Obsessive fans were right—Häagen Dazs did tweak their vanilla recipe

Sweet beginnings.
Sweet beginnings.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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It all started with a post on Chowhound that a colleague sent my way. The food site has long served as a message board where the culinary-minded can ask one another where to find the best takeaway curry, or what to do with, say, the quince they bought on a whim. A Chowhound poster wanted to know, did Häagen-Dazs change their vanilla ice cream recipe?

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“The last five or ten times I’ve bought their vanilla…it just doesn’t taste the same–it’s icier and milkier, not creamy and dense like it used to be,” wrote GDSwamp.

As someone who identifies as team chocolate and lives in ice cream-obsessed New England—where iconic ice cream stands open for summer and local brands line our supermarket freezers—I didn’t find the question all that compelling. Then I started to read the comments.

“I have noticed over the last month or two that the ice cream does not seem creamy and has a sour milky aftertaste sometimes,” wrote Brooklyn1234. “ I’m so glad I found your post. For a minute I thought I was going crazy, lol,” added Melanie2630. The Chowhound thread travels all over the Häagen-Dazs universe, citing label information and consumer experiences—both good and bad—from several different flavors.

These comments are from regular people—not culinary professionals. They love ice cream; they love Häagen-Dazs; they care. They may not share my flavor and brand preferences, but as a fellow ice cream obsessive I realized these are my people, and thus my job to get them some answers.

So I turned to the vanilla product page on the Häagen-Dazs’ website where a quick glance made clear that the “vanilla question” was not just irascible foodies being cranky, it was a thing. Had the company—which updated its packaging last year—also quietly given its actual cream an under-the-radar make-over?

It’s important to note that people who come to Häagen-Dazs’ brand site to comment on the flavors really love their ice cream—and are not afraid to share their feelings. They’d like to see smaller ribbons of peanut butter in the chocolate peanut butter for ease of scooping; they’re that kind of dedicated super fans. This is an ice cream reality in which even rum raisin gets four stars.

On the vanilla page though, after a few glowing reviews, the love stops and the questions begin. ”You had the BEST ice cream ever, but since you changed the formula it is horrible. At the very least, offer both formulas and keep your old customers,” writes one former fan. “Why did you change your ice cream?,” starts a plaintive comment. “We are celebrating New Year’s, discussing Häagen-Dazs ice cream and are very disappointed with the change of formula. Please go back to your original ice cream!”

I reached out to Häagen-Dazs and after a little back and forth it turns out their fans were right: Häagen-Dazs did change their vanilla flavor. And while they wouldn’t divulge the exact recipe, they did send me this statement about the ice cream.

We continuously work to improve our products based on evolving consumer tastes and preferences. We’re proud to have the #1 vanilla ice cream in our category, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to make things better.  We listened to what our Häagen-Dazs ice cream fans wanted, and looked at the recipe last year to further enhance the experience.  Delighting consumers is at our core, so we don’t make adjustments lightly. We rely on consumer insights when we make changes, and we were pleased that a small change to our vanilla recipe had the approval of our biggest fans – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We believe in using quality, simple ingredients in our vanilla ice cream, which continues to feature the same five ingredients (cream, skim milk, cane sugar, egg yolks and vanilla extract) we’ve used for years.

Citing trade secrets, Häagen-Dazs declined to provide any more specifics on the change. But even though its formula is simple, small tweaks—like altering the cream-to-milk ratio, or the amount of sugar—can make for textural and flavor changes, especially if you’re a devoted aficionado. So to all those vanilla superfans out there, I don’t understand you, but I do applaud your tastebuds.

You were right, the formula is a little different.