Rocky Road Ice Cream Is Not As Vegetarian Friendly As It Seems

When following a specific diet, like being a vegetarianism, there's a lot to think about when it comes to ingredients. Meat byproducts frequently make their way into unexpected foods. Case in point: Some popular brands of rocky road ice cream — ostensibly made up of chocolate ice cream, crunchy almonds, and marshmallows — don't adhere to vegetarian guidelines. So, what ingredient makes this classic ice cream flavor not so vegetarian friendly? It's all in the gelatin.

What exactly is gelatin — and why is it in rocky road? Gelatin is made from the bones and skin of cows and pigs through a process called hydrolysis. It's then made into gelatin, which can be bought off the shelf to use as a thickening agent, especially in desserts — and is, of course, the key ingredient in Jell-O. Another popular product that often contains gelatin is marshmallows, giving it that signature gooey texture. Since rocky road contains marshmallows, that's the likely culprit for how gelatin frequently makes its way into many varieties of the ice cream, including that from Baskin-Robbins.

Finding vegetarian-friendly rocky road ice cream

Those who are vegetarians, or have other dietary restrictions, quickly become professionals at reading nutrition labels for ingredients. But recipes and ingredients can change, so even those who have previously consumed a food without incident should keep a close eye on nutritional information before digging their spoon into a bowl of something like rocky road.

In addition to Baskin-Robbins (which, according to its nutrition label, contains gelatin in the marshmallows), other brands with gelatin in their rocky road include southern favorite Blue Bell, Edy's, and Tillamook. 

Before writing off the flavor for good, however, take solace in knowing there are even more brands without the hydrolysis-derived by-product. These include Breyers, Blue Bunny, Favorite Day (from Target), Great Value (Walmart's in-house brand), Häagan-Dazs, and Turkey Hill. Most of these vegetarian-friendly brands employ a marshmallow cream or swirl in place of actual mini marshmallows, by-passing gelatin altogether. During the next trip to a favorite local ice cream shop, be sure to ask about their rocky road ingredients; if they aren't sure about their marshmallow make up, choose another flavor.