We Tried 11 Vanilla Ice Creams — and No One Saw the Winner Coming

published Jul 9, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
overhead shot of all the vanilla ice cream cartons we tested, scattered around on a marble surface.
Credit: Vicky Wasik

Whether you pile a few scoops in a cone or use a single mound as a topping for your summer pie, crumble, or cobbler, there’s something truly satisfying about the simplicity of vanilla ice cream. And with the temperature rising, we decided it was time for an ice cream taste test.

The Best Vanilla Ice Cream At-a-Glance

We tried 11 brands of vanilla ice cream, focusing on mostly name-brand pints and a few select store brands that are widely available throughout the country. Some of the ice creams are made with egg yolks; we eliminated any with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients. There was also a range in prices — from under $4 for a family-size tub to around $10 for a pint. (You’ll often find ice creams on both ends of the spectrum on sale!) To round out the list of contenders, we looked at past taste tests, recent sales data, and new launches. 

Credit: Vicky Wasik

If we learned anything from this taste test, it’s that being called “vanilla” is actually a high compliment. Five of the brands we tried we’d happily buy again. Here’s why.

Credit: Vicky Wasik

Best Vanilla Ice Cream: Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream

In a sea of shockingly good vanilla ice cream, this beloved brand bested an equally iconic pint by just one single solitary point. Chilling! Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream is famously made with five ingredients — cream, skim milk, cane sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla extract — and as Terri, our manager editor, says, it looks like “the platonic ideal of vanilla.” 

You won’t find any specks of vanilla bean in this uniformly cream-colored dessert, but that doesn’t dissuade tasters from dishing out high marks. This ice cream racks up nearly all 4s and 5s for its bright vanilla flavor. Even tasters who detect a “slight icey undertone,” are fans. It’s “very smooth and creamy — luscious even,” says Mara, our senior editor, groceries. 

What’s So Great

  • Creamy, decadent, classic
  • “The platonic ideal of vanilla”

Good to Know

  • For some, a little icy

Buy: Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream, $5.49 for 14 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Vicky Wasik

Runner-Up: Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream

When we think about vanilla ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s isn’t a brand that jumps to mind — until now. The makers of some of the most creative flavors definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to vanilla. Ola, our culinary assistant, loves the melt and hint of vanilla, speckled with vanilla bean. “It brings me back to younger, simpler times.” 

This ice cream is “THICK,” says Alex, our editorial assistant, “like it’s from an old-school creamery,” Mara adds. The pints are made with a combination of liquid sugar (sugar and water) and sugar. Depending on the taster, they’re somewhere between “not overly sweet” and “too sweet.” You, too, can be the judge!

What’s So Great

  • Thick with a nice vanilla flavor
  • Tastes like childhood

Good to Know

  • For some, a little too sweet

Buy: Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream, $5.99 for 16 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Vicky Wasik

Honorable Mention: Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

“Absolutely stunning.” In two words, that’s how Ola sums up this bright white, subtly bean-flecked pint. But there’s more! It’s “very nice and creamy,” Terri adds. (The first three ingredients are cream, skim milk, and milk, so that could have something to do with it.) 

The flavor and texture are also “superb,” says Ola, though some found it a little “sticky” and too melty or too sweet. Many like, Mara, appreciate the balance between the creaminess and sweetness, plus the vanilla bean notes. In fact, more than half of tasters ranked Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream in their top two favorites.

What’s So Great

  • Bright and creamy

Good to Know

  • For some, a little too melty or “sticky”

Buy: Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, $6.29 for 48 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Vicky Wasik

Honorable Mention: McConnell’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

This was one of the only ice creams to have any vanilla scent — albeit faint. “I’m sold by the color and texture alone,” Ola says. Both Charli, our executive Lifestyle director, and Alex agree calling it more smooth and less melty than others. Fun fact: It’s the only winner on this list that’s not made with egg yolks!

McConnell’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream wasn’t without controversy, though. The bespeckled pint basically had tasters split down the middle; Half love the “strong vanilla bean flavor”; the other say there’s “not much of a flavor at all.” Even still, it earned high enough ratings to tie with Tillamook and our last honorable mention.

What’s So Great

  • VERY smooth
  • Can smell the vanilla bean

Good to Know

  • Not as widely available
  • Splurgy

Buy: McConnell’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, $10.49 for 16 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Vicky Wasik

Honorable Mention: Van Leeuwen Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Yup! We have a three-way tie for third place. Of all the options we tried, Van Leeuwen Vanilla Bean Ice Cream has the strongest vanilla flavor, which Terri aptly describes as “VERY vanilla” (all caps intended). 

Made with seven ingredients (the Häagen-Dazs five plus salt and vanilla bean), this speckly vanilla is “quintessential ice cream,” says Ola, who also called it “divine” — multiple times. It’s “creamy and comforting,” says Charli and “custardy,” Mara adds. A few tasters also think it’s a little too sweet, which is the only reason it didn’t end up walking away with the vanilla bean crown. 

What’s So Great

  • Creamy, like custard
  • Sweet, vanilla bean flavor

Good to Know

  • For some, a little too sweet

Buy: Van Leeuwen Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, $7.99 for 14 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Mara Weinraub

How We Tested the Vanilla Ice Cream

We held a blind taste test of 11 vanilla ice creams and recruited eight longtime ice cream lovers who work at The Kitchn (so you know they’re qualified) to participate in an afternoon of tasting.

Credit: Maya Borrero

Each ice cream container was wrapped in duct tape, by Maya, our studio assistant, to conceal the brand’s identity. She placed each container in a larger bowl filled with ice to limit melting and preserve freshness, and assigned a letter to each ice cream. Tasters were instructed to sample the vanilla ice creams in random order to avoid giving any one preferential treatment over the others. We also had water on hand for palate cleansing.

Credit: Maya Borrero

Tasters rated each vanilla ice cream on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = No, thanks; 2 = Meh; 3 = Pretty good; 4 = Really like; 5 = Yes, Please!) across four criteria — look, smell, texture, and flavor — and included any specific observations, tasting notes, and general opinions worth mentioning. They were also asked to answer, arguably, the most important question of all: Would you buy this vanilla ice cream?

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Why You Should Trust Us

This was a blind taste test, which means tasters had no knowledge of the brands being evaluated ahead of or at the time of the tasting. It was held over one day, and tasters were instructed to sample the vanilla ice cream in random order (to stave off palate fatigue and not give any one brand an unfair advantage). The group of tasters included a combination of food professionals and ice cream lovers who work at The Kitchn. All participated in the taste test voluntarily, and we thank them for being so generous with their time and feedback. 

Speaking of, each taster filled out a score sheet (without discussion or influence) ranking the vanilla ice cream across several criteria (listed above). The results were also tabulated without any visibility into the brands. Only after the numbers were finalized, did we reveal which brands corresponded to the winners.

Did your favorite vanilla ice cream make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: We Tried 11 Vanilla Ice Creams — and No One Saw the Winner Coming