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Food

The official Ben & Jerry’s ice cream power rankings

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Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, ranked.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor and Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

How’s everyone’s first year of quarantine going? I’ve firmly moved into the “bargaining” zone of the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief: How many times will I eat pizza this week, three or four? Are showers on the table? Maybe. Would I pay someone $20 for a hug right now? Likely more. As you can see, in quarantine, absolutely anything is negotiable.

It is in that spirit that I bring you the infallible, completely factual and 100% correct Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Power Rankings. Yes, even our nation’s most adored 420-loving capitalists must eventually fall under the tires of the Power Rankings cement truck. We’re dealing with ice cream only for the purposes of these rankings, folks — nothing “lite,” no fro-yo, and none of your fancy nut milks. You kids stay off my lawn!

I’ve ranked these by taste, of course, as well as a metric that honors the various states of incapacitation when we devour an entire pint at 2 a.m.: If this ice cream were a person, how stoned would it be? One more thing: Unlike most Power Rankings, where there are items that clearly fall into Good and Bad categories, nearly all of these ice creams were good. But they must, alas, be ranked — in that, there shall be no bargaining.

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1) Peanut Butter Half Baked

I’m not much of a cookie dough guy, but I can’t deny the greatness of this ice cream. Chocolate and peanut butter ice creams converge in a maelstrom of calor-rific glory and are peppered with brownie and peanut butter cookie dough chunks. Of course chocolate and peanut butter go together like Cheech and Chong; I found that the stickiness of the brownie bits offsets the graininess of the cookie dough.

To make a 1998 Bulls analogy — Jordan and Pippen are like the two ice creams. They hold it all together and do most of the work. Kukoc and Rodman are like the brownie and cookie dough chunks. Luc Longley is the … spoon? The United Center is the freezer. Phil Jackson is your conscience, telling you not to eat too much. Defensive specialist Randy Brown is the part of your brain that’s honestly just happy to be along for the ride and wants you to keep going even when Phil says to take a break.

Look, I didn’t say the analogy was perfect.

2) New York Super Fudge Chunk

If there’s one thing we loved about Ben & Jerry’s when we discovered it as kids, and what we still love about it, it’s all the stuff. Every pint of Ben & Jerry’s is just loaded with chunks of stuff.

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New York Super Fudge Chunk is that ideal, perfected: Every cubic inch is so full of something that is not ice cream — pecans, walnuts, almonds, fudge chunks — it’s frankly a wonder they don’t market this as frozen trail mix. But this is why we love Ben & Jerry’s: We want to chew our ice cream, not merely lick it.

3) Phish food

This entry goes out to L.A. Times Food editor Peter Meehan, who was and maybe still is, the biggest Phish fan I know. You see, it’s Meehan’s fault that I purchased the Phish album “Junta” in high school, in an effort to be cooler than I was and sat for hours at home trying to make sense of lyrics like,

I look into the finance box
Just to check my status
I look into the microscope
See Golgi apparatus

While Phish never really clicked with me, this ice cream certainly does. Chocolate ice cream with marshmallow, caramel and fudge fish leave this just a few nuts away from perfection — but then it’d just be Rocky Road, wouldn’t it? Instead of what it is: an exceptional-tasting ice cream with smooth, creamy textures that let you linger and get lost inside, like a Trey Anastasio guitar solo. By far the most stoner-y of the line-up.

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4) Americone Dream

The waffle cone bits make this. The smell of sweet dough appeals to anyone who’s been to a state fair or inside a Blue Bottle, and this flavor, modeled on the persona of “Report"-era Stephen Colbert, manages to capture some of that magic. The light, crunchy sweetness of the fudge-covered bits are as wistful and nostalgic as the times we thought it was funny to watch a pretend right-wing blowhard spew hatred and misinformation. Remember those days?

5) Cherry Garcia

One of the OG flavors, Cherry Garcia is still one of the best. Fun story: The flavor originated when a woman named Jane Williamson sent a postcard to the Burlington office in 1986 suggesting the flavor. It debuted the following year and became one of the company’s most popular flavors. The woman got a year’s supply of ice cream in thanks.

