We test so many products here at CHOICE that we always have several on the go. Usually they're completely unrelated – fridges, lawnmowers and baby cots, for instance, or Wi-Fi extenders, air fryers and e-bikes.
Since we like to put our money where our mouths are, we decided it'd be interesting to see how ice cream from a shop compared with ice cream made in our kitchen lab.
(Okay, okay: we really just wanted to eat ice cream. For science, though. Our intentions were good.)
We decided it'd be interesting to see how ice cream from a shop compared with ice cream made in our kitchen lab
We had so many questions. Would anyone be able to tell the difference? Which one would taste better? Would anyone be inspired to make their own ice cream at home? Would there be leftovers we could binge on afterwards? (That last one was mostly me, and the answer was no – as if there's ever any ice cream left behind!)
Here's the scoop on what happened.
Costing just $6.50 a tub, Coles' Irresistible Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was rated highest by expert testers for our vanilla ice cream review.
A total of 17 CHOICE staff volunteered as taste testers. (Yes, we expected more too!)
Here's what we fed them:
- Store-bought: Coles Irresistible Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (which topped our vanilla ice cream review).
- Homemade: Ice cream made in the Cuisinart The Cool Scoop machine, using a recipe from CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair. (See below for the recipe.)
Participants tasted each sample blind (meaning they didn't know which was which), then we asked them to guess which was the homemade ice cream and which one they liked the most.
We also grilled them about their reasons for choosing the ones they did – there's no such thing as a free lunch, right?
Let's take a look inside the bowl before we delve into the taste test results.
Homemade ice cream is beautifully simple, made from just a few, whole food ingredients.
Read the ingredients list on most supermarket ice creams, however, and you'll have to trawl through a long list of multisyllabic terms that don't sound much like food: "reconstituted buttermilk and/or reconstituted skim milk", "milk solids non-fat", "guar gum", "dextrose monohydrate", "carrageenan" and even "processed Eucheuma seaweed".
Four ice creams we tested even contain gelatine derived from beef – so if you're vegetarian, make sure you read the label first.
Here's how the ingredients in our two samples stack up:
Now we know what's in them, let's get to the most important part: how did they taste?
It seems there was a clear difference between the two ice creams: almost all taste testers correctly guessed which was the homemade ice cream. Only two out of 17 people thought the Coles ice cream tasted homemade.
How could they tell which was homemade?
- Colour: Our testers said that the homemade sample's colour had a more ivory or yellow tone than the store-bought ice cream.
- Texture: Most people said the homemade ice cream seemed softer and fluffier, and it melted a little faster than the supermarket sample.
- Flavour: Our testers found the homemade sample's flavour was more subtle – which was considered a good or bad thing depending on the person. Some people preferred the stronger flavour of the shop-bought ice cream, while others liked the more restrained sweetness and vanilla flavour of the homemade version.
Opinion was evenly split between whether homemade or shop-bought ice cream was the tastiest.
Despite most people correctly identifying the homemade sample, that didn't mean it was everybody's favourite. The results were pretty evenly split:
- Nine people preferred the Coles ice cream
- Eight people preferred the homemade ice cream
So there you have it: most people can tell the difference between homemade and store-bought, but homemade isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea. Bear that in mind if you're thinking of whipping up a batch for your next dinner party.
Most people can tell the difference between homemade and store-bought, but homemade isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea
Despite many of our testers loving the homemade ice cream, plenty also said they'd be unlikely to make their own ice cream at home.
"Who can be bothered?" says Andy, also citing kitchen space as another reason he wouldn't.
"It's time consuming and I'd become impatient," says Erin.
The effort wouldn't be worth the payoffLiam, CHOICE staff
"We have made it in the past, but it was too much trouble," Scott says. "We don't eat enough to make it worthwhile."
"I don't eat it enough so the effort wouldn't be worth the payoff," says Liam. "Also, I live with family who would take it without asking!"
We used the Cuisinart The Cool Scoop to make ice cream from scratch.
There are plenty of options at the supermarket, so why would anyone go to the trouble of making it themselves?
- Fun: Craving wasabi and ginger ice cream? You won't find it in the shops, but you can create it at home. You're only limited by your imagination (and whether anyone will actually eat your concoctions).
- Control over the ingredients: DIYing your ice cream allows you to leave out any ingredients you're not keen on consuming. You can make allergy-friendly or vegan ice cream and you can also make it additive-free, and even dial down the sugar or use alternative sweeteners. (That means you can eat more of it, right?)
- Use up produce: Strawberry plants going bananas? Gone troppo buying mangos? There's only so much jam and chutney one person can make – but you can get the most out of the bounty by whipping up your own flavoured ice cream.
- Satisfaction: There's a certain type of home chef who just gets a thrill out of making something from scratch. You can serve it up at your next dinner party and casually drop into the conversation that you made it from scratch, then sit back and bask in the praise.
Our expert kitchen tester Fiona Mair uses this recipe to test ice cream makers in our lab.
- 1 ½ cups full cream milk
- 1 ½ cups thickened cream
- 4 egg yolks
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
- In a medium saucepan, gently heat the cream, milk, vanilla pod and seeds until very hot, but not boiling. Reduce temperature and simmer for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.
- Place egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, whisk on high speed until thickened (approximately 2 minutes).
- Gradually stir in 1 cup of the heated cream and milk to the egg and sugar. Mix until combined.
- Pour egg and milk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until thickened but not boiling. Mixture should be steaming.
- The custard is ready when it coats the back of the wooden spoon, and the custard stays separated when you run your finger along the back of the spoon. The temperature should reach 82–85°C.
- Pour custard into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the custard. Place in the fridge until the custard temperature reaches 3–4°C – usually overnight.
- Pour into the prepared ice cream maker and process according to the ice cream manufacturer's instructions. Process until mixture reaches a consistency of soft serve and increases in volume. A perfect churning consistency temperature should be less than 4°C.
- Place ice cream into a container and place in a freezer with a stable temperature of -18°C (±2°C).
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.