Many 'Vanilla' Ice Creams Contain Precisely No Vanilla, Milk, or Cream, Study Says

In some “ice creams,” cream and milk were replaced with partially reconstituted dried skim milk, whey protein, and palm or coconut oil.
Photo: Getty Images / Aleksandr Kuzmin

Earlier this month, James Beard award-winning writer Maura Judkis visited the Museum of Ice Cream, because she is a stronger, braver person than we will ever be. During her visit, which she covered for the Washington Post , she was seemingly overwhelmed by the museum’s thirst for #selfies, and she also watched a man calling himself Maraschino Marcus give a lecture about the process of making ice cream. Vanilla, he says, “is essential to almost all of the flavors we know and love.”


If, like me, you’ve spent the past six Friday nights making eye contact with every product in the ice cream aisle, you know this already. It makes sense that vanilla would be extra-essential to, say, vanilla ice cream.

But an investigation by a British television show discovered that wasn’t the case at all. And when Which? surveyed 24 different kinds of vanilla ice cream, half of them didn’t contain vanilla, milk, or cream—and five brands were missing all three of those ingredients.

Three of the worst offenders were store brands from the Asda, Morrisons, and Tesco supermarkets, and the other two were brands sold exclusively at Tesco. (The two American brands that Which? reviewed, Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs, both had all three ingredients. USA! USA!)

According to The Guardian, in some of those “ice creams,” cream and milk were replaced with partially reconstituted dried skim milk or whey protein, vanilla was swapped for “general flavoring,” and some also included coconut oil (NO!) or palm oil.

In the United Kingdom, there are currently no requirements or ingredient pre-requisites for what can be called “ice cream.” The Guardian says that, until 2015, anything with “ice cream” printed on its carton had to contain at least 5 percent dairy fat and 2.5 percent milk protein, but those rules have since been discarded.

That is not the case in the United States, however. The US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations requires that any product labeled as ice cream must contain a minimum of 10 percent dairy fat. If the amount of dairy fat falls below that level, the FDA says that it has to call itself a “frozen dairy dessert,” and the USDA has stepped in to designate some terms for those frozen dairy desserts, based on the amount of dairy fat present. (As Business Insider explains, the USDA’s definitions are marketing terms and they aren’t federally regulated; if a company whose frozen dairy dessert contains 5 percent milkfat wants to call itself “Light Ice Cream,” it can, but it isn’t required to –but it also isn’t allowed to call itself ice cream.)

It’s confusing, but it makes reading the entire label even more essential when you’re looking for legit ice cream. You need to look for milk and/or cream on the ingredients list, check out the amount of fat present, see if it has any kind of modifier like “Light” or “Nonfat” before the words ice cream—and remember that Maraschino Marcus is sometimes full of shit.