While she should have gotten a fat check, frankly, at least the ice cream is still good. Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t do much in the fruit arena, and it’s nice to see this flavor endure. Cherry ice cream with fat cherry chunks and flecks of chocolate? Put “American Beauty” on repeat and hook me up.

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(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor and Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)
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Any kind of mint/chocolate combo is going to be a winner, so I’ll use this space to pose the question: What’s better, cookies or chips? I’m actually a chip person, because of the texture, but I see the position of those on team cookie. Unearthing a cookie is more enjoyable and exciting than the pervasiveness of chips, and again plays into Ben & Jerry’s M.O. of packing their pints full of huge chunks.

A classic, irrefutable flavor combination, if not the most innovative.

7) Chip Happens

Marketed as, “A cold mess of chocolate ice cream with fudge chips and crunchy potato chip swirls,” the guys took a slight gamble on this flavor that largely pays off. They didn’t put entire potato chips into the pints but instead mashed the chips and spread them throughout the mixture.

The chips stay pretty remarkably crunchy and retain most of their salty, potatoey flavor. If you’ve ever enjoyed dipping hot fries into a Wendy’s Frosty, take this for a spin.

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8) Chocolate Therapy

Remember Cathy? No, not from when you had co-workers and regular human contact, the one from the comic strip who’s always saying, “Ack!” I feel like this is an ice cream Cathy might enjoy, as would the inner Cathy in each and every one of us. It says, “We heard you liked chocolate, so we put chocolate in your chocolate.”

Chocolate ice cream is swirled with chocolate pudding ice cream — an important distinction — that is dotted with chocolate cookies. The creaminess of the regular ice cream contrasts subtly with the more viscous pudding cream. The difference is small but essential and will make you want to slide right into your favorite pair of sweatpants.

9) Peanut Butter Cup

Can you possibly go wrong with peanut butter ice cream and huge peanut butter cups? Nope. The massive cups are a chunky reminder of why this brand became popular in the first place. I like to imagine, back in 1978 when Ben & Jerry’s was founded, two guys in a Burlington basement ripping a 4-foot bong and cramming whatever food they could find into their gullets. After stuffing themselves with peanut butter and chocolate and washing it down with some local full-fat milk, the idea struck them for this particular flavor of shame salve. Wouldn’t want it to go down any other way.

10) Vanilla

A surprise flavor rounding out the top ten: Good old, plain-ass vanilla. Ben & Jerry’s is actually one of the best out there. It even has the tiny bean flecks that give the ice cream a distinct psychological edge. “Wow, real flecks of vanilla bean?” you ask yourself. “They’re not messing around!” Ideal in a root beer or Coke float.

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This falls extremely low on the stoner scale — right now I find a sobering pint of pure vanilla is needed to confront every fresh new workday.

One man’s opinion on the best (and worst) Trader Joe’s frozen food on the market.

11) The Tonight Dough

Love or hate Jimmy Fallon, he seems like a man who tries extremely hard at everything he does. His namesake ice cream, while good, does the same: It’s trying to be too much to too many people. Caramel ice cream and chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookies and chocolate chip cookie dough and peanut butter cookie dough? Just... tone it down a little, dude. You’ve made it. You can relax.

12) Chocolate Fudge Brownie

A flavor that is, unlike some presidents, unimpeachable. Sticky chocolate brownies in chocolate ice cream — there’s nothing I would change.

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(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor and Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

13) Cannoli

Who knew? Cannoli: Good for ice cream, good for running errands with Clemenza and Rocco. This mixture uses mascarpone instead of the usual ricotta and comes through with a rich, custard-like flavor. The chocolate-covered pastry shell bits could be a little crisper, but they manage to capture the spirit of the Sicilian confection.

