Ice cream is Eric Fredette’s passion and his profession. As chief flavor guru at Ben & Jerry’s, for decades he’s tested his share of hits, from Chunky Monkey to Chocolate Fudge Brownie. He sometimes even brings his “work” home—for research!—and knows the best way to store ice cream for the freshest flavor.
Can ice cream go bad? Yes. For example, if stored wrong ice crystals can form on the surface of even the best brands.
“It feels like sand on the tongue,” said Fredette, who has created some of the tastiest flavors, including Chocolate Therapy and a line of ice creams with cookie dough cores.
We’ve all experienced this “lactose crystallization,” when sugar in milk separates into a layer of ice. There is also technically a use-by date for frozen desserts that can depend on the amount of sugar in the recipe and preservatives, if any.
Fredette, who is a professional chef, along with the folks at America’s Test Kitchen share the best way to store ice cream for the long days of spring and summer. This is the most important freezer storage item, after all.
The Best Ice Cream Storage
We do have some bad news: you probably don’t have a fancy freezer like Ben and Jerry’s that gets cold enough to store ice cream for years. But of course this just means you have to eat it sooner, and use other storage techniques!
There are tricks to help keep ice cream creamy and fresh long enough for guests or a midnight snack, even months after you buy it. How long ice cream lasts also depends on whether it is homemade or store bought, and even the flavor of the ice cream, said Morgan Bolling, senior editor of Cook’s Country magazine, published by America’s Test Kitchen.
“The colder the storage temperature, the better,” says Fredette, a fan of the deep freezer at work kept at -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I can store ice cream for several years at that temperature and it will remain smooth and creamy,” he said. You can dream, but your fridge probably can’t go below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
At home, Fredette recommends instead storing ice cream as cold as you can, in a freezer that does not have an automatic defrost cycle.
You should also avoid drafts. Keep the ice cream in a freezer that you don’t open often, for those who have one; avoid storing your pint in the door.
“Store it in the far back, coldest spot in your freezer you can,” said Bolling.
When you serve it, try not to leave the ice cream out on the counter any longer than you have to.
“It may be harder to scoop without thawing, but your ice cream will stay smooth and creamy longer,” Bolling said.
Also keep out the air. Shut the lid tight when you put ice cream away and even consider covering it with parchment or plastic wrap to keep ice from forming.
“The covering needs to be in contact with the ice cream for this to be effective,” Fredette said.
If there’s a power outage, you should dispose of soft or melted ice cream for quality’s sake. Also, ice cream is made from milk and can spoil and make you sick.
Some Ice Cream Stores Better
The type of ice cream you have determines how long it will last in the freezer.
For example, Bolling and Fredette agree that vanilla ice cream stays freshest because it has less sugar, which as an ingredient, breaks down faster.
“Sugar depresses the freezing point and makes the ice cream more susceptible to temperature abuse,” Fredette said. “So vanilla will last longer than Phish Food. Urban Bourbon will degrade faster than Chocolate Therapy. It is all about the formula balance.”
Homemade ice cream and store-bought ice cream also add a wrinkle to the conversation.
Store-bought ice cream has stabilizers like guar gum and xanthan gum, which