Supermarket Standoff: The Best Vanilla Ice Cream

Photo by Photograph by unalozmen / iStockphotoPhoto by Photograph by unalozmen / iStockphotoBy Julia Bainbridge, Bon Appétit

We have embarked on a taste test tour of supermarket foods. We nibble, we score, and we share the results to help you avoid the paralysis of Brand Choice Overload. Today's topic: vanilla ice cream.

Here's a shocker: This taste test was AWESOME. Partly because an unusually large number of staffers showed up to participate (wonder why?); partly because ice cream is something you can eat a ton of and still love. Also a shocker (and we're not being sarcastic this time): When tested against each other, some vanilla ice creams start tasting "fishy" or "like alcohol." At least that's what some of our staffers said--and they taste a lot of dishes, every day. (Although not quite like this.)

For this week's Supermarket Standoff, we sampled ten versions of vanilla ice cream. While we nibbled and scored, dietician Marissa Lippert broke down the nutrition labels.

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Our Favorites for Flavor

 #1 Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (87g) = 180 calories, 9g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 35mg cholesterol, 60mg sodium, 21g carbs, 21g sugar, 4g protein Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Skim Milk, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Natural Vanilla Beans, Natural Vegetable Gums (Guar, Carob Bean) Cost: $2.39 for one pint in most states Note: Blue Bell is only available for purchase in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and in some parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, and Wyoming. We included it in this taste test because it is such a cult favorite--and it did turn out to be our favorite, as well. If you do not live in one of these states, then you can get it shipped from Blue Bell for $129 for 4 half-gallons. Blind Tasting Notes: "Wow!" Vanilla-y!"; "Perfection"; "I like seeing the vanilla flecks"


 #2 Stonyfield Organic Gotta Have Vanilla Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (1/2 cup) = 250 calories, 16g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 60mg cholesterol, 45g sodium, 21g total carbs, 20g sugars, 3g protein Ingredients: Organic Cream, Organic Whole Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Guar Gum Cost: $2.99 for a pint at Fairway Market in New York City Blind Tasting Notes: "Nice dense texture"; "Creamy, but muted vanilla flavor"; "Rich, but not sticky sweet"; "Kind of floral?"


 #3 Haagen-Dazs All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (102g) = 250 calories, 17g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0.5 trans fat, 105mg cholesterol, 50mg sodium, 20g carbs, 19g sugar, 5g protein Ingredients: Cream, Skim Milk, Sugar, Eggs, Yolks, Vanilla Extract Cost: $7.89 for 28 ounces at Fairway Market in New York City Blind Tasting Notes: "Caramel flavor, but icy texture"; "Basic ice cream parlor vanilla"; "A bit watery"; "Not bad, not the best"

Read More: The Best Store-Bought Ice Cream

Nutritionist Marissa Lippert's Picks

I absolutely love ice cream. I look for those made with the simplest, freshest and best quality ingredients--after all, ice cream really is just milk, eggs, cream, sugar and fresh add-ins or flavors (vanilla bean, mint, strawberries etc.). In my opinion, the better the flavor, the more satisfying a scoop is. And if you're concerned about calories, I'd still recommend to reach for the full-fat really good stuff. You'll likely eat less of it because it's got a richer flavor.

The brands below all fall into the same bucket, pretty much. Nice basic ingredients. Breyer's is even naturally lower in calories and fat coming (130 calories and 7 grams of fat per 1/2 cup scoop) and Haagen-Dazs Five is also a bit lower on the calories and fat. Stonyfield gets some points for using organic dairy products. Compared to conventional products, organic dairy tends to be higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a healthy polyunsaturated fat), which may help lower cholesterol and fight against cancer.

 #1 Haagen-Dazs Five Ingredients Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Cost: $7.89 for 28 ounces at Fairway Market in New York CityNutrition: One serving (102g) = 250 calories, 17g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0.5 trans fat, 105mg cholesterol, 50mg sodium, 20g carbs, 19g sugar, 5g protein
Ingredients: Cream, Skim Milk, Sugar, Eggs, Yolks, Vanilla Extract Our Assessment: Our tasters generally thought this was average. Some liked it: "Nice and toasty flavor"; some didn't: "Chalky/grainy"; most ranked it somewhere in the middle.


 #2 Stonyfield Organic Gotta Have Vanilla Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (1/2 cup) = 250 calories, 16g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 60mg cholesterol, 45g sodium, 21g total carbs, 20g sugars, 3g protein
Ingredients: Organic Cream, Organic Whole Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Guar Gum Cost: $2.99 for a pint at Fairway Market in New York City Our Assessment: This was our #2 pick for flavor, and it's available across the country, so it's a good bet on all fronts.


 #3 Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (87g) = 180 calories, 9g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 35mg cholesterol, 60mg sodium, 21g carbs, 21g sugar, 4g protein Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Skim Milk, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Natural Vanilla Beans, Natural Vegetable Gums (Guar, Carob Bean) Cost: See above Our Assessment: Hooray! This was our #1 pick for flavor.


 #4 (for kicks!) Breyer's Natural Vanilla Ice Cream Nutrition: One serving (66g) = 130 calories, 7g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 30mg cholesterol, 35mg sodium, 14g carbs, 14g sugar, 3g protein Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Natural Tara Gum, Natural Vanilla Flavor Cost: $5.29 for 1.75 quarts at Fairway Market in New York City Our Assessment: This ranked near the bottom of our list for flavor, unfortunately.

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