14) Oat of this Swirled

This ended up being a winner for the most part, but not for the reasons advertised — this wasn’t particularly oaty. This is ultimately a cinnamon ice cream, with tasty, satisfyingly spicy cookie swirls. The choice of laying the toppings down in a field of brown sugar ice cream was an inspired one; it gives the pint a lovely, slightly caramelized quality.

15) Everything But The …

I wish they’d just finish the sentence. Kitchen sink? Trash can lid? Refrigerator door? Ellipses don’t belong in the names of food. Regardless, this ice cream is a good mess, but it’s still a mess. Cramming peanut butter cups, toffee chunks, white chocolate pieces and fudge-covered almonds all together means no one element gets the chance to shine. Given the MedMen-icated state you’re likely in when you crack this pint open, it probably doesn’t matter.

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Not my fave, but a classic nonetheless. Something about the gritty, sandy texture of cookie dough has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’d far rather somebody else did the work, baked the cookies and put those in my ice cream. Nevertheless, I understand the appeal, and that as a snacky shortcut, it makes sense. Ben & Jerry’s makes as good a version as you can hope to find.

17) Chunky Monkey

Honestly, I was prepared to put this flavor at No. 1 — or at least in the top five. But after trying a few bites, I just couldn’t do it: The banana flavor is off. It lacks the dense, almost booze-y sweetness of a real overripe banana, veering instead into Laffy Taffy/Runts territory. It’s about as close to a banana as grape soda is to a grape. While the chocolate chunks and walnuts are ultimately satisfying, the very raison d’etre of the pint, the titular monkey’s aspect, is a somewhat disappointing mirage.

18) Half Baked

What’s not to like? Cookie dough and brownie chunks make for a winning combination, and the ice cream proves better than the Dave Chappelle comedy of the same name. It ranks highly in the stoned category, naturally, though I don’t know it gives the unmedicated a strong reason to reach across the freezer aisle.

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(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor and Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)
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19) Gimme S’More

Ah, wilderness! Who among us doesn’t remember getting picked on by older kids in Scouts and then promptly drowning our sorrows in a delicious s’more seasoned with wet, salty tears? In my case, I could never quite perfect the marshmallow. I’d soon lose my patience while trying to slowly roast it and then hold the thing directly on the fire, resulting in a charred outside and nearly raw center.

Still, the flavor of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow takes me back. It doesn’t quite capture the trauma of growing up, but at least it’s delicious.

20) Salted Caramel Core

This is the best of the “core” ice creams, which is a Ben & Jerry’s variation I’ve never quite jibed with. Why place all of the good stuff in one centralized, predictable area? Half the fun of ice cream is the randomized chaos of not knowing exactly what you’re going to get in a given bite.

The core ice creams ruin that fun, like a deconstructed Caesar salad: Here’s a romaine leaf, there’s a wedge of cheese, a piece of toasted bread there and an egg over there. It’s too clever for its own good.

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Then again, maybe you just want to eat the entire core? In that case, I can see a point to the approach. The salted caramel could be a little more salty, but it goes nicely with the sweet cream ice cream and chewy blondie bits.

True story: The first time I got drunk was freshman year of college.

21) Pistachio Pistachio

There are better pistachio ice creams out there. This one has nice plump nuts scattered throughout, but the flavor of the ice cream proper is off. It tastes a little like almond extract. Nevertheless, the dads out there will love it, leading to its low score on the stoner scale.

22) Vanilla Caramel Fudge

This one is smooth baby, smooth, and should probably be ranked higher than it is — I just have an affinity for stuff and this doesn’t have any stuff in it. What it lacks in the chunk department, though, it makes up for in slick, sticky sweetness. The caramel and fudge meld in a dreamy, seamless way to produce an entirely new ice cream topping, fudgamel, where you’re not quite sure where one stops and the other takes over. If you give yourself over to this ice cream, you may never come back from the edge.

