By Cook's Illustrated Published June 2010

Chocolate Ice Cream

Published June 2010
Update September 2016
Our former winner, Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Ice Cream, is no longer available in supermarkets. Until we are able to retest, we are promoting Friendly's Rich & Creamy Classic Chocolate Ice Cream in its place.

How we tested

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.

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The Results


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.)*

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.)*