Which store-bought ice cream is best?

      America's favorite ice cream is vanilla. But what makes plain vanilla really great plain vanilla? An excellent vanilla ice cream should have definite dairy flavor, balanced by real vanilla. It shouldn't be overly sweet and it should have a creamy, smooth texture.

      A specially trained Consumer Reports' "sensory team" blind-tasted 19 vanilla ice creams for flavor, texture, and appearance. Several are not so great. For instance, Target's Market Pantry Vanilla Bean has an "airy, gummy" texture, and the vanilla is just "basic."

      Topping Consumer Reports' taste test: Ben and Jerry's vanilla. Tasters say it's "rich, dense, and creamy," with a complex vanilla flavor. It's about $1 a half-cup serving. Another one to go nuts over: Hagen-Dazs vanilla is "full, dense, and creamy," with "big dairy flavor." It also runs about a $1 a half-cup.

      Unfortunately, the top-rated ice creams are really high in fat. But there very good ones that have about half the fat and are also lower in price. Those are Breyers, Great Value, Baskin-Robbins, Nice, Tillamook, Blue Bell, Turkey Hill, Dreyer's, Edy's, Friendly's, and Blue Bunny.

      If you are inviting over a gang for ice cream, Consumer Reports testers say another good choice is Kirkland Signature Super Premium from Costco. At 30 cents a half-cup, it's one-third the price of Ben & Jerry's or Hagen-Dazs. But buy it for a crowd. It's sold as two half-gallon containers.

      Whichever brand of ice cream you consider - read the label first, and don't overlook the sugar content. Remember- lower fat often means there's more sugar or corn syrup. And the extra sugar can be even worse for your health than some of that fat.



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