I don’t just scream for ice cream, I wail for it. And as summer rounds the corner and is, frankly, the only excuse I need to eat the sweet treat daily, my annual hunt to find this year’s perfect pint has officially commenced.
But it’s time to get back to basics. An ice cream chock-full of caramel swirls, candy bar pieces and fruit bits is only as good as its base. And my favorite base from the famous vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavor trio is the former.
A scoop of vanilla ice cream is palate perfection. Not only does the creamy, cold confection pair with practically any dessert you can think of (especially pies!), its simplicity is a testament to how only a few high-quality ingredients can yield something scrumptious.
While I was excited to kick off the taste test, I was admittedly overwhelmed — there are dozens of mainstream ice cream brands that tout a classic vanilla. So I chose five with lasting market value and ones you’ll undoubtedly find in any grocery store. (Plus, by limiting this first round to only a handful of options, it gives me an excuse to try another five in the future and update the results.)
Without further ado, here’s the scoop on the best store-bought vanilla ice cream.
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In Edy’s defense, this slow-churned variety is marketed as having half the fat — and it sure tasted that way. There was nothing distinctive about its flavor or creaminess, other than a very medicinal aftertaste that made it my least favorite of the bunch. Its texture also felt whipped, which speaks to the "half-fat" promise, though one would argue that more air (instead of cream) is just a clever way for the company to cut back on manufacturing costs since it’s using less product. I also could not see beyond the addition of unnecessary ingredients like corn syrup, which made putting my beloved toppings like salted caramel and whipped cream feel like a crime (they deserve so much better). Sorry, Edy’s — this one really missed the mark.
The flavor of this wasn’t bad, but it also wasn't jump-up-and-down-screaming-about-how-good-it-is good. It was actually the least sweet on this list, making it ideal for adding other sugar-laden elements like the aforementioned caramel and whipped cream, but I wasn’t a fan of its consistency, which was more like ice milk instead of frozen cream. That said, nothing about this was terrible and customers may actually prefer an ice cream that is a bit more delicate on the tongue. I, however, fall into the "give me the full-fat dairy experience" category and prefer something a bit more thick and heavy.
This is a no-frills, high-quality vanilla ice cream and the perfect foundation to any sundae, ice cream sandwich or milkshake. Since I’m used to buying Ben & Jerry’s flavors that are jam-packed with swirls, clusters and cores, its simplicity was appreciated and a welcome departure from their more creative iterations. After all, none of the Vermont-based company’s pints would shine without a strong vanilla ice cream playing supporting role, and this more than delivered on creaminess and velvety texture.
If you’re a vanilla bean ice cream traditionalist, Haagen-Dazs will be your favorite. It absolutely had the strongest vanilla taste with bean flecks scattered throughout. That said, it was also the sweetest of the bunch, so be mindful that you’ll have to sacrifice flavor balance to preserve authenticity. In this case, it’s worth it.
Tillamook boasted the creamiest, most decadent vanilla ice cream of the lot. Everything about this gallon deserves fanfare, including its commitment to using pure, basic ingredients. I never thought an ice cream could be fluffy, but Tillamook proved that anything is possible with a recipe that is high on silky-smooth mouthfeel and low on artificiality. It’s going to be quite difficult to dethrone our winner, but I welcome any and all contenders in this battle for the best vanilla ice cream. Make me melt.