Taste Test: Supermarket Chocolate Ice Cream
#2 (TIE): Trader Joe's
#2 (TIE): Edy's
How often do you eat chocolate ice cream? Not Rocky Road, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, or any other chocolate-plus-something-else permutation, just plain ol' chocolate ice cream? We're all for ice cream innovation, but we also like digging into a bowl of a classic flavor, and remembering how good it can taste.
For over a month, our freezer at SEHQ was filled with only one thing: chocolate ice cream. Got something else to squeeze in there? Eh, good luck finding space. The leftovers from this tasting were shockingly hard to finish. It took some time to recover from the chocolate hangover cum brain freeze.
We tried a total of 11 different brands of chocolate ice cream in search of the tastiest.
The 11 Contenders
- Häagen-Dazs [website]
- Breyers [website]
- Edy's (marketed as Dreyer's on the west coast and Texas) [website]
- Friendly's [website]
- Stonyfield [website]
- Trader Joe's [website]
- Ben and Jerry's [website]
- Baskin Robbins [website]
- Whole Foods 365 [website]
- Turkey Hill [website]
- Blue Bunny [website]
In this blind tasting we were looking for a creamy, silky, slow-melting texture, just like we would in any-flavored ice cream. It shouldn't be gummy, gritty, or icy. We expected chocolate ice cream to inherently be pretty sweet, but it shouldn't be Halloween candy-sweet. It should also taste like, well, chocolate! Besides, this is chocolate ice cream, not just a brown-tinted, sugar-packed ice cream.
Then again, as much as we appreciate the nuances of a fine chocolate bar—the fruity, the bitter, the deeply rich notes—that's not necessarily what you want or expect when spooning up the chocolate ice cream. It shouldn't make you think too hard. Besides, you can't really think too hard; you also have a brainfreeze to deal with.
How many of these big supermarket brands actually tasted like real chocolate? It turns out, not many. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. While we appreciated the ones that did remind us of real cocoa, we also don't necessarily want a supermarket chocolate ice cream that's so rich and heavy that you don't feel right eating a whole bowl's worth or triple cone of it.
There are plenty of gelaterias and small-batch creameries out there making serious chocolate frozen desserts, and we really love them too, but this tasting wasn't about that. It was limited to widely available supermarket brands where, given all the additives and stabilizers, texture can become just as important a factor as flavor.
Our winning ice cream, Friendly's, contains some of the most additives (guar gum, mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, carrageenan) in the bunch. This stuff is designed to improve texture, giving the ice cream a thicker, richer mouth feel, and help it melt more slowly. Perhaps if we'd taken a glance at the ingredients beforehand we might have been turned off, but if this tasting proves anything, it's that additives used judiciously can actually be a good thing.
The highest score was a 6.57 out of 10; many of the ice creams were pretty middle of the road.
#1. Friendly's (6.57)
"Yum!" wrote tasters with smiley faces. A little malty and sweet the way you'd want chocolate ice cream to be sweet (especially if you're under the age of 12) with a rich, creamy feel on the tongue. Friendly's definitely isn't trying to be a dark, sophisticated-tasting chocolate, and we'd be lying if we said there wasn't some similarities to Tootsie Rolls, but it's still a pleasing bowl of ice cream. It's what you'd expect to find at a classic scoop shop and one you'd lap up, happily.
#2. Trader Joe's (6.50)
Now this one tastes more like real chocolate, like if a chocolate bar and ice cream had a baby. "Actually chocolate-y," noted tasters, with a good cocoa flavor. Silky and creamy; melts slowly. The only complaint was a slightly off aftertaste that some tasters noticed.
#2. Edy's (6.50)
This one has decent chocolatiness and isn't crazy-sweet. Milky-tasting, like chocolate milk in ice cream form. The body is really light, airy, and melty. "A little bland," complained one taster, but overall very classic-tasting.
#4. Häagen-Dazs (6.19)
We're big fans of the vanilla Häagen-Dazs, and while the chocolate didn't win this tasting like the vanilla did in its category, it was just fine. It's sweet with a mild chocolate flavor. Tastes like old-fashioned churned chocolate ice cream. Gets the job done.
#5. Stonyfield (6.06)
We loved the creamy, velvety, rich texture of the Stonyfield. You picture those happy cows on the carton grazing on their happy grass to make the happy milk that went into this. Tastes fresh and milky. While the texture is perfect, we just wanted a little more of a chocolate hit.
#6. Ben and Jerry's (6.0)
Good chocolate flavor. A tad bitter from the Fair Trade cocoa. But let's be honest, if you're going to make a B&J's purchase, it'd be hard to pick this over Phish Food or Half-Baked.
#7. Blue Bunny (5.63)
Very sweet. Candy sweet. This is a kid's ideal, probably only improved with rainbow sprinkles. It's a little icy and airy, and not quite as dense as we'd want it to be.
#8. Breyers (5.53)
"Reminds me of the summer camp ice cream you'd eat with a little wooden paddle," said one taster. It has a pretty cheap, airy, fluffy texture. The chocolate flavor is decent, nothing fancy or rich, but one taster noted that the milk taste was off.
#9. Turkey Hill (5.50)
Wow, very sweet. Most comments were some form of "way too sweet!" Tastes artificial, but if it won a few points for familiarity. Some tasters admitted to being Turkey Hill brand loyalists. But if you aren't a Turkey Hill person, you probably won't be that impressed by this one.
#9. Baskin Robbins (5.50)
Another really sweet one. The texture is thin and slightly gritty, and there's a malty, Ovaltine-reminiscent flavor.
#11. 365 Whole Foods (4.75)
"Grainy, weird, and chemically tasting," said one taster. Most of us agreed that this could be creamier, and there was some distracting non-chocolate flavor. The color also seemed strange—more gray than brown.