There’s nothing better than treating yourself to frozen dessert on a hot summer day. Whether you’re in the mood for a light and refreshing snack or a bold and fulfilling treat, we’ll be ranking our favorite go-to frozen dessert choices.
Sherbet is good, particularly rainbow sherbet, but it suffers from an identity crisis.
Is it ice cream? Is it sorbet? It contains dairy but isn’t like its more tasty, cream-filled cousins. Unable to decide between the pure fruitiness of sorbet and frozen fruit and the richness of ice cream, its texture and iciness leave much to be desired.
9. Soft serve
Soft serve is OK. Its inherent creaminess satisfies our craving for a sweet, cold dessert, but we never crave soft serve in and of itself.
Vanilla and chocolate are the only two flavors (and they only ever have vanilla). You cannot beat the 75-cent price for a cone of soft serve, but it’s always an accessory and never the main event.
Soft serve melts too fast in cake cones, arguably the worst type. It is, in the end, simply a substitute for the frozen dessert we all truly desire — we settle for soft serve, but we dream of ice cream.
8. Frozen fruit
Some may argue that frozen fruit is not a dessert. Those who would malign the freshest, purest and sweetest of nature’s many offerings have failed to open their minds and palates.
Freeze grapes and blueberries for an easy do-it-yourself dessert. Frozen strawberries, bananas and oranges are all absolutely delectable on their own, but when dipped in chocolate, they are sublime.
While short of the pure sugar that makes up many desserts on this list, frozen fruit offers a healthier, potentially organic alternative.
But nature isn’t consistent. Sometimes the texture just isn’t right or your fruit is too sweet or sour. Frozen fruit needs to be bitten into, and every so often, that tooth freeze simply isn’t worth it.
A tasty dairy-free alternative to ice cream and sherbet, sorbet is the perfect blend of refreshing and smooth. It’s the perfect palate cleanser.
If you’re being honest with yourself, however, sorbet is essentially a finer shaved ice with fewer flavor options and higher price tags. Every other fruit-ice concoction on this list accepts that it’s just that: fruit flavoring and ice. Sorbet thinks it’s better than that, and that’s where it falls short.
But besides its superiority complex, sorbet is delightful. If there aren’t any other dairy-free options or you’re looking for something refreshing at an ice cream shop, it’s a solid choice.
Delicious and creamy, gelato deserves all its hype. It’s denser, softer and less cold than ice cream, creating both its shining feature and its downfall. The slightly higher temperature and softness make for a delightful eating experience — sometimes even better than ice cream — but the density produces a treat that at times is too rich.
Though gelato generally comes at a higher price point (unless you’re in Italy) and is one of the less common (aka harder to find) desserts on this list, there’s something so special about getting the perfect cone or cup (served with a spade, not a scooper) from colorful mountains of gelato.
Popsicles are a simple, strong, go-to treat. The central stick poses a singular hazard — nothing is as devastating as a Popsicle crashing to the ground or the sticky syrup flowing over your fingers as it melts.
But there are infinite flavor and color options and combinations, all of which are nearly guaranteed to be excellent. Popsicles do not miss. Period.
Above all, you can easily make your own variation at home. Scrounge up a stick and a cup, use a juice of your choice and you have your very own original frozen snack.
4. Shaved ice
Shaved ice is good in concept — there are so many flavors to choose from and so many colorful flavors to manipulate. This is both a blessing and a curse. The sheer quantity of flavors invites disaster; not all flavors can be brilliant.
Shaved ice’s melt rate is its true Achilles heel. You’re inevitably left with a flavorless chunk of ice or a mess of iceless syrup. Either way, shaved ice, though beautiful in our minds, does not always meet our expectations. When it does, however, it is nearly peerless — toppings such as red beans, condensed milk, boba and fresh fruit add both taste and aesthetic appeal. Nothing is quite so brilliant or vibrant on a hot day.
3. Frozen yogurt
Frozen yogurt is appealing for the experience — it is the way in which we get frozen yogurt that makes it special.
There is truly something for everyone. Numerous flavors — sweet or tart, fruity or creamy, refreshing or rich — and numerous combinations are all at your fingertips. Everyone makes their own frozen yogurt bowl as large or as small as they desire.
Its greatest weakness, perhaps, is that it will always be an imitation. Frozen yogurt is not ice cream, and, though imitation is the greatest compliment, the forgery will never truly escape the shadow of the original.
2. Otter Pops
Otter Pops are the superior iced juice. They are not overwhelming — their small size maximizes optionality. You can have one, a snack, or three, a dessert.
Otter Pops are not perfect. There are only a few flavors, and opening the thick plastic packaging is impossible without scissors.
The packaging is not without its benefit — melting is truly never an issue. Whether you crush them or eat them straight, it’s easy to consume an Otter Pop quickly. Eating an Otter Pop is truly an iconic pastime, wrapped up in our childhood memories of Slip ‘N Slides, summer barbecues and hot days at the park. Even when they melt — whether you call them freezies or Otter Pops — the resulting juice is never overwhelming.
1. Ice cream
With not only a day but a whole month dedicated to it, ice cream reigns supreme as the quintessential frozen treat. A classic childhood dessert, ice cream can be any flavor you can dream of, from everything bagel to sticky rice and mango.
Although ice cream may have previously excluded the lactose intolerant, the numerous dairy alternatives that have recently risen in popularity allow everyone to indulge in this lovely treat.
Able to be eaten in any weather and available in so many forms — in a cone, sandwiched between cookies, encased in mochi and more — ice cream never brings anything less than a smile to our faces.
This list is not perfect, and while there are plenty of contenders that did not make the cut, we hope this power ranking of frozen desserts inspires you to indulge yourself in a cold and delicious treat sometime soon.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is editor in chief and president, Jocelyn Huang is the managing editor and Connor Lin is the creative director. Contact them at [email protected].