Vanilla ice cream doesn't have the best reputation in the frozen dessert world. For starters, it's an insult to call something "vanilla," as the suggestion implies that whatever you're referring to is essentially boring AF. Now we are about to add insult to injury with some cold-hearted facts: Nearly one in five store-bought vanilla ice creams doesn't even contain vanilla, according to U.K. consumer insight organization Which?. Even worse, they don't contain fresh cream or milk either — hallmarks of what actually constitutes ice cream.
At this time, we'd like to take a moment and channel our inner Ina Garten to say that sometimes store-bought is not fine.
Which? investigated 24 popular brands of vanilla ice cream (including Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerrys) and concluded that five of the ice creams analyzed contained zero trace of vanilla, fresh cream, or milk. The ice creams in question are all "vanilla-flavored," which is just semantics for synthetically made vanilla. They were also substituted with dried skimmed milk and whey protein, cheaper alternatives to dairy protein.
U.S. grocery shoppers can rest assured knowing that the misleading vanilla ice cream brands in this analysis are predominantly available in the U.K. ASDA, Ms Molly's, Morrisons, Tesco, and Wall's were found to all be lacking in fresh milk, cream, or vanilla. This is the result of a regulatory change in U.K. food labeling laws. As of 2015, there are no requirements in the U.K. for something to be labeled simply as "ice cream." This means that vegan products can be labeled as ice cream in addition to cheaper products made with lower-quality ingredients.
The good news is that Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs are as chock-full of vanilla as you expected them to be. If anything, this discovery is a reminder that we all should read ingredient labels a little closer the next time we are stocking up on ice cream — especially the off-brand stuff.
Or you can always make your own: Here's our favorite basic vanilla ice cream recipe. (And it most definitely contains vanilla.)