Vanilla ice cream is often seen as a baseline flavor, used to build up other flavors, or generally a neutral flavor. But vanilla enthusiasts would have you know that neutral vanilla is a huge misconception. In fact, truly neutral ice cream is usually referred to as "sweet cream" ice cream — like the popular flavor from Cold Stone Creamery — and is sweetened but doesn’t contain any vanilla or additional flavorings. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, behind saffron, because of the incredibly finicky orchid plant that it grows from and the labor-intensive method used to dry and cure real vanilla beans. It might not be visually overwhelming because those incredibly tiny vanilla bean seeds pack a huge punch, but vanilla is far from neutral.
With that in mind, we set out to find the best vanilla ice cream you can buy in the grocery store. We tried a whopping 16 different brands, and looked at the flavor, texture, nutrition, and price of each to help us rank every flavor. Even with 16 different ice creams in our freezer, there are plenty more available from artisan brands, local and regional ice cream makers, and dairy alternative brands. But for this ranking we stuck to the most popular brands and ice creams with traditional ingredients. Read on to see how your favorite ice cream brand stacks up to the competition.
16. Friendly’s Vanilla
Friendly’s is an East Coast restaurant chain with locations concentrated in New England. The restaurant serves American comfort food classics, burgers, and most famously, ice cream sundaes. They serve so many ice cream sundaes, that they created their own line of Friendly’s ice creams, which are also sold in grocery stores regionally. There are even more flavors available in stores than on the restaurant menu. We bought a 1.5-quart container of the Rich & Creamy Vanilla flavor, and we couldn’t see what all of the fuss is about.
The Friendly’s vanilla ice cream doesn’t actually contain any vanilla. The ingredients lists "natural flavors" which probably accounts for what little flavor it actually has, but it really just tastes like sweet cold marshmallows. The ice cream uses stabilizers instead of eggs to keep it from melting too quickly or becoming icy, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. But in this case, the stabilizers coat the inside of your mouth instead of comfortably melting on the tongue.
The ⅔ cup serving size (which is a common serving size across almost all brands we sampled) weighs just 88 grams per serving, which is low and means you’re buying a lot of air. On the upside, since you’re mostly buying air, there are only 180 calories per serving. The 1.5-quart package is also one of the least expensive on the market, often costing less than $3 which is certainly a deal — but in this case, you’re getting what you pay for.
15. Edy’s/Dreyer’s Vanilla
Edy’s has been around for nearly 100 years, so there’s a good chance you’ve probably had a few scoops of it at some point. You may know it by the Dreyer’s name, the original ice cream maker in the Dreyer-Edy duo, but since 1928, the names have been synonymous and interchangeable. The brand has pioneered some of our favorite flavors, including rocky road and cookies & cream. So we were looking forward to giving the vanilla a try.
The texture of the ice cream is smooth and milky, and melts a little nicer in the mouth than the Friendly’s vanilla ice cream. But it was still overly fluffy and lacked that bold vanilla flavor that we’re looking for. The ingredients once again list "natural flavor", but not specifically vanilla in either bean or extract form. We also noticed that annatto coloring is added, which nutritionally is neutral, but imparts an incredibly mild yellow color to the ice cream meant to mimic the color of egg custard-based ice creams.
The Edy’s vanilla ice cream weighs just 85 grams per ⅔-cup serving, which is still pretty low and indicates a good deal of air. That slight difference makes a single serving only 140 calories, but doesn’t lower the price of the ice cream any. We paid almost double for the Edy’s 1.5-quart than we did for the Friendly’s, but it was still less than we would have paid for one of the higher-end pints of ice cream.
14. Turkey Hill Original Vanilla
You can hardly walk into a convenience store in Pennsylvania without coming across Turkey Hill ice cream or bottled teas. They’re a local brand that’s grown into a national company, with products sold from coast to coast. A 1.5-quart of Turkey Hill vanilla ice cream cost us just a little less than the Edy’s/Dryer’s we’d tasted previously, and has roughly the same weight per serving and nutritional value. But we thought the flavor was a step up from what we’d tried thus far.
The ice cream softens up pretty quickly when you remove it from the freezer, so you won’t have to wait long for a scoop when the craving hits. While the vanilla still isn’t very strong, the dairy has a nice flavor to it, even a bit toasty, which we liked. The texture is still a little marshmallowy, but not to the point that you feel like you need to chew it. This ice cream is ideal for serving a large crowd at a kid’s birthday party, or for making a lot of milkshakes where you’re probably going to add another flavor. Or maybe even adding to an ice cream cake if that’s your thing. But it’s still kinda boring on its own. But ultimately, just like the ice creams before it, if you’re missing real vanilla and eggs in the ice cream, you’re basically just getting a container of sweetened, stabilized, and frozen whipped cream.
