Ben & Jerry's Gets to the Core

At the end of February, excitable news outlets and social media foodies were whirring about a new line of ice cream from a company that has a lot of experience in crafting clever twists on frozen favorites: Ben & Jerry’s.

Mar 4, 2014 at 5:44 pm

In this column, we’ve routinely written about the “limited edition” products that food companies unleash to draw attention to themselves. And it seems like there has been a rise in more outrageous and adventurous twists on old favorites. These new products don’t even have to taste good; they just have to be different enough for people to tweet about them or to catch the eye of a Buzzfeed writer who’s run out of “Top 20 (fill in the blank)s You Have to See to Believe” story ideas. 

At the end of February, excitable news outlets and social media foodies were whirring about a new line of ice cream from a company that has a lot of experience in crafting clever twists on frozen favorites: Ben & Jerry’s.

The instant press generated by the company’s Core line introduction — a line of ice cream flavors featuring a central core of either fudge, caramel or raspberry jam — was almost overwhelmingly positive. In one of the more over-the-top items, the cable TV network E! (which apparently covers ice cream now?) wrote up an only slightly tongue-in-cheek love letter of a blog titled, “Ben & Jerry’s Dropped a Flavor Bomb on Us and Changed the Ice Cream Game Forever.”

Not having the good fortune to work for a media empire that commands instant ice cream samples whenever a new flavor is unveiled, I plopped down about $16 for four pints of the new Cores and set out to put E!’s hyperbole to the test. 

My findings: a) It’s Ben & Jerry’s, so of course it’s delicious and b) I’m not sure exactly how one changes the ice cream game forever, but I have serious doubts that injecting a flavorful goo down the center of each pint necessitates calling it a culinary revolution. Ben & Jerry’s makes great ice cream and adding new twists on old favorites is their entire modus operandi. 

Photos of the new Core flavors show the pints cut in half to reveal a dark “core” of flavoring down the center of two different flavors of ice cream. It looks brilliant but, ultimately, the taste isn’t above and beyond what you’d expect from Ben & Jerry’s. 

What the company has basically done is combine a couple of complimentary flavors and match them with an appropriate flavor swirl — peanut butter and fudge, salt and caramel, hazelnut and chocolate, and raspberry jam and chocolate. But where most ice creams’ “swirls” are spread throughout the ice cream, the Core products simply take all of the flavor and consolidate it into a thick column at the center of the pint.

Unless you eat incredibly tiny bites of ice cream, the flavors blend together in your mouth anyway, making the “core” mostly a marketable novelty. The Peanut Butter Fudge Core pint, for example, has chocolate ice cream with small peanut butter cups on one side, peanut butter ice cream on the other and a rich “peanut butter fudge” column down the middle. Scooping a little ice cream from each side, then dabbing it in the less-creamy, more-gooey core is kind of like making mini sundaes by the spoonful. But were this to be blended together in a bowl and presented to me alongside, say, the company’s Peanut Butter Cup flavor, I’d have a hard time telling the difference between the two.

The Salted Caramel Core plays off the savory/sweet food trend, matching “Sweet Cream Ice Cream” with small bits of blonde brownies and a salted caramel core (in this case, there isn’t a second ice cream flavor). The ice cream itself is pretty dull (by Ben & Jerry’s standards), letting the core provide the power in the flavor. The Hazed & Confused Core pint is split between hazelnut and chocolate ice creams, with tiny chocolate chips and a hazelnut fudge core that many have compared to Nutella spread, though to me the hazelnut flavor is completely overwhelmed by the fudge.

While all tasty, I wasn’t bowled over by any of the Core flavors. Except, that is, for the That’s My Jam Core, the only of the four pints I tasted that I ended up devouring instantly. Chocolate ice cream is matched with a raspberry ice cream that’s loaded with fudge chips, but it’s the raspberry core that puts it over the top. The core is raspberry jam-like, seeds and all. While there are plenty of raspberry swirls available in the ice cream world, there’s something extra-delicious about the isolated column of flavoring. Unlike the other pints’ cores, the raspberry is more dominant and creates a flavor that truly stands out from all of the other Ben & Jerry’s blends. 

Ben & Jerry’s rarely screws up when it comes to flavors, and the Core line is still great ice cream. But does it “change the ice cream game” forever? Not even close. After the cone, chocolate chips and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, I’m not sure that the ice cream industry can actually be revolutionized. But if anyone can change the game, it’s the ice cream alchemists at Ben & Jerry’s. Please keep trying, sirs.