The best vanilla ice cream

Consumer Reports also tested salted caramel, mint chip, and fudge brownie

Published: May 2014

Plain as it is, vanilla is the nation’s favorite ice-cream flavor. Our expert tasters tried 19 (including gelatos), separating the yum from the ho-hum. For ice-cream lovers who venture beyond vanilla, we also recommend a dozen in three other flavors: salted caramel, mint chip, and fudge brownie.

Taste. Among vanillas, Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs are the clear winners: dense and creamy, with intense dairy flavor and complex, high-quality vanilla flavor. A runner-up, Talenti, is quite sweet and a bit icy, with a fruity-floral vanilla flavor typical of Tahitian vanilla. As you go down the Ratings, the ice creams tend to be a bit more gummy or have vanilla flavor that’s generic or less pronounced.

Nutrition. No one would claim that ice cream is great for your health, but some have half the calories, fat, or sugar of others. The listed nutrition information is for an official serving: a half-cup, which isn’t much. Nutrition scores are based on calories, sugars, fat, and other nutrients.

Bottom line. Choose among the five excellent ice creams or the top half of the very good ones. The others are less memorable but could be basic birthday-party fare. Kirkland Signature is a CR Best Buy, but because it comes in two cartons totaling 128 fluid ounces, it’s best bought for a crowd.

When it really isn't ice cream

Breyers calls some of its products “frozen dessert” because they don’t meet the official definition of ice cream, which requires a certain amount of milk fat and limits the amount of air whipped into it. We compared Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream with Breyers Extra Creamy Vanilla Frozen Dessert. The ice cream was very good, with vanilla-bean and dairy flavors. The frozen dessert? Just OK, with a generic vanilla flavor and gummy texture. It also left a slick coating in the mouth.

Beyond basic vanilla

Our tasters sorted through 21 salted caramel, mint chip, and fudge brownie ice creams to pick the recommended ones below. Turkey Hill and Dreyer’s/Edy’s are the least expensive, at 33 to 35 cents per half-cup serving; Steve’s is the priciest, at $1.75. Lowest in calories for each flavor: Turkey Hill salted caramel (160), Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned mint chip (120), and Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand fudge brownie (160).

Salted caramel

  • Graeter’s
  • Häagen-Dazs
  • Steve’s
  • Talenti
  • Three Twins
  • Turkey Hill

Each is good in its own way. Häagen-Dazs and Talenti provide a big caramel hit but are quite sweet. Graeter’s caramel flavor is more subtle. Steve’s is tasty vanilla ice cream with salty, buttery caramel swirls, and it tastes freshly made. Turkey Hill is also vanilla with swirls, but it's slightly icy. Three Twins has a cooked dairy flavor with a caramelized taste of brown sugar.

Mint chip

  • Häagen-Dazs
  • Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand
  • Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned

Häagen-Dazs is best. It’s dense white ice cream with a big dairy flavor, a full mint flavor, and lots of crunchy dark-chocolate pieces.

Fudge brownie

  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand
  • Good & Delish Royal (Walgreens)

Ben & Jerry’s is the clear winner. It’s dense, creamy, and smooth, and includes brownie pieces.

Editor's Note:

Thia article also appeared in the June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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