13. Halo Top Vanilla Bean
Ah, Halo Top. The answer to our comfort food sugar cravings without sacrificing our diet goals. Halo Top has designed a large selection of ice creams and pops, built specifically with dietary needs in mind, including low-calorie, non-dairy, and keto-friendly options. We didn’t really know what to expect when tasting the vanilla bean ice cream from Halo Top, given the very specific idea we have about what makes a good vanilla ice cream.
But we were pleasantly surprised. Part of the decision to choose Halo Top includes managing your expectations about what it’s reasonably going to taste like. We were looking for a real vanilla taste, at least a hint of milkiness, and no fake chemical flavors. With those standards in mind, Halo Top’s vanilla bean ice cream met all of our expectations. And at only 290 calories per pint, there’s zero guilt in eating as much as you want — where other ice creams will run you over 200 calories for only ⅔ of a cup.
With that said, this isn’t a perfect ice cream. It’s milky, but not creamy. It contains egg yolks, which contribute to the flavor, structure, and nutritional value of the ice cream, and real chunks of vanilla bean. It seems more like skim milk being held together with enough stabilizers to keep it from turning into a giant milk ice cube. Even with that said, we’d take a bite of this vanilla bean ice cream over the flavorless over-churned options.
12. Breyers Natural Vanilla
We think that if there were ever an ice cream to skate the true middle ground between industrially produced, nostalgically comforting, and good quality, it’s the Breyers Natural Vanilla ice cream. We were also thrilled to see that it’s available by the pint, as well as 1.5- and 2-quart sizes. The pint cost us less than $3 before taxes, which we thought was a great deal. And in a side-by-side taste test with the next ice cream on our list, it was difficult to say which one was the better option. Ultimately, the Breyers scored just a little bit lower, because it doesn’t claim to contain any actual vanilla, only natural flavor. Strangely enough, there are flecks that resemble vanilla beans in the ice cream, so we’re going to give Breyers the benefit of the doubt and assume that "natural flavor" means vanilla bean, but we just can’t say for sure.
What sets this ice cream above the competition is not the weight by volume or calories per serving (which is the same as its previous competitors), but the texture of the ice cream. It isn’t stabilized with eggs, but a single vegetable gum. It’s a risky move for an ice cream maker to use only one stabilizer, but this one keeps the ice cream smooth without getting icy, and holds the aeration of the ice cream nicely. Additionally, the ice cream melts in your mouth without lingering too long, which is a big plus.
11. Blue Bunny Vanilla Bean
You may or may not have heard of Blue Bunny before, although it’s the eighth best-selling ice cream brand in the U.S. according to Statista, beating out high-end competitors like Talenti and Tillamook. We could only find it in one of the eight grocery stores we went to in search of ice cream, but were pleased when we did. This ice cream company, owned by the Wells brand is based in LeMars, Iowa, has been making ice cream for over 100 years. While Blue Bunny offers several different styles of vanilla ice cream, we were able to pick up a container of Vanilla Bean for our taste test.
This ice cream is definitely a little bit higher quality than some of the other large brands. You can instantly tell by looking at the serving size, which packs a slightly higher weight per serving, and the ingredient list. It’s about as simple as an ice cream ingredient list gets, with milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, natural flavors (vanilla extract specifically), and vanilla beans. The texture is creamy without being icy, but still light on the tongue. The vanilla flavor isn’t especially overpowering, and the sweetness is balanced. It’s a good ice cream, but we’re still searching for that rich vanilla flavor. But overall, we like that it’s not a fluffy mess, includes real ingredients without additional stabilizers, and takes serving a crowd up a notch.
10. 365 Everyday Value Organic Vanilla Bean
You can’t deny the convenience that Whole Foods brings to eating organically. And many people find the 365 store brand to be comparable to some of the more expensive name brand organic foods available. A pint of the organic vanilla bean ice cream from Whole Foods cost us a couple of dollars less than some of the big-name high-end pints, which we liked, but other than being organic, most of the ingredients listed were similar to the ice creams we’ve tried up to this point — with the exception of vanilla extract and organic vanilla bean which is clearly included in the ingredients. It’s even clear to see the flecks of vanilla bean seeds in the ice cream.
While it’s not egg-based, the 365 ice cream has a little more body to it than some of the other ice creams. The stabilizers still manage to coat your mouth, but not overwhelmingly so, and it’s got less of a fluffy frozen marshmallow texture to it. In fact, the weight per ⅔-cup serving is 96 grams, meaning that there’s a little less air in this pint and a little more of the good stuff. Sure, that comes with an increase in calories, 200 per serving, but isn’t that little bit worth it for a more authentic vanilla flavor? We think so.
9. Talenti Madagascan Vanilla Bean Gelato
With so many ice creams on the market, it’s pretty easy to tell which ones aren’t very good and which ones are excellent, but there are a large number of ice creams that fall in between. Over the last several years, there’s also been an increase in artisanal and specialty ice cream brands, making the competition at the very top much broader and more intense. We’re not complaining, because now there’s a larger selection of quality ice creams to choose from. This is that point in our rankings where we really start to see the quality of ice creams take off and unique flavors emerge to set the competitors apart.
Talenti is a relatively new brand, having launched in 2003 as one of the first widely available artisanal gelato brands in U.S. grocery stores. Gelato is an Italian-style ice cream, that uses more milk and less cream than traditional European and American ice creams, as well as less air in the churning process. It’s known for being rich, dense, and creamy — all traits that Talenti exemplifies. The gelato is on the sweeter side, but the vanilla flavor is obvious and welcoming. Interestingly, this gelato does not include eggs, but the texture doesn’t suffer because of it. It also weighs a hefty 129 grams per ⅔-cup serving, which will run you 260 calories. While we’re here for the flavor, we’ll admit that this treat may be pushing it for some people.
8. Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla
You undoubtedly already know Ben & Jerry’s, but most likely for one of the iconic flavor combinations the Vermont-based company produces. Cherry Garcia and Half Baked are just two of the dozens of unique flavors Ben & Jerry’s makes, but they also make vanilla. All of the fanfare and spectacle is stripped away for this ice cream, with just one delicate flavor to make or break it. On the spectrum of vanilla intensity, we’d consider this vanilla ice cream to be clean and crisp with moderate intensity. For once, it seems like Ben & Jerry’s isn’t trying to overwhelm us with a particular flavor. The ice cream is milky with a nice custard flavor, but doesn’t melt immediately in the mouth. Instead, it coats the mouth a little bit, which we can only attribute to the addition of stabilizers like carrageenan.
According to Statista, Ben & Jerry’s is the number one selling ice cream brand (behind a category of multiple generic brands generally called "private label" that are sold as store brands), so we had high hopes for the ice cream. It’s certainly better than most of the cheaper ice creams we tasted, but as far as the premium ice creams go, it wasn’t everything we’d dreamed of. Between the texture that lingers in the mouth and the slight iciness of the ice cream, we think there are better options out there.
7. Van Leeuwen Vanilla Bean
Since 2008, Van Leeuwen has rapidly expanded from an ice cream truck driving around NYC to a company that now ships and sells ice cream nationwide — with ice cream shops on both coasts and many places in between. You may have even heard about the new Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ice cream they’re creating. Van Leeuwen also has a wide selection of non-dairy and vegan ice creams available.
So we were curious how the Van Leeuwen vanilla ice cream would set itself apart from the competition, and we had our answer from the very first taste. The ice cream is billed as "French Ice Cream", and on the side of the container, they explain what that means. "Eggs. Plenty of ’em," the container says. "Turns out, when you use twice as many egg yolks as standard ice cream you have to call it French Ice Cream." It’s rich. It’s thick. It’s indulgent. As a matter of fact, a ⅔-cup serving size will run you a whopping 290 calories. Instead of Madagascan vanilla beans, Van Leeuwen also claims to use Tahitian vanilla beans which many vanilla enthusiasts consider a better bean for cold and frozen desserts since it’s got a more delicate and floral flavor profile which can be lost in warm and more complex desserts (via Nielsen Massey).
But what really surprised us, is that Van Leeuwen is the only brand in this ranking to include salt in the ingredients. And you can taste the difference.
6. Stonyfield Organic Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
Technically Stonyfield Organic doesn’t make ice cream, they make frozen yogurts. But we’re including it for a few reasons. It’s widely available in many grocery stores across the country, it’s still classically dairy-based, and it’s one of the few frozen yogurt brands easily accessible in pints instead of going to a froyo shop. And it tastes great.
As a matter of fact, it tastes so good that you’ll be tempted to set up a frozen yogurt dessert bar in your own kitchen with as many toppings as you can lay your hands on without the shock of how much your cup weighs when you get to the checkout like you would in a froyo shop. It’s also got a lovely texture and taste, which isn’t really a surprise when you look at the ingredients. It’s got the same lineup of ingredients that other ice creams have, but organic. Then active cultures are added turning it into our beloved frozen yogurt. One of our testers even said that it reminded them of eating frozen yogurt at TCBY growing up and wanted to cover the whole thing with rainbow sprinkles.
We also like that this frozen yogurt has the weight per ⅔-cup serving of higher-quality ice cream but the low 170 calories per serving of ice cream with more air in it. With all of that said, we realize that frozen yogurt isn’t for everyone, and you may be looking for more neutral ice cream without the taste of those yogurt cultures.
While Haagen-Dazs is considered a premium ice cream brand, it’s not exclusive or hard to find. It can be found everywhere from gas stations and corner stores to grocery stores and specialty food shops. And it’s popular for a reason. The vanilla ice cream has an incredibly straightforward ingredient list, including cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. It doesn’t get more essential than that. The flavor is rich and creamy, with a beautiful milky flavor that doesn’t taste watered-down or overly sweetened. The only downside is that the ⅔-cup serving size will run you about 320 calories according to the nutrition label. Keep in mind that this is a premium ice cream that hasn’t been pumped full of air, so ⅔ of a cup weighs in at 129 grams, which is about 50% more actual product than some of the ice creams at the bottom of this list.
We like that this ice cream is so easy to find, reliably made with high-quality ingredients, and even an average price among higher-end pints. The vanilla flavor is clearly there, but delicate and balanced for people who don’t want to be bombarded with the sweet perfume of a lot of vanilla. It’s at this point in our rankings that the ice creams are starting to ramp up, both in vanilla flavor and quality of the ice cream.
4. Tillamook Old-Fashioned Vanilla
We understand that ice cream preferences vary for a lot of reasons, and some people are more into the light and fluffy ice creams instead of the denser and richer ice creams. If you’re in the market for an ice cream produced with authentic ingredients at high standards that’s still light as a cloud on the tongue, and packed with a smooth vanilla flavor, Tillamook Old Fashioned Vanilla ice cream is going to take you where you want to go.
You don’t have to sacrifice quality for the overly-aerated milk marshmallow-style ice cream from some of the other industrial producers. But just know that it’s going to come with a little bit of a price tag, as Tillamook sometimes costs a little more than its competitors. Tillamook ice cream is also primarily sold in 48-ounce tubs, so you’re going to be committing to a larger container than the ubiquitous 16-ounce pint. But we don’t think you’re going to regret having a little more of this ice cream around.
3. Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla
Blue Bell is arguably one of the best ice creams made in the U.S. today, although you have to live or travel through one of the only 22 states it’s available in to try it. There are a few different vanilla ice cream flavors in the Blue Bell lineup, but the uncontested favorite is the Homemade Vanilla. Reminiscent of hand-cranked ice cream that your grandparents probably made in their backyard, the homemade vanilla ice cream is milky and crisp, with a moderate vanilla flavor and heaps of nostalgia. The ice cream company is based in Brenham, Texas, and handles everything from the ice cream production to direct delivery to stores, which is why you won’t be able to find it in New York or California. With that said, you can order the ice cream online if you’re interested in buying in bulk. While we adore this vanilla ice cream, it loses points for not being as widely available as other brands.
2. McConnell’s Vanilla Bean
You may not be familiar with McConnell’s ice cream, but when you inevitably come across it, we recommend giving it a taste. The ice cream makers have been churning ice cream in Santa Barbara, California for 70 years, and now ship ice cream all over the U.S. to grocery stores and homes alike. Without ever having tasted McConnell’s ice cream before, we picked up a pint of the Vanilla Bean ice cream, which says it’s made the vanilla beans from R.R. Lochhead, a specialty family-owned vanilla manufacturer.
The vanilla flavor is nice and bold in this ice cream, so while R.R. Lochhead may not be a household name, we’re sufficiently convinced that they produce high-quality vanilla beans. The texture of the ice cream is smooth and creamy without being overly fluffy, although it was a little on the sweeter side for our tastes. So we tossed a few scoops of the vanilla ice cream into a blender with some milk and made a vanilla milkshake, which came out absolutely perfect. Nutritionally speaking, this ice cream is one of the heavy hitters, weighing 130 grams per ⅔-cup serving and clocking 290 calories.
1. Graeter’s Madagascar Vanilla Bean
If you’re in the market for bold vanilla ice cream, look no further than Graeter’s Madagascar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. With the very first bite we were blown away by how much vanilla they packed into this pint. (Even Bobby Flay is a fan.) One of the oldest ice cream producers on this list, Graeter’s has been making ice cream since 1870 and has remained a family business ever since.
There’s so much vanilla in this ice cream that it might actually be too much for some people. And that’s alright because there’s a lot of great ice creams to choose from on this list. But for a real vanilla lover who relishes in the sweet, floral, and deeply fragrant notes of high-quality vanilla, it doesn’t get better than Graeter’s. The ice cream itself is noticeably sweet, accented by the heavy vanilla, but also soft and creamy. According to the website, the ice cream is still handcrafted in small batch 2.5-gallon French pots, a method that most producers don’t use since ice cream can’t be made in large volumes quickly. This ice cream is a little more difficult to find, but we were able to lay our hands on it at Whole Foods, and it’s also available to order through Graeter’s website.