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23) Milk & Cookies

Inoffensive and, in theory, a totally fun and charming ice cream flavor. Who doesn’t love milk and cookies? What this flavor doesn’t really take into account, though, is that the pleasure of milk and cookies derives primarily from 1) the contrast of a hot cookie with cold milk and/or 2) the soaking of a cookie in the milk, leading to a pleasantly sodden cookie.

Here, neither of those sensations comes through. The cookies are crisp, and somewhat grainy, and do little to evoke any Santa-esque memories.

24) Brownie batter core

Does too much of a good thing exist? The answer is obviously “no,” but if it did, this would be it. The brownie core here is so slick and sweet, so intense, that it simply overwhelms. It’s very fudgy and extremely rich, but after a spoonful or two, it has me missing the chewiness of the regular Ben & Jerry’s brownies.

25) Justice ReMix’d

With just the slightest bit of pep in the brownies and a cinnamon-loaded bun dough, you’re on the express train to Spice City, next stop, Seasoning Station! This flavor, which was created to benefit criminal justice reform, doesn’t quite capture the magic of a fresh cinnamon bun or a spicy cup of hot chocolate, but it’s more than adequate.

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(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor and Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

26) Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake

This is the best of Ben & Jerry’s cheesecake offerings I tried, and it quite nearly works. But the cheesecake needs to be much more tangy and assertive; Right now it sort of limps along like an injured animal. Caramel and chocolate will make anything taste good, but the cheesecake, the ostensible star of the show, needs to step more into the spotlight.

Again with the cores. Would you order a bag of Cheetos that was separated into two compartments: Plain, unflavored corn puffs and pure, cheese powder? I mean, maybe you would. Maybe I would too.

OK, I definitely would. But that’s not the point: Like Beatles albums, ice cream is meant to be consumed as a whole, not cherry-picked for your favorite bits. Otherwise you could just buy a tube of cookie dough, right?

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28) Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch

I feel like once they had to take “Heath bar” out of the name, this flavor really tanked. The toffee chunks just aren’t buttery enough; they taste mostly of sugar. The coffee ice cream lacks the deep, rich earthiness you’ll find in some of the bolder and better coffee ice creams on the market.

Think of it in terms of an improv 101 class. Make bold choices! Fully commit! Many times, that in and of itself can make the difference between hackneyed character and something truly worthy of a self-taped audition. This ice cream needs to give itself a pep talk in the hallway and give it another shot.

29) Netflix & Chilll’d

With its ready-for-Tinder name, this had the potential to be the sexiest of the entries. Peanut butter ice cream with pretzels and fudge brownies should be knock-it-out-of-the-park good! But the pretzels are chalky and dry and the brownies are tacky, not chewy, landing this somewhere near the Gatorade cooler in the dugout. Just goes to show that money can buy you more content than you’ll be able to watch in 100 lifetimes, but it can’t get you a great ice cream flavor.

30) Strawberry Cheesecake

Cheesecake needs to be tangy; Fruity ice cream needs to be fruity. This wasn’t particularly either.

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What are you up to, strawberry cheesecake ice cream? Did you come to play? Or did you come to half-heartedly jog up and down the court and knock down a couple of early shots but, when push comes to shove, give up, fake an injury and go home? I suspect the latter, and I’m a little disappointed in you.

31) Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake Truffles

I can’t tell the difference between this and the regular Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake, but this has graham cracker-coated cheesecake “truffles” instead of regular cheesecake chunks. Why they made an entirely separate flavor with such a minute distinction is lost on me, but it wasn’t a good idea. This is the inferior product. The cheesecake has very little tang, and the graham cracker makes the bits taste slightly dusty. Pass.

The only flavor that I actively didn’t enjoy. The no-bake cookie dough in this wink-wink-nudge-nudge cleverly-named creation is sickly sweet with a terrible rabbit-food texture. It’s sandy and pasty like a Clif Bar, with the density and distressing flavor to match.

But to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, I say: You’re allowed a couple of misses now and again, guys. Cheers to keeping a largely very good track record of delicious, chunktastic stable of flavors over the course of four decades.


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