I’ve recently become aware that many popular ice cream brands contain additives and fillers. Rather than simple ingredients such as milk, cream, and sugar, many ice creams contain ingredients such as guar gum, locust bean gum, carob bean gum, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, and carageenan.
Aldi’s Regular Buy Belmont ice cream, which sells for $2.89 at my local store and includes flavors such as Moose Tracks and Cookies and Cream, contains some of these additives, so I decided to try Aldi’s Regular Buy Specially Selected Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream that costs $4.19 at my store (Aldi recently raised the price, up from $3.89 previously). For $1.30 more, I avoid all those additives. The Specially Selected vanilla ice cream carton states it contains “5 simple ingredients.” The Specially Selected brand also comes in chocolate. For our purposes today, I’m just looking at the vanilla flavor.
One of the big questions, of course, is how Aldi’s higher-end vanilla ice cream compares to name brand ice cream such as Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.
Let’s take a look solely at the ingredients and nutrition info …
Aldi’s Specially Selected Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream, $4.19 for 1.42 L:
- skim milk
- egg yolks
- vanilla extract
- 260 calories per 1/2-cup serving
- 11 grams saturated fat
- 70 mg sodium
- 23 grams sugar
Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream, $5.69 non-sale price from a local traditional grocery chain (purchased on sale for $3.99):
- vegetable gum (tara)
- natural flavor (including vanilla beans)
- 130 calories per 1/2-cup serving
- 4 grams saturated fat
- 35 mg sodium
- 14 grams sugar
From an ingredients perspective, the Aldi ice cream is the winner because it contains only whole, easily identifiable ingredients. The Breyers ice cream contains an additive called tara gum, which apparently replaces much of the healthy fat in ice cream and also gives the ice cream a smoother and creamier texture.
Nutritionally, the Aldi ice cream has double the calories, more than double the saturated fat, and a lot more sugar. The Breyers ice cream packs less of a punch in terms of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. It’s worth noting the Aldi ice cream has egg yolks, while the Breyers does not. The egg yolks in the Aldi ice cream and the tara gum in the Breyers may account for the caloric and nutritional differences. (Editor’s note: since publication of this post, several readers have pointed out that another reason for the caloric difference may be that Breyers whips more air into its ice cream.)
I also noticed the Breyers ice cream, while containing tara gum, is packed in a carton that features prominent graphics stating that it’s made with “fresh cream, sugar, and milk” and that it’s made with non-GMO sourced ingredients, with Rainforest Alliance Certified vanilla. The milk and cream are from cows that were not treated with artificial growth hormones. The dairy products are “all American” and “colors and flavors come from natural sources.” The carton also says the vanilla (and fruit, in the case of other Breyers flavors) are real and are sustainably farmed. It’s a lot of health boasting for a product that contains an indigestible gum ingredient.
The Aldi ice cream carton, meanwhile, emphasizes that it has those “5 simple ingredients.” There seems to be a lot to like about that.
So, how do the Aldi ice cream and the Breyers ice cream taste?
In a blind taste test (we ate our ice cream atop brownies made from a mix purchased at Aldi), my two children preferred the Breyers. I also liked the Breyers best, but my husband preferred the Aldi ice cream. My children and I liked the texture of the Breyers because it was smoother and creamier. My husband preferred the flavor of the Aldi ice cream, despite the fact that the texture wasn’t as smooth.
It turns out, my daughters and I were noticing the tara gum in the Breyers brand, which gives ice cream a texture that is smoother than it normally would be. Breyers states that customers prefer this newer formulation in taste tests, but that may be because so many of us have little experience with real homemade ice cream.
So, three fourths of our household preferred the Breyers simply from a taste/texture perspective, and one fourth of our household went with the Aldi ice cream.
In terms of cost, if you buy name brand Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream during a good sale, you can purchase it for less money than Aldi’s Specially Selected Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream. If the Breyers brand isn’t on sale, though, it’s a better deal cost-wise to buy the Aldi ice cream because it costs about $1.50 less.
In terms of taste, during a blind taste test, most (but not all) of my family preferred the Breyers ice cream over Aldi’s ice cream. The Breyers ice cream was smoother and creamier, but unfortunately a little internet research indicates that smoother texture is because Breyers adds tara gum, a vegetable gum, to its ice cream these days.
On the other hand, the Aldi ice cream is made with only whole, natural ingredients: just skim milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. That’s it. The Aldi ice cream has significantly more calories, fat, sodium, and sugar than the Breyers, but it’s real food. It’s ice cream the way our grandparents or great-grandparents would have made it at home back in the day.
I’m a bit torn. The Breyers ice cream tasted great, but I don’t like knowing that the taste and texture are, in large part, due to a vegetable gum additive. I respect Aldi for carrying a product that contains only real, whole food ingredients. For that reason, I am seriously considering sticking with Aldi when it comes to ice cream. It’s probably the next best thing if you don’t have an ice cream machine for home use.