You can’t hide behind vanilla.
Ice cream is like a good friend. Sweet, nostalgic, ready on the freezer shelf whenever you need it. It sits with you through movie nights and attends all of your (best) birthday parties. You laugh with ice cream, you cry with ice cream, and every so often you may even go on a "health" kick and turn your back on ice cream. But it will never abandon you, and when it’s the only dessert that will satisfy a cool, creamy craving, the frozen aisle is pretty close to paradise.
Here at MyRecipes, our tasting team wanted to know which ice cream brand to rely on when the hankering strikes. Is it the tried and true, childhood-memory-flooding Blue Bell or the trendy, low-calorie treat distinguished as one of TIME’s best inventions? To find out, we sampled and assessed 13 of the most recognizable and easy-to-find ice cream brands in just one flavor: vanilla.
We know what you’re thinking. All vanilla? That’s so vanilla. But when you’re trying to pinpoint the very best ice cream brand out there in this big world, you may as well start with their most basic recipe, the one that every other winning flavor usually is spun off of.
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Yep. All of your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough and moose track cartons are really just various combos of chocolate chips, gooey swirls, nuts, Oreos, you name it... all nestled in a creamy blanket of good ol’ vanilla. Bells and whistles pushed aside, can you really trust a brand if you can’t trust their most classic, simple offering?
As you read through our rankings, keep in mind that ice cream preferences vary widely. Some have stuck to one brand since the 90’s and others are partial to the ice cream of their home state. We are taste testers, not robots, after all. And while we aim to taste as objectively as possible, ultimately, it comes down to the flavor you love. So grab a spoon (and maybe a slice of pie).
Here are our rankings for the best vanilla ice cream.
Not Our Faves… But Still, It’s Ice Cream
MOST ORIGINAL: Museum of Ice Cream Vanillionaire
“Tastes fancy, but not sure its in a good way.”
If the San Fransisco-based Museum of Ice Cream is on your bucket list, you might be closer than you think. The brand serves up more than just Instagram-famous photos — it now has a complete ice cream line on the shelves of Target. Tasters were a little confused by their vanilla carton, which includes chunks of soft graham cracker-esque cookies throughout. Some were into it, some wondered why you would ruin a good thing. Overall, the editors decided the flavor was too sweet and had an odd aftertaste. But points for creativity!
BEST FLUFFY TEXTURE: Mayfield Creamery Signature Vanilla
“Fluffy feel, fakey taste.”
If three tasters landed on the word “fluffy” to describe this spoonful, it has to be true. Everybody was pleased with the texture of this classic carton, but nobody was blown away by the vanilla flavor. If a fluff-tastic texture is all you’re after, amp up the flavor with a drizzle of chocolate fudge.
SUPREME VANILLA: Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Organic Vanilla Bean
“GREAT texture, weird flavor, not a huge fan.”
Whole Food’s signature ice cream served up the vanilla flavor. In fact, you could see little vanilla bean specks in every bite. The texture of this organic brand was also a winning quality, however, the super vanilla-y taste left editors with an unappealing aftertaste that some described as “oily.”
MOST SURPRISING: Trader Joe’s French Vanilla
“Good crying food—not so delicious that is will make you happy, not so bad that you’ll cry anymore.”
Trader Joe’s never has more than a handful of ice cream flavors to choose from, but this one stays in the lineup year-round, even as seasonal flavors come and go. And although Trader Joe’s product usually do, this ice cream did not impress. Tasters found the flavor to be “blah,” comparing it to a whipped topping instead of a flavorful scoop. Unfortunately, even the boring flavor had a strange aftertaste.
MOST KID-FRIENDLY: Ben and Jerry’s Vanilla
“I used to love this as a kid… but not so much now.”
Ben and Jerry’s vanilla flavor was not the easiest variety to find. It’s clear that their standout flavors like “The Tonight Dough” and “Cherry Garcia” command a bit more attention. But with the spotlight on vanilla, our tasters were left somewhat disappointed. The vanilla flavor didn’t come through very strong, and a gritty/icy texture remained even after the carton had softened. Although it didn’t suit our palates, we think the mild flavor might be perfect for a kid’s cup or dolloped on a hunk of birthday cake.
Worthy of Your Shelf
DREAMIEST TEXTURE: Edy’s Vanilla
“Bleh flavor, especially compared to some of the others.”
One of the most cost-efficient cartons in this lineup, Edy’s impressed with it’s creamy, soft-serve-like texture. But in flavor comparison, this brand fell flat. Many thought the flavor tasted fake, and not like the true vanilla they got from the brands nextdoor. Would fully support pairing with cake.
MOST DIET-FRIENDLY: Halo Top Vanilla Bean
“Less offensive than I thought it would be.”
I’ll be the first to admit that the Halo Top brand wasn’t the most well-received brand entering the office. Many of us are, well, over the hype. But even still, many had never tried the low-cal pints and eventually realized it doesn’t deserve so much trash talk. The vanilla flavor was a hit, even though the aftertaste and foamy melting were turn offs.
MOST UNIQUE FLAVOR: Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla
“Just tastes super different from the others flavor.”
To some, Blue Bell tasted just like homemade. To others, it tasted like the milk was just a little off. But all agreed the flavor was unique from the other contenders. Without a unified vote, the cult-favorite didn’t make the top of our list. But if a good, malty scoop is what you’re after, you can’t beat the price of this classic Texas brand.
MOST ORIGINAL: Jeni’s Honey Vanilla Bean
“I really dig the honey-kissed flavor, but it’s not exactly what I want if I’m wanting classic.”
While we are proven fans of Jeni’s complex flavors, we were really after a simple flavor profile with this taste-test. That’s why many were not pleased with the addition of honey in their pint of vanilla. Some thought the honey altered the vanilla flavor too much, making the overall bite taste artificial or even like cardboard, but some really enjoyed the honey-kissed flavor. You can’t please ‘em all. Editors did agree on two factors: the texture was too icy, and the price was a little, uh, much.
Can’t Put Down the Spoon
#4 Breyers Natural Vanilla
“A classic for a reason.”
Not one foul word could be said by our testers about this flavor. The carton delivered on a perfectly creamy texture and classic sweetness. It’s no wonder the Breyers carton and speckled scoops are so iconic.
#3 Coolhaus Best of Both Worlds Vanilla
“It’s got that soft, fluffy appeal that McDonald’s soft serve has.”
This LA-based brand combines both Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans in their pints, so we were expecting a suckerpunch of vanilla flavor. Some tasters got it, some really didn’t. But where it lacked in flavor, the ice cream had a creamy, soft-serve-esque texture and super smooth mouthfeel that everybody enjoyed.
#2 Haagen-Dazs Vanilla
“So smooth and creamy. <3”
Almost unanimously liked, this vanilla carton is one of the only three flavors released when the brand started, and it’s clear why it has stood the test of time. The ice cream is light on the tongue without being icy. The flavor is vanilla perfection and the creaminess resembles butter. We have some serious heart eyes for you, Haagen-Dazs.
#1 Graeter’s Handcrafted French Pot Madagascar Vanilla Bean
Behold, the hands-down champion of a tedious ice cream battle. The creamy, buttery and perfectly sweet, this frozen treat earned it a solid five star review. Tasters loved the super smooth consistency and delicious, complex vanilla flavor. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it.