fruit or fruit flavoring that’s made like ice cream but with different ingredients. It’s different from a snow cone (shaved ice) that’s simply ice squirted with liquid flavoring. When done right, Italian ice is really delicious.

The Italian ice at Rita’s is always brightly colored, and it’s obvious to me that artificial food dyes are used to make the frozen desserts so festive. I wondered what other ingredients are in the Italian ices. While Rita’s website doesn’t have ingredients listed, my friend Marianne hunted down some ingredient information that Rita’s provided to someone who was concerned about allergies. They were published on Outside the Machine. Here’s the ingredient list for Pineapple Ice.

Pineapple Ice: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate, FD&C; Yellow#5 and FD&C; Yellow#6 and Carboxy-methyl Cellulose

I don’t want to begrudge anyone their first day of spring treat, but a steady diet of any Italian ice made from these ingredients can’t be good. Fortunately, you can make your own Italian ice at home. An ice cream maker will churn out Italian ices similar to what you’ll get at Rita’s or another Italian ice store, but not all recipes need an ice cream maker.

If you want to make your own Italian ice at home, try one of these recipes.

Have you ever made your own Italian ice? How do you make it?