Pros: Ready to eat without having to add water; Sorta tastes like ice cream
Cons: Tendency to crumble in the package; Comparatively expensive 'snack'
Mountain House is just one of several manufacturers who offer a bar of freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream. Although known as "Space Ice Cream," I believe the 'official' manufacturer of "Astronaut Ice Cream" is the corporate entity best known for the Backpacker's Pantry brand. Therefore, Mountain House simply calls it what it is - Freeze Dried Neapolitan Ice Cream. Which, in translation, means a solid, 0.75 oz., approximately 3" x 3" x 1" brick segmented into 'bars' of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Sold by almost any retailer (including Vitacost) which carries the Mountain House brand, this 'snack' is reputed to be one of the best-selling products in their lineup. (I remember visiting the Backpacker's Pantry facility in the early '90s and being told the same thing regarding their version.)
While there can be various arguments over the necessity of ingredients lists, there are slight differences between makers of freeze dried ice creams and there are individuals to whom such differences can make a difference. With that in mind, let's take a brief look...
Ingredients: Milkfat and Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Whey, Cocoa (processed with alkali), Mono and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Dellulose Gum and Carrageenan, Artificial Flavor, Red #40, and Annatto Color. - Contains: Milk
Each 0.75 oz. package is considered to be a single serving with 110 Calories...
Total fat = 5 g (saturated fat = 3 g); Cholesterol 20 mg; Sodium 35 mg; Total Carbohydrate 14g (Sugars 11g); Protein 2 g.
While I don't eat much ice cream, this makes it "lighter" than a similar serving from the small container of Haagen-Dazs in my friend's freezer.
Mountain House Neopolitan Ice Cream is primarily marketed as a snack, not a dessert. (Yes. The packaging does say "Dessert Serves 1;" but, it's typically shelved with their snack foods and their actual desserts - e.g., Raspberry Crumble or Blueberry Cheesecake - typically serve two or more individuals.) I'm sure part of the reason for this is the fact that you do not add water to rehydrate this; at least not in the sense of pouring in water and letting it sit. Trust me. If you try it, all you'll end up with is soup; regardless of how little or how much water you think you need to add. In fact, Mountain House does not put any instructions on the packaging regarding rehydrating. You simply open the package, break off a piece, slip it into your mouth, and suck on it. Your saliva rehydrates the chunk and it turns 'creamy' in your mouth. To be honest, you usually don't have to worry about breaking off a piece as, by the time you remove the package from your pack, the bar is usually in pieces anyway.
Does It Taste Like Ice Cream?
The first question most people have is whether this actually tastes like ice cream. Well... Sorta, kinda. While the packaging claims that it is "Made From Real Ice Cream," this stuff does not refreeze into a solid scoop of ice cream - no matter how cold that mountain crick water is. The Mountain House version comes across as more of a slightly thickish milk that tastes somewhat like warmish (you are rehydrating in your mouth) vanilla, chocolate (there is cocoa in the mix after all), and vaguely strawberry. (I think the Backpacker's Pantry version incorporates actual strawberries.) Remember, the idea was never to provide an actual ice cream dessert. It was to provide a different sensation of taste - something which has been, at least until the last few years, a very real issue freeze dried foods; i.e., the need for taste.
In that sense, Mountain House did achieve its goal. Just as important, while you can convince yourself that you're eating ice cream, the actual sugar intake serves the 'snack' purpose. As a backpacking/hiking snack, that's important. As something to hand to the kids... Three things to bear in mind. First, it does taste enough like ice cream that, when combined with the uniqueness of presentation, it will make for passable 'entertainment.' Second, the mixture of spit and sugar can end up a sticky mess on hands. Finally - what happens when the kids get too much sugar? Remember, 0.75 ounces of freeze dried food is substantially more than that when 'rehydrated.' (A single serving of ice cream, I believe, is considered to be about 4 ounces or a 1/2 cup and since Mountain House considers this to be a single serving...)
I've seen the Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream for as low as $1.75 and as high as $2.99 - so it pays to shop around. Typically, outdoor outfitters, backpacking shops, and sporting goods stores will be the most expensive. I'm fortunate to have a grocery store chain within reasonable distance that carries a fair selection of Mountain House foods. Any way you slice it, however, that makes it a fairly expensive 'snack.'
Shelf life can vary dramatically. Again, the brick inside the packaging breaks into pieces very easily - something to remember when opening. The abstract, theoretical 'best' shelf life is 7 years. However, that's under ideal conditions. I tend to make sure it gets used within 2 years of purchase. Well, that's only if I don't get around to consuming/using what I have bought; i.e., 'Life' does sometimes get in the way of planned expeditions. In the case of the Neapolitan Ice Cream, that means it will often end up in a fishing vest by the second season. Hey, it's rough, but it has to be done...
In the end, it doesn't pack the nutritional punch of a PowerBar insofar as a trail snack that keeps the legs pumping. Then again, it was never intended to do so. It was designed as a treat. If viewed in that context, it's amazing how good something like this can be while 'in the woods.' It can also be surprising how much you can convince yourself that it tastes like actual Neapolitan Ice Cream when you're in need of a little pick-me-up; either emotionally or when in need of a little "sugar surge."