All week we’ve run recipes for ice creams that you can make at home, with flavors ranging from comforting chocolate to burning ginger. We’ve added a few more to today’s page as well. But let’s face it, not every one of you can or will try any of the recipes. Not every pint in the six gallons of ice cream that each American consumes on average each year will be homemade. Many of you prefer the old-fashioned method of saving time by picking up a pint or two of your favorites from your local grocer.
Is there really a difference between homemade and store-bought? Sure. Many of the packaged ice creams are filled with preservatives and stabilizers that affect flavor and texture alike. But the differences are gradually disappearing, thanks to the strength of the premium ice cream market and the number of organic varieties you can now find.
To help you find the best of the newer brands, we opted for a taste test of three labels. What a sacrifice it turned out to be, as we labored with our spoons digging deeply into each pint repeatedly in order to make sure we had discerned just what made these ice creams worthy of the premium label.
We’ll start with the Central Market Organics Strawberry ($3.49). All of the ingredients, down to the sugar and cream, were listed as organic on the label. The flavor was bright and bold, with a jammy texture that, once again, the label informed us was because strawberry jam had been used. In other words, you taste what you get, and you don’t taste any additives. If strawberries and cream are what you’re after, you probably won’t find a better representative of this simple treat. A minor complaint: You do notice the gummy texture of the guar gum, which is added to prevent ice crystals from forming.
Starbucks has entered the ice cream field, offering frozen versions of your favorite drinks. The flavors range from the enticing Caramel Macchiato($2.50) to the more simple Coffee ($2.50), which is what we tried. Think of a strong, frosty cup of joe with cream and sugar and you’ll have a good idea of what’s in store for you. Again, a touch of guar gum is noticeable on the palate.
We have saved the best for last: Haagen-Dazs five’s Vanilla Bean ($2.99). The lower-case five refers to only five ingredients in the ice cream, in this case eggs, milk, cream, sugar and, you guessed it, vanilla bean. That’s it. That’s what made it the best in terms of flavor, and it’s what will keep us on the lookout for the other flavors, including passion fruit, milk chocolate and ginger. The slight drawback here is that, without the guar gum as stabilizer, it melted much quicker than the other ice creams, so you may want to finish off the whole pint rather than let ice crystals form.