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My Ice Cream Taste Test: Are Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s Overrated?

kid eating an ice cream coneDid you know ice cream has been around since at least the 18th century? It has. And today, the ice cream industry is bigger than ever, churning out hundreds of flavors each year.

In case you’re wondering, the four most popular ice cream flavors are, in order: vanilla, chocolate, cookies & cream, and mint chocolate chip. Well … at least it is according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Sorry, strawberry.

Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s?

The on-going battle between vanilla- and chocolate-lovers isn’t the only war being fought on the ice cream front. Another rivalry exists between Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.

Both Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs are premium ice cream brands that offer choice ingredients and high-butterfat content which provides that smooth creamy texture we all love. It’s also why, on a unit-cost basis, they’re typically much more expensive than other ice cream brands.

With that in mind, I decided to find out if those less-sexy non-premium brands sitting in my grocer’s freezer could beat either of those two gelato giants in a blind taste test.

How the Test Was Conducted

As with most of my other taste tests, I recruited a bunch of eager family members. As usual, my dog, Major took part in the test too. Oh, yes … and making his taste test panel debut was my puppy, Jack; he thought he’d died and gone to heaven.

Anyway, with the panel in place, I prepared individual ice cream samples in four separate bowls marked ‘A’ through ‘D.’

This time I asked the experts to rank each ice cream for taste and texture on a “ten-point must system” where the top performer gets ten points, and the remaining candidates a value between one and nine points. Panelists could then note any accompanying comments they had regarding each sample.

The Expert Panel

Before we get to the results, let’s once again meet our distinguished panel of experts:

DadDad
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 76
First Album: “After Hours” by the Page Cavanaugh Trio

Mom

Mom
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 72
First Album: “Ricky” by Rick Nelson

Tony
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut
Age: 70
First Album: “That’ll Be the Day” by the Crickets

 

Rose

Rose
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Age: Old enough to be my mother-in-law.
First Album: “I Don’t Remember.” (No, that’s not an album; it’s a direct quote.)

Honeybee

The Honeybee
Birthplace: Whittier, California
Age: 45
First Album: “Back In Black” by AC/DC

Matthew

Matthew
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 16
First Album: “Nevermind” by Nirvana

 

L.T.
Birthplace: Porter, Indiana
Age: 15
First Album: “American Idiot” by Green Day

Nina

Nina
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 13
First Album: “Jonas Brothers” by the Jonas Brothers

 

Ashley
Birthplace: Whittier, California
Age: 14
First Album: “Under My Skin” by Avril Levigne

 

Major1

Major
Birthplace: Julian, California
Age: 10
First Album: “The Doggfather” by Snoop Doggy Dogg

 

Jack
Birthplace: Julian, California
Age: 6 months
First Album: “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men

Introducing The Ice Cream Competitors

For this taste test challenge, I bought four brands of plain old vanilla ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s, Dreyer’s, Haagen-Dazs, and Costco’s Kirkland brand.

Here now, in reverse order, is a summary of the ice cream taste test results, based upon the inputs of my expert panel:

4. Dreyer’s (Edy’s) Vanilla Ice Cream

Price per ounce: $0.13
Panel Scoring: 54 points
Average Score (10-point scale): 6.0
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 2

The Dreyer’s brand, which is known as Edy’s in the Eastern and Midwestern US, earned top marks from two of the panelists. Matthew liked its creamy texture, while Rose preferred Dreyer’s vanilla flavor over the other competitors. However, they were in the minority as the remainder of the human panelists were less enthusiastic. My dad claimed the Dreyer’s was so bland that he could barely discern any vanilla flavor at all. Don’t tell that to my dogs — both Major and Jack were begging for seconds.

3. Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Price per ounce: $0.31
Panel Scoring: 56 points
Average Score (10-point scale): 6.2
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 1

Until recently, I never knew Ben & Jerry’s made plain old vanilla ice cream, but they do. The Honeybee liked Ben & Jerry’s creaminess, while Tony said it had the best vanilla flavor of the bunch. Despite the premium label, Tony was the only judge to give Ben & Jerry’s a blue ribbon. In fact, the pride of Vermont scored only slightly higher than Dreyer’s. Ashley thought Ben & Jerry’s vanilla flavor was overpowering. My daughter agreed, calling it “gross.” Who knows. Perhaps Ben & Jerry’s should stick to flavors like Chunky Monkey.

2. Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream

Price per ounce: $0.36
Panel Scoring: 65 points
Average Score (10-point scale): 7.2
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 2

Although it wasn’t the classic coffee or rum raisin flavors Haagen-Dazs is famous for, the brand’s vanilla offering still got top marks from my parents. Dad said it tasted the most like real vanilla ice cream, while Mom gave it props for its smooth and creamy texture. She wasn’t the only one; all but one panelist gave Haagen-Dazs high marks for its creaminess. The lone contrarian in the group, Rose, thought the Haagen-Dazs had “very little flavor.” Oh … and for what it’s worth, Haagen-Dazs is guilty of shrinking package sizes — it’s two ounces short of a full pint.

1. Kirkland Vanilla Ice Cream

Price per ounce: $0.11
Panel Scoring: 74 points
Average Score (10-point scale): 8.2
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 4

Despite its bargain-basement price, Kirkland won this challenge in convincing fashion. It garnered four blue ribbons from the panelists — more than Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs combined — and secured first- or second-place rankings from all but two experts. Most panelists gave Kirkland ice cream high marks for both flavor and creaminess.

(click to enlarge)

I Know What You’re Thinking …

I’m sure a lot of Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs fans are shaking their heads and saying, “Yeah, right.” After all, the conventional wisdom says there is no way a low-priced ice cream could be better than either of those premium brands.

However, the results of my blind ice cream taste test proves — yet again — that it’s not always necessary to pay a premium in order to get good quality products at the supermarket.

That being said, I don’t think Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s need to worry.

Well … at least until Kirkland decides to come out with their own version of Rum Raisin or Chunky Monkey.

***

(Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on July 8, 2013.)

Photo Credit: Amanda Govaert

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