Van Leeuwen Ice Cream: Novelty or Never Again?


Lauren Lamson

A failed mission to taste Van Leeuwen’s Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream transformed into a three-flavor taste-off.

Mackenzie Sloan and Lauren Lamson

Earlier this month, The Cardinal Chronicle drove all the way to the Monona Walmart Superstore during rush hour on the hunt for Hidden Valley Ranch Van Leeuwen’s ice cream. Contrary to the Walmart website’s report that the flavor was in stock, we arrived at the freezer section to a ranch ice cream desert, but with haste our taste buds selected a trio of baked good-flavored ice creams to replace it. 

While there were a variety of classic flavors, we were after something new. After a few minutes of contemplation we decided on a few of Van Leeuwen’s limited edition flavors: Honey Graham Cracker, Sweet Maple Cornbread and Carrot Cake.

Based on the Walmart freezer conditions, we expected the ice cream to be freezer burnt with a poor texture. We were happy to find that the texture was smooth, creamy and airy regardless of flavor, which speaks to the quality of the French-style ice cream.

French ice cream is known for its thick and silky texture due to the inclusion of eggs in the recipe, unlike classic American ice cream, which contains sugar, milk and cream, making it more prone to developing icy crystals. Even after a bit of melting and refreezing, all three pints of Van Leeuwen’s retained a velvety texture — sans ice crystals. 


While we gave the pints a chance to re-solidify after a warm ride home in the cooler, we both ranked the three flavors from most-excited-to-try to least-excited-to-experience. 

Lauren guessed Honey Graham Cracker would be her favorite, followed by Sweet Maple Cornbread and lastly Carrot Cake, due to her dislike of the inspired dessert. Mackenzie, too, expected Honey Graham Cracker to surpass the others, followed by Carrot Cake and then Sweet Maple Cornbread.

Once the three flavors of ice cream reached the perfect temperature, we set to serving up our scoops. Hesitantly. We started with the Carrot Cake, and while Mackenzie did not anticipate solid pieces of the flavors’ baked goods, Lauren had feared there would be literal chunks of carrot in the carrot cake. To Mackenzie’s surprise, each ice cream contained small cubes of the baked mix-ins. Fortunately, no vegetable matter was found. 

Each flavor turned out to be basically off-white, unlike the vibrant shades Mackenzie expected. The cornbread had a buttery yellow tint, the carrot cake was the color of cream cheese frosting and the graham cracker looked like coffee ice cream.


Honey Graham Cracker: 6/10

Unlike the other flavors, the graham cracker mix-ins were not evenly spread out. There could be three pieces in one scoop and none in another. (Mackenzie Sloan)

Honey Graham Cracker, the most anticipated flavor, had a mild base with graham cracker pieces mixed in. We searched for flavors of dark brown sugar, honey, vanilla and cinnamon. The honey was apparent, unlike the other ice creams, but the cinnamon still dominated. 

The graham cracker flavor was pleasant but more similar to homemade graham crackers than the Honey Maid graham crackers of our childhood. We were disappointed by this. There was more emphasis on the cinnamon and spice flavors than on the honey.

Yeah, these look pretty chunky. Pretty chunky monkeys.

— Lauren Lamson

As for texture, Mackenzie expected dry pieces, similar to pretzels, but the graham crackers were softened. Impressively, they had not absorbed any of the ice cream and were not soggy. Although they had strong flavor, the pieces were too large and were not well-dispersed.

The Honey Graham Cracker ice cream earned a 6/10 from both Mackenzie and Lauren for its texture and warm flavor. Of the three ice creams we tried, the Honey Graham Cracker was the most authentic to the advertised flavor, but we were still disappointed because it failed to live up to our graham cracker nostalgia. 

Maple Cornbread: 2/10

Small flecks of cornbread could be spotted within the pungent smelling ice cream. (Lauren Lamson)

We both failed to notice that this was maple cornbread ice cream at the time of purchase, likely because we could not see it on the top shelf. The immediate punch of artificial maple aroma when we peeled off the plastic seal was intense. Mackenzie backed away, saying, “Oh that’s too much.” The flavor was even stronger than the smell. Even after gargling water, the maple flavor lingered on the back of our tongues like a cruel joke.

Mackenzie thought the ice cream smelled like cheese and tasted like maple, which she hated. “I don’t know if I’d ever want those two things together,” she said.

I don’t know if I’d ever want those two things together.

— Mackenzie Sloan

We had expected the buttery, salty flavor of cornbread. We were mistaken. Neither of us tasted any butter or cream in the ice cream, and we could not detect a hint of honey, the perfect cornbread topping. It was just maple.

This ice cream also had mix-ins. Although the cornbread pieces initially caught us off guard, in the end we were disappointed that they were so small. They were not chewable. It felt like you had a little bit of cornbread stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Mackenzie gave the Maple Cornbread flavor a 1/10, and Lauren gave it a 3/10 for the texture of the base alone, which was still silky, airy and creamy. We would not buy this again. The maple was too oppressive.

Carrot Cake: 8/10

This ice cream took the cake. The smell, taste, texture and ratio of mix-ins outdid the two other flavors. (Mackenzie Sloan)

Mackenzie had to jump to grab this flavor from the back of the top shelf, but it was worth it. 

The Carrot Cake ice cream struck the balance between smell, taste, texture and ratio of mix-ins. The smell was overtly cinnamon, but it was pleasant and never felt overbearing. The main flavor was similar: sweet cinnamon, which came from the carrot cake pieces. The ice cream base ate more vanilla with another flavor we could not place. We assumed it was cream cheese. We thought the cake pieces even offered an occasional hit of carrot. 

Per usual, Van Leeuwen’s nailed the creamy texture. At the right temperature, this ice cream was downright luscious. 

The chunks of carrot cake were larger than the other flavors’ mix-ins. They were not freezer burned, were dispersed evenly and paired well with the creamy texture of the ice cream. The cake was soft but not soggy.

While we fully enjoyed this flavor, polishing off our bowls, the Carrot Cake ice cream was not authentic to the flavor it imitated because it was so heavy on the cinnamon. Mackenzie thought it tasted more like a cinnamon bread ice cream. Given it was carrot cake, frosting should have had a more prominent role, possibly in the form of a cream cheese ice cream base.

Nevertheless, the carrot cake ice cream won the taste-test with a unanimous rating of 8/10. We did not have to have the full carrot cake flavor to love this ice cream and come back for a spoonful again and again. Even Lauren, who is not a carrot cake fan, greatly preferred this flavor to the other two.

Closing Thoughts and Advice

After an eventful tasting, Carrot Cake came out on top for its balance of flavors and overall palateability. (Lauren Lamson)

Across the board Van Leeuwen ice cream delivers on high quality texture and consistency even when the flavor leaves much to be desired. As far as the limited edition flavors go, the Carrot Cake ice cream is a wonderful novelty treat either of us would buy again. While the Honey Graham Cracker fell short of expectations, the Sweet Maple Cornbread is the flavor we will never recommend. Keep it at arm’s length to avoid the smell.

If you are interested in grabbing any of Van Leeuwen’s flavors, they are meant to hold two and a half servings at a shelf price of $4.98 per pint (without tax). Each pint could easily serve four people, making Van Leeuwen’s ice cream a reasonable price for a novelty dessert. You can also find greater variety on the Van Leeuwen website, although they are priced at $12 a pint and require an order of five or more to ship. 

Next time we’re nearby Walmart, we may scout out some new flavors and see what surprises Van Leeuwen has in store.


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