Published June 1, 2010.
Are dense, rich premium brands better than light, fluffy, mass-market ice creams? The answer might surprise you.
Vanilla ice cream may be the standard-bearer, but it’s chocolate ice cream that arouses passion. With the freezer case practically buckling under the array of brands, though, which one should you buy? To find out, we gathered the eight best-selling chocolate ice creams—pitting premium brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs against mass-market choices like Edy’s and Turkey Hill—and called 22 lucky cooks and editors from America’s Test Kitchen for a blind judging. We thought the premium brands would easily best the mass-market ice creams. As it turned out, the qualities that define “premium” were not decisive.
Every product in our lineup uses Dutch-processed cocoa powder as its sole source of chocolate flavor, so it’s not the type of chocolate that distinguishes premium ice creams. It’s richness, which comes from the presence of egg yolks (mass-market brands replace egg yolks with emulsifiers), and lower overrun, the industry term for the amount of air churned into ice cream. Premium brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs, have about 25 percent overrun (meaning that added air increases the volume by just 25 percent) and are dense and creamy as a result. Lighter, fluffier mass-market brands have overruns that approach 100 percent. Our winner had the lowest overrun (22 percent) in our lineup and also contained egg yolks. Still, our overall rankings showed that neither of these factors was significant. Why?
Because while our tasters did care about texture, their overriding passion was for deep chocolate flavor. Mass-market brands, which finished just behind our winner, may be light, fluffy, and sweet, but they definitely taste like chocolate. One ice cream, despite its density and decadence (it had the most fat per serving), had wan chocolate flavor. Manufacturers are reluctant to share information about the type and quantity of their cocoa, but chef Jerome Landrieu of Barry Callebaut’s Chicago Chocolate Academy tells us that flavor and texture vary hugely as a result of the cocoa used: “Cocoa that is drier has less fat and can result in grainier ice cream. Different cocoa powders have very different flavors and intensities.”
So if, like our tasters, you want deep chocolate flavor, go for our winner; pick up our other favorites if you prefer lighter, sweeter, but still very chocolaty ice cream.