“Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it is not illegal”
Well, I don’t know about vanilla ice cream in general, but there are quite a few ice creams out there that should definitely be illegal – those without cream for example – surely they must be contravening the Trade Description Act? Nowadays it’s simple enough to look up ingredients and if you want a really good, excellent-tasting one there are certain ingredients to avoid like the plague.
Why is good quality ice cream so important? There are certain ‘bought’ foods which are constant – puff pastry, tinned tomatoes, salt, mayonnaise to name but a few. They are a regular part of our diet so it’s worth investigating which is the best, and it’s not always the most expensive. Vanilla ice cream is another of those staples. Always on tap, universally popular with adults and children alike, it is a culinary stalwart.
And in the case of vanilla ice cream it’s not just a question of identifying the best from the rest… it’s a question of avoiding the downright disgusting.
What should be avoided?
- vegetable oil (often palm oil) which is used instead of the cream
- flavourings which are not natural
- ‘reconstituted’ rather than fresh ingredients
- water – no ice cream should contain water – and where there are powdered ingredients included, often there is water
Compare, for example, the ingredients in the two widely available ice creams in the table below. Tesco doesn’t specify what exactly its ’emulsifier’ is, but it isn’t the natural egg used by Häagen Dazs. The mind can only imagine what is included in its unidentified ‘flavourings’. In comparison to Häagen Dazs, Tesco’s ice cream contains no cream, no egg yolk and no natural vanilla flavouring…. Below the table I give a round up of some of the major brands – which do well (Häagen-Dazs, Movenpick and Marks & Spencers probably do best) and which are to be avoided (Ben & Jerry’s, Tesco’s soft scoop, Safeways).
If you are looking for some ideas of ingredients to add to vanilla ice cream to make your own flavoured version, or some good sauces (both traditional and unusual) to go with it, or you are happy to have a go at a VERY QUICK and EASY way of making your own vanilla ice cream, follow this link.
Bear in mind that also important in selecting ice cream is the sell by date. Basically the fresher the ice cream the fresher it will taste.
Häagen Dazs Tesco soft scoop fresh cream fresh cream not included condensed skimmed milk partially reconstituted skimmed milk concentrate sugar sugar egg yolk egg yolk not included natural vanilla flavouring natural vanilla flavouring not included vegetable oil whey powder dextrose emulsifier flavouring stabilisers colours
On the side of the angels, then, there are:
Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream
This scored Number One in a Serious Eats survey which commented ‘silky… really tastes of vanilla’, while a second survey by Divine Caroline declared “out of all seven brands we tried, this was the best ice cream brand by far. It was creamy and undeniably decadent, and the vanilla flavor came through without being too overwhelming.”
Movenpick Vanilla Dream
Number One favourite on the Ocado site. According to Good Housekeeping, “this is an ice cream with a soft texture, it is sweet with a very strong vanilla flavour.” They gave it a score of 79 out of 100.
Marks & Spencer The Ultimate Madagascan Vanilla Ice Cream
This scored a stunning 86 out of 100 with Good Housekeeping
The Licktators General Custard Vanilla Custard Ice Cream
Number Three favourite on the Ocado site. Good if you’re a custard fan, as one reviewer helpfully comments, “essentially a Ronseal ice-cream, as it ‘does exactly what it says on the tin.’ Unmistakable addition of custard powder to the icecream gives a novel taste reminiscent of school puddings but without the lumps”
Black Vanilla Madagascan Vanilla Gelato
This was Number Two favourite Ocado. It contains double cream, whole milk, Madagascan vanilla extract (0.5%) and little flecks of ground vanilla pod.
Waitrose Seriously Creamy Madagascan Vanilla
This has a good flavour, real vanilla and an excellent texture. It’s included as one of the Telegraph’s ‘Best ice creams in Britain’. The Good Housekeeping review says it’s “sweet, creamy and delicious with an almost butterscotch flavour” and it gives it 75 out of 100.
Green & Black’s Organic Vanilla Ice Cream
Included in the Telegraph’s ‘Best ice creams in Britain’. According to Good Housekeeping, “It’s a little dark in colour and it has a sweet fudgy flavour” and it gives it 74 out of 100.
Laverstoke Park Buffalo Milk Vanilla Ice Cream
A useful alternative for those allergic to cows’ milk, but not buffalo milk. The Good Housekeeping team were not wholehearted about it however, “this ice cream has a very thick, indulgent texture. It lacks vanilla flavour and has an unusual aftertaste”, they said. It earned just 57 out of 100 points.
and then on the side of the devils there are:
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream
I checked the ingredients on this and it was promising… egg yolks, vanilla beans, cream… But Vicki Santillano on the Divine Caroline site opines “I guess Ben and Jerry don’t do basic, because their vanilla was sour, perfumelike, and more reminiscent of coconut than anything else.”
Further research revealed that the concept of Ben & Jerry and their pioneering story of setting up their business in an old petrol station, and growing and developing their business along innovative, socially responsible lines (they published, Ben Jerry’s Double Dip: How to Run a Values Led Business and Make Money Too: Lead with Your Values and Make Money Too in 1998) is now a bit outdated. A year after their book of business advice first appeared corporate figures revealed that the company’s stock had fallen from almost $34 in 1993 to $17 in 1999 – so perhaps the ‘and Make Money Too’ part of the title wasn’t wholly accurate. In any case in 2001 the eponymous authors sold out to Unilever… so maybe, after all, it was. Although some of the original values of the company remain, nevertheless, Ben & Jerry’s is now part of the Unilever empire.
Tesco soft scoop ice cream
“Soft scoop is always bad news, it basically means poor ice cream… this doesn’t have any real anything, it’s just a water-sugar oily bulk held together by starches….Throw some sugar on the floor, sprinkle over some water, lick it off and you have the taste of this ice cream”
Joanna Blythman, author of Bad Food Britain
A quick look at the table above will explain further why this ice cream doesn’t have such a good taste.
Safeway’s Select Vanilla
The Divine Caroline team reported ““’tasteless’ and ‘airy’ were just a couple of choice adjectives the group used to describe it. We also didn’t appreciate how the fake flavour lingered on our tongues afterward”.