Whether it's a gruelingly hot summer afternoon or a frigid, wintery day, I'm a firm believer that there's no best season to enjoy a cup or cone (or entire pint) of ice cream. Every season is ice cream season, folks.🍦
We all have our favorite flavors, formats, and toppings, but when it really comes down to it, I've never met an ice cream that didn't bring me joy. That said, I'm also entirely guilty of tending to just buy whatever ice cream is on sale. So I decided to do myself (and all of you) a favor: I taste-tested the most popular ice cream brands to determine the best of the best, and though my stomach is still pretty mad at me, the results were absolutely worth it.
While pondering ice cream flavors to test, I struggled more than I usually do. Other products I've taste-tested, like marinara sauce and boxed mac 'n' cheese, are pretty limited in their flavor offerings...but ice cream flavors? The limit does not exist. Vanilla? Too boring. Chocolate? Way too polarizing. And when we start to enter the world of ice cream flavors with mix-ins, things can get pretty wild.
All roads and schools of thought led me back to one flavor in particular, which just so happens to be my personal favorite: cookies 'n' cream. Why cookies 'n' cream? I've got two reasons in particular:
• The vast majority of ice cream brands out there use a simple vanilla base for their cookies 'n' creams, so I figured that this flavor would be a solid indicator of the overall quality of the vanilla ice cream itself — how smooth and creamy it is, its general sweetness level, and if it delivers in the flavor department.
• The Oreo-adjacent chocolate cookies are also a relatively straightforward mix-in — no swirls of anything, and nothing complicated. To that end, I concluded that the individual flavors of the various elements would be easy to distinguish from one another, and I also realized that cookies 'n' cream would likely be a great barometer for how much each brand gives you when it comes to the mix-ins. Let's be real, if they're generous with their chocolate cookies, they're probably not going to rip you off on their cookie dough or cake batter or chocolate chips.
So, with cookies 'n' cream in mind, I did my research and landed on eight of the most popular brands I could find, making sure to gather varieties in three distinct categories. First up, the widely available standards:
Next, the "middle-of-the-road" options when it comes to price and perceived quality:
And finally, we've got the premium brands. These two definitely come at a higher price point, but they're still available in most stores.
It's not that cookies 'n' cream varieties look all that different from one another, but I still had to make sure that this was a blind taste test. As someone with definite allegiances to some brands over others — I hate to admit it, but I'm a bit of an Edy's boy — I knew that the only fair way to conduct this taste test was if I couldn't actively see the ice creams I was trying. Enter: my partner, Josh. (And a very heavy duty sleep mask.)
At first, we tried the method where he handed me a spoon and a teeny tiny ramekin filled with ice cream, but it quickly proved...less efficient than I imagined. So, we switched to the ultra-precise "hand me a pre-scooped ice cream spoon" method, and it worked like a damn dream. (Perhaps, in retrospect, the sleep mask was overkill...but it sure was fun.)
After tasting all eight ice creams, I jotted down my initial thoughts on each, including (but not limited to) what I thought of the cookies-to-ice cream ratio, how smooth and/or creamy the ice cream itself was, and the overall sweetness level. Plus, ya know, if I liked it or not — and trust me, there were many I didn't!
Due to my side-hustle as a recipe developer, I'm very used to jotting down in-the-moment notes and information using good ol' paper and pen, and that's the method I found to work best when it came to capturing my super specific thoughts. I also guessed which brands I was tasting as I tried them, and I was occasionally correct! (But usually wrong.)
After all eight cookies 'n' creams had been tasted, I ranked them from worst to best. I also decided that I'd filled my ice cream quota for the month, but that's beside the point. Keep in mind: I still didn't know which was which, so I was truly just ranking numbers at this point.
When my partner revealed the order in which I tasted all of the ice creams, I did some brief mental gymnastics to figure out how my ranking translated into the actual brands. Ultimately, it translated into "my entire life has been a lie," and quite frankly, I'm probably as low-key shocked and upset at some of these rankings as you will be.
This is my definitive ranking of cookies 'n' cream ice creams — from worst to best.
And remember: Food is subjective! My tastebuds won't necessarily agree with yours, and vice versa. That's a good thing. I'm just here to offer a little bit of insight wherever I can. Differing food opinions make the world go 'round!
8. Häagen-Dazs — I know, I know. I'm mad at me for this hot take, too...but let me present my case: WHERE. WERE. THE. COOKIES?
To start, this was not cookies 'n' cream. A more accurate name would be "half a cookie crumbled up with lots of cream," and after you take in the photo below, I think you'll agree with me. Of all the ice creams I tasted, Häagen-Dazs had the worst cookie-to-ice cream ratio by far, but that wasn't the only disappointing element...
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 3/10 🍦
It was the iciest variety I tried, it wasn't sweet enough, and the cookies were...hardly there at all. Considering the high price point of this ice cream (and the fact that you'll get less than a pint), I'd likely steer clear of this one...but hey, you do you.
7. Whole Foods' 365 — It's not awful by any means, but considering "bland" would be my first descriptor, I found it to be entirely forgettable. The cookies were also all wrong. (Let me explain.)
Nothing about this ice cream wowed me, and while it tied for the cheapest product I bought, factoring in the price per ounce made it more expensive than many of the other brands — though I do appreciate that they give you a full pint (whereas the other "pints" I tasted were actually two ounces short). The cookies in this one were also a total miss, IMHO...
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10 🍦
The good? It's organic! The not-so good? The cookies tasted more like whoopie pies, they had hardly any texture, and the ice cream itself was seriously lacking when it came to overall flavor. You do get a full pint for your money, which is rare in the world of ice creams, but it's still not very cost-effective when you consider the price per ounce.
6. Edy's — It could be the overwhelming sweetness, or it could be the fact that I found the flavors to be a bit muddy, but not even a better-than-average texture could save this one from its sad fate.
For starters, it tasted a bit "muddy." Or honestly, what I mean by that is it had an off taste to it — which, to be clear, wasn't really present in any of the other ice creams I tasted. As I noted, it had the flavor of something you left in the freezer for juuuust a little too long, and it was enough to really affect the overall taste. It also had a hint of that very particular "artificial sugar" aftertaste to it, which was certainly confusing in that they list "no artificial colors or flavors" on their packaging.
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 4/10 🍦
The flavors in this one were certainly off, and even though the cookie pieces were more plentiful (and more pleasant) than the two contenders before it, it's just not enough to make up for that "muddy" taste.
5. Turkey Hill — It didn't exactly wow me, but it was the first ice cream to make me think, "huh, this is tasty!" A mixture of pretty standard elements all around placed this one squarely in the middle, but it's not at all bad!
Similar to the Whole Foods cookies 'n' cream, I found these cookies to be a bit soft for my taste (and they didn't add a whole lot of texture), but unlike the Whole Foods pint, the flavor of them was 100% correct.
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 6/10 🍦
Turkey Hill is the first ice cream on this list that I'd happily buy again, even if it didn't absolutely wow me in any way. Every element was solid, from the cookies to the overall flavor to the texture of the ice cream itself.
4. Friendly's — Similar to Turkey Hill, it didn't change my life, but a superb cookie-to-ice cream ratio and its creamy texture made this one genuinely pleasant — and there's one REALLY awesome thing about it.
At just $.09 per ounce (more than four times cheaper than Häagen-Dazs), I thought this one was pretty exceptional. It was also marginally creamier than the Turkey Hill cookies 'n' cream, which was already pretty good to begin with. Like Turkey Hill, the cookie pieces could've been a little bit bigger, but there were still plenty of cookie pieces throughout, and no bite went without that delicious chocolaty crunch.
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10 🍦
If you don't buy it for the nostalgia factor alone, buy it because it's the cheapest ice cream I found (when you look at the cost per ounce). I don't really think any particular aspect of it will blow you away, but as the most cost-effective of the bunch, I was definitely impressed.
3. Breyers — Cookie lovers, this one was made for you. Breyers does not mess around when it comes to the cookies, and that wasn't the only great part about it.
They advertise 20% more cookie pieces, though whether that's compared to previous recipes they've used or just the "industry standard" is unclear. Either way, they're NOT wrong, because y'all...these cookies are exceptional. There were lots of cookies in every single bite, and the pieces themselves were the largest and most substantial of any brand that I tasted.
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 8/10 🍦
I may have had low hopes for this one, but it simply blew me away. If the cookies are your favorite part of cookies 'n' cream (and they probably are, TBH), this is definitely the ice cream for you. The ice cream itself wasn't as delicious as my #1 and #2 picks, but it was still incredibly satisfying and smooth.
2. Van Leeuwen — Expensive, it is! It was easily the priciest of all the ice cream brands I tried, but it was also the most complex when it came to flavor (which made it worth every penny).
The biggest win here was the overall complexity and depth of flavor, which isn't really something I've ever said about ice cream before. As I noted, I've "simply never tasted ice cream like this," and compared to every single one of the brands I tried, the flavor of Van Leeuwen's ice cream definitely stands out. The ice cream itself is obviously exceptional, but it tastes way better than plain old vanilla — it's wildly rich, and I even tasted caramel-like notes as I ate it. TBH, I noticed something different and exciting in every single bite I took.
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 9/10 🍦
There's no denying that this stuff is expensive, but there's also no denying that it's unlike any ice cream I've ever tasted before. The flavors are rich and complex, and each and every bite I took tasted special. There's really no other way to put it.
1. Tillamook — I wasn't aware ice cream could be this creamy, dreamy, or just so darn delicious. Tillamook is truly excellent (in several ways), and even as a "premium" option, you get a lot for your money.
Similar to Van Leeuwen's cookies 'n' cream, there aren't a whole lot of ingredients in this one, so the quality really stands out. They even mention on the carton that they use "more cream than is legally required," since the FDA actually requires that products include at least 10% dairy milk fat to qualify as an "ice cream," not a "frozen dairy dessert." Whether it's the additional cream or some other magic they're doing over in Oregon, this was without a doubt the creamiest, smoothest, and fluffiest ice cream I've ever tried.
Texture aside, I thought that Tillamook did an excellent job of creating a super balanced product. Nothing about it was "too much" or "too little" — it was just sweet enough without being overpowering and that rich dairy flavor was there without feeling like I was chugging a gallon of heavy cream. So, yeah, I really have no shame in letting you know that my partner and I finished this carton just a day later (🙃), and I might just be a Tillamook convert for life, no matter the flavor. (It's also worth noting that in terms of price, you'll get four times as much ice cream as Van Leeuwen for an entire dollar less.)
🍦 OVERALL RATING: 10/10 🍦
Buy it for the comparatively budget-friendly price, buy it because the ice cream itself is ridiculously smooth and fluffy (seriously, the best I've ever tasted), or buy it for the gorgeously salty bite of the cookies. Whatever your reasons, I don't care. Just buy it. Trust me.