When I began my illustrious career as an ice cream scooper in college, it wasn’t the lines that stretched out the door in the summertime or the people who took ten minutes (and multiple samples) to order that bugged me the most. Instead, it was the occasional person who ordered a scoop of vanilla in a cup. No hot fudge sauce, no sprinkle of nuts, not even a sugar cone on top. I couldn’t fathom why someone would satisfy her sweet tooth with something so ordinary in a sea of Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough and Coffee-Almond Fudge. But after some time behind the counter, I realized that vanilla ice cream is more than just the best foundation flavor (better than chocolate, in my opinion). These are the staff picks for best (vanilla) ice cream brand.
Run Out and Buy This Right Now
Out of all seven brands we tried, this was the best ice cream brand by far. It was creamy and undeniably decadent, and the vanilla flavor came through without being too overwhelming. It lacked the artificial taste of the others, thanks to its five recognizable ingredients: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, and natural vanilla. It tasted like a spoonful of luxury, possibly because it has almost double the fat content of the other brands. But one bite of this, and you’ll forget all about that.
Suitable in Desperate Situations
Breyers All Natural Vanilla
This was the prettiest ice cream of the bunch, with a snowy white color and small flecks of vanilla bean. Because it claimed to be all-natural, I think the group had high hopes for a fresh, standout taste. Instead, half the tasters felt the aftertaste was too artificial, despite the brand’s claim to the contrary. The vanilla flavor was overwhelmingly strong, to the point that it bordered on almondlike.
Whole Foods 365 Vanilla
One person declared this her favorite, but the rest of us found it flavorless and bland. It did have less of a chemical taste, but that might’ve been because it had almost no taste at all. “This is a vessel for chocolate syrup and toasted almonds,” said another taster.
Dreyer’s Grand Vanilla Bean
Like the Whole Foods ice cream, this version of Dreyer’s had one fan in the group. She enjoyed its rich, creamy taste. Others disliked the chemical-like taste and the lack of vanilla flavor. Overall, Grand Vanilla Bean was underwhelming, but not terrible.
Avoid at All Costs
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla
I assumed this would be my favorite, since they create such deliciously innovative flavors otherwise. But I guess Ben and Jerry don’t do basic, because their vanilla was sour, perfumelike, and more reminiscent of coconut than anything else.
Dreyer’s Grand Vanilla
This one was severely disappointing. One taster deemed it “uneventful”; another said it was like ice milk. The strongest flavor was that of artificial sweetness, probably thanks to corn syrup’s being the fourth ingredient. Plus, the texture was more like soft-serve’s than like that of ice cream; instead of melting in our mouths, it dissolved.
Safeway Select Vanilla
Sometimes store brands surprise you by being as high-quality as their brand-name counterparts; Safeway’s vanilla ice cream did not. “Tasteless” and “airy” were just a couple of choice adjectives the group used to describe it. We also didn’t appreciate how the fake flavor lingered on our tongues afterward.
You’d think that after trying so many terribly average and just plain terrible flavors, the tasters would have run for the hills at the prospect of more ice cream. Instead, we all got one last spoonful of Häagen-Dazs for the road—perhaps to get the yucky taste of inferior vanillas out of our mouths, or perhaps to remind ourselves of how good vanilla can be. And that’s the power of truly great vanilla ice cream. If you haven’t discovered the satisfaction that comes from such simplicity, you just haven’t tried the right variety yet.