The most expensive offering of the lot, this super-premium gelato also fared a surprising dead last. "It tastes a little spoiled," several tasters agreed, and others thought that it had a mushy, "icy" texture. The vanilla flavor itself was also lacking, and what little flavor there was came across as "artificial" and "synthetic."
Retail price: $6.99/pint
Another high-end option, this one fared slightly better than Talenti but still wasn’t a favorite. "It’s too sweet, with a fake vanilla flavor," one taster said. The texture was thick and creamy, but a bit "sandy and icy," with a flavor that reminded another of "body lotion." On the plus side, it’s "pretty, with lots of specks."
Retail Price: $5.99/pint
More than one taster thought that Turkey Hill’s offering was so light and airy that it tasted more like whipped cream than ice cream. It’s "very soft" and milky, qualities that some like more than others, and the flavor wasn’t too heavy on the vanilla. Overall, the group agreed that it was a bit "weak," and not for lovers of rich, creamy vanilla.
Retail Price: $7.59/1.5 quarts
The house brand from Whole Foods was rich and creamy, even to the point that it "required a slight chew." It was very yellow in color and speck-free, but a bit lacking in strong vanilla flavor. "It reminds me of my childhood," one taster said. Overall, it wasn’t as sweet as the competition, and the texture made up for a lacking depth of flavor.
Retail Price: $5.99/1.75 quarts
Even though it’s called Edy’s in the East and Dreyer’s in the West, the product is the same, and was popular among our panel. The texture was light but not too airy, and it was creamy without being overly so. It was nicely flecked with vanilla, but was a bit lacking in true vanilla flavor. One taster found that it tasted "like candy," while another found it "bland at best."
Retail Price: $5.99/1.5 quarts
Our tasters agreed that the texture of Breyers was great, if on the "light and airy" instead of the "dense and thick" end of the spectrum. It was creamy, had a solid (if unpronounced) natural vanilla flavor, a good look and feel, with specks of vanilla. "It’s what I think about when I think about vanilla ice cream," one taster said, and most agreed that while it might have come across as a bit generic-tasting, that’s nowhere near a bad thing when we’re talking about a product as classic as vanilla ice cream.
Retail Price: $5.49/1.5 quarts
This one was nearly universally liked. "It’s rich, dense, and creamy," said one tester, but others agreed that "it tastes more like cream than vanilla." The texture was firm with a good mouthfeel, but some felt that it had a "weird aftertaste" and was too rich. "It’s delicious, but I can’t have more than a couple spoonfuls," said another taster.
Retail Price: $5.99/14 fluid ounces
A true dark horse of the lot, the store brand from Trader Joe’s was a major standout. "It tastes like vanilla pudding-flavored ice cream, which is a good thing," one taster said, and all agreed that it was creamy and "old-fashioned" and that you could really taste the cream, eggs, and vanilla that went into it. It was a bit too sweet, but all the ingredients were well-balanced and the texture was very smooth. Another tester felt that "it would make a great root beer float."
Retail Price: $5.99/half-gallon
A near-universal favorite, Ben and Jerry’s emerged as the clear winner. "Firm texture, rich flavor, off-white color, visible specks — just about perfect," one taster said, and most others agreed. It tasted like real vanilla and real sugar, and when it began to melt it didn’t just dissolve into a pool of watery goo. "You can smell the vanilla, and it has a great mouthfeel," another said. It was on the sweeter side but not cloyingly so, and "you can tell that quality ingredients went into this," said another taster. When it comes to vanilla ice cream, Ben and Jerry’s is the winner.
Retail Price: $4.99/pint