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Ice Cream Sandwiches

Published July 2007

How we tested

In its most basic form, an ice-cream sandwich is simply a slice of vanilla ice cream between two layers of soft chocolate wafer. We found nine different versions of ice-cream sandwiches at our local supermarkets, including a few low-fat varieties, an organic one, and even a lactose-free brand. We asked our test kitchen tasters to tell us which of the nine they liked best.

We first asked tasters to consider the ice cream. Five of our ice-cream sandwiches were all made with full-fat vanilla ice cream, while three brands were made with low-fat ice cream. One was made from soy protein. Could tasters tell the difference? Absolutely.

The cake component was just as important. Tasters wanted wafers that were soft and chewy, with a deep chocolate flavor.

Not surprisingly, tasters liked the sandwiches made with full-fat ice cream best. The overall winner contained the most fat in our tasting. Tasters liked its rich, creamy, silky, soft-serve-style ice cream, which was complemented by the “distinct chocolate taste” and chewy texture of the wafer.

The runner-up, also a full-fat contender, pleased tasters with its creaminess and clean vanilla flavor. Most found the wafer chewy, sweet, and chocolaty. Even the leanest of the nondiet sandwiches earned fans; most tasters liked the creamy texture of the ice cream and the brownielike flavor of the wafer.

The low-fat ice-cream sandwiches were unilaterally rejected by tasters. Most complaints involved the thin, watery ice creams and the bland, “artificial” taste of both ice cream and wafer. But the dairy-free sample fared the worst—tasters thought the soy-based ice cream tasted artificial, “funky,” and old.

While conducting our ice cream taste tests during a particularly hot week in Boston, we were struck with the idea for an additional test. We took all our sandwiches outside and observed how well they held up in challenging ice-cream-eating weather—a humid 86-degree day.

The low-fat sandwiches melted first, all of them morphing into watery, dripping messes within the first two and a half minutes. The regular ice creams fared a little better—fat is a natural stabilizer—but most began softening after a few minutes. An organic brand was the ultimate winner. After 10 minutes in the heat, the ice cream slice was intact and we were still able to hold the sandwich comfortably, prompting one tester to ask, “Is that even ice cream?”

Our conclusion? While some light foods have a place in our calorie-conscious culture, we’d rather enjoy ice-cream sandwiches in their full-fat glory.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*