Few subjects will garner more controversy than the debate over who makes the best ice cream. Okay, beer, maybe, but people go wild for ice cream.
And although fancy flavors fill the freezers at the local market, chocolate and vanilla are still the nation's favorite ice creams. Consumer Reports trained testers (talk about great jobs) tried 13 vanillas and 11 chocolates with varying amounts of fat, and found seven "Excellent" choices.
Six of the seven ice creams rated "Excellent" by CR are Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's; the seventh is from Archer Farms (Target), which offers a tasty alternative for about a third of the price of the other "Excellent" choices. All are dense and creamy, with strong, high-quality flavors. The full results are available in the July issue of Consumer Reports.
Deciphering the label
If you've ever checked the label of a container of ice cream, you probably came away with more questions than answers. Here's a simplified breakdown from the magazine:
• Low fat. A serving has 3 grams of fat or less.
• Fat Free. A serving has less than 0.5 grams of fat.
• Slow churned. A process intended to give lower-fat products a creamier feel.
• Fiber. Some ice creams have 2 or 3 grams per serving.
Dollars, cents and nutrition
Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean ($1.13 per 1/2 cup serving) topped the list of vanillas, for having a big dairy and real vanilla taste. It comes at a price, though, in the amount of 270 calories and 17 grams of fat per serving.
Ben & Jerry's Vanilla ($0.97 per serving) and Haagen-Dazs Five Vanilla Bean ($1.13 per serving) took the other vanilla top spots. Ben & Jerry's has 230 calories and 14 grams of fat, while the Five Vanilla Bean has 220 calories and 11 grams of fat.
Among the "Excellent" chocolates, testers found that Archer Farms Belgian ($0.33 per serving) has an intense, complex chocolate flavor enhanced by bits of dark chocolate. It has 230 calories and 14 grams of fat per serving.
Both Haagen-Dazs chocolates have a big dairy flavor. Haagen-Dazs Five Milk Chocolate ($1.11 per serving) has 220 calories and 12 grams of fat, while Haagen-Dazs regular chocolate ($1.16 per serving) has 260 categories and 17 grams of fat. Ben & Jerry's ($1.02) has a strong chocolate flavor but is a touch icy, according to testers, and has 250 calories and 14 grams of fat.
Lower-rated ice creams are less creamy and less flavorful, with flaws such as an artificial taste or gumminess. According to Consumer Reports testers, it seems to be harder to make a high-quality vanilla ice cream than a high-quality chocolate. The chocolate may help mask mistakes. In fact, 10 of the 11 chocolate ice creams tested are "Recommended."
The tastiness of the top-rated ice creams comes at a cost -- they are full of calories and fat. For a special treat, CR advises trying one of the top-rated varieties. For a more healthful choice, try a light-or fat-free ice cream, which has fewer calories and less fat.
Most top rated ice creams are also a bit pricey, 97 cents to $1.16 per serving. For a less expensive alternative, the magazine suggests trying Archer Farms Belgian Chocolate or Walmart's Great Value chocolate ($0.23 per serving). Both are CR "Best Buys" and offer excellent or very good quality at a great price.