The Scoop: $11.50 Pint of Ice Cream: Worth It?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

While perusing groceries at the Haight Street Market, The Scoop staff spied a travesty in the freezer aisle: a pint of ice cream that cost a whopping $11.50 (by comparison, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s costs about $4.50). Could ice cream that cost the equivalent of seven Carmelina’s tacos really be that spectacular? The Scoop staff set out to test the claim. 

We pitted four other name-brand flavors of vanilla (Double Rainbow, Häagen-Dazs, Three Twins and Ben and Jerry’s) against the most expensive ice cream we’d ever seen, Jeni’s Ugandan Vanilla Bean. Jeni’s Ice Cream is made in Ohio and has apparently won several prestigious awards.

A blind taste-test complete with water for palate-cleansing was set up. While each member tasted, his/her comments on flavor, texture and overall satisfaction were noted.

It should be mentioned that none of The Scoop staff was particularly refined in ice cream taste-testing. Several members attempted to swirl the ice cream on their spoons and smell it as one would a fine wine. (Note: ice cream does not have a pronounced smell, if at all.)

However, no member was short on opinions. Some ice creams elicited sighs of delight, while others resulted in perplexed facial expressions. Second tastes were often requested, to try and pin down that elusive description.

Five points were assigned for a first-place ranking, four for second place, and so on. After tallying up our three preferences, the results were as follows: Three Twins and Double Rainbow tied for first place, Häagen-Dazs for third place, Ben and Jerry’s fourth, and Jeni’s came in last.

This final ranking came as a real shock to our staff, especially one who had previously scoffed at Double Rainbow ice cream and was mortified to discover that she had ranked it as No. 1.

We were also surprised to discover that the horridly expensive Jeni’s had landed in dead last, especially given that the original ice cream creator, Jeni, won a famed James Beard Cookbook award for her ice cream recipes.

After looking at the package, we noticed that it described its own contents as having “notes of tobacco and leather,” which upon reflection, was surprisingly accurate. In the wine world, that might be a refined description, but in frozen dessert?  Who wants to be reminded of an old shoe while eating vanilla ice cream?

Jeni’s Vanilla also contained about one-third more sugar per gram than any of the others, perhaps contributing to its strange texture and aftertaste, as well as to the fact that it didn’t really freeze very well. We ultimately decided that we wouldn’t be buying this vanilla again — at any price.

Bottom line: Pricier doesn’t always mean better, at least when it comes to store-bought vanilla ice cream.