What’s the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?

updated May 1, 2019
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Growing up, my dad always chose half gallons of French vanilla ice cream over vanilla ice cream when we’d go shopping together. They all looked beige and creamy to me, but I trusted his instinct. With “French” on the label, he assumed superior quality — they make pretty phenomenal cheese and wine, after all — but was he right? What actually is the difference between a tub of plain ol’ vanilla and French vanilla ice cream? And is one superior to the other or is it just a bunch of labeling hoopla?

The Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream

Yes, there is a difference between the two varieties, but it’s not what you might think — it actually has nothing to do with the vanilla itself. What makes French vanilla “French” is that the base for the ice cream contains egg yolks, while the base for regular vanilla ice cream does not. The egg yolks lend a pale-yellow color to French vanilla ice cream and also gives it a richer, smoother consistency and mouthfeel.

On the other hand, vanilla ice cream doesn’t contain egg yolks, so it has a paler, whiter look. This type of vanilla ice cream can also be called Philadelphia-style, although it’s rare you’d see that written on the label of your favorite pint. Depending on the brand, either real vanilla beans or vanilla extract can be used to flavor both styles of ice cream.

Which variety you go for is really just a matter of preference. Since I grew up with French vanilla, the richer consistency is what I am most used to and what I now reach for these days. Regardless, both kinds of vanilla make for seriously good sundaes.

Do you prefer vanilla or French vanilla ice cream?