Low-calorie ice cream is everywhere by the dainty pintful right now, because manufacturers of frozen treats are here for us. They know that to survive summer, we need a cold and refreshing bowl of dark chocolate and peanut butter without feeling like a sea cow in the morning.
In honor of National Ice Cream Day on Sunday, we put four low-cal or health-conscious ice creams to the test.
Did the contents of the pints resemble actual ice cream? Not always! Were ingredients like "cream" present in any discernible form? Sometimes no!
But that's okay. Low-cal ice cream is supposed to be light, like air, which you will also feel like after eating it. Pay no attention to the monk fruit concentrate and just give in to the artificial cake batter flavoring.
Which option did the best job of tricking us into decadence? In a very rigorous and scientific poll conducted during a Features department meeting, a panel of 14 taste-testers came to some iron-clad conclusions.
Fourth place: Arctic Zero Cake Batter
$4.19 (price at our local Publix)
150 calories per pint
There was quick and impassioned consensus in the room about this ice cream, which promises only 150 calories for the entire pint. You can tell. The consistency is more like ice cream that someone didn't seal properly then left in the freezer for 6 months — icy, brittle and thoroughly uncreamy. The only form of dairy in this product is whey protein concentrate; the first ingredient is water. It is also an odd pale yellow shade. One of our tasters said it's "unnatural in every way," agreeing with at least one other taster that it smells bad. Another came out with this bold statement: "Literally, I cannot swallow the cake batter one." Everyone who participated in our taste test ranked this one last. Though one person who has had the brand's cookie dough flavor deemed it not "that bad."
Third place: Thrive Creamy Vanilla
600 calories per pint
Many of the comments in praise of this flavor contained the phrase "very creamy." Indeed, the consistency is spot-on, with a notable vanilla flavor that doesn't taste quite as luscious as the real stuff but certainly gets the job done. As one taster put it: "How is this fake?" Another said it is "as good as any 'normal' vanilla," and one astute observer noted its "pleasant tongue-coating quality." Of all four options, this one did seem to have the most ice cream-like texture, with little to no "fake" aftertaste or weird mouthfeel.
Second place: Halo Top Peanut Butter Cup
320 calories per pint
It was a tight race between Halo Top's peanut butter flavor and the winner, with just one point separating the two. One taster noted this option is "cloyingly sweet," and another found it "boring," but the rest of the comments were unanimous in their praise. "I could eat this whole pint and not feel too terrible," someone said. "Not a huge peanut butter fan, but this is delightful," said another. The very peanut buttery taste of this option (there are little ribbons of what appear to be peanut butter running throughout) and a perfectly pleasant consistency made it my favorite. We hear it's a favorite of fitness gurus on Instagram, and we can see why. Someone suggested mixing this option and the chocolate-flavored winner together, which seems like your best bet.
Winner: So Delicious Dark Chocolate Truffle
680 calories per pint
This cashew-milk based concoction triumphed over all the rest, suggesting that if you're going to create a frozen treat light on cream and milk, a non-dairy base is probably the way to go.
Our tasters were fanatic about the So Delicious option:
"The chocolate is as good as every caloric ice cream I've ever had. I can't believe it's dairy free."
"So Delicious is SO DELICIOUS."
"Little flakes of chocolate — nice touch. Thumbs up emoji."
Those little flakes did help boost the overall yum factor here, as did a thicker consistency that made this one seem the most like "real" ice cream. It also has the most calories of the four options we tried, which should be a lesson to us all: There is a reason ice cream contains so many calories in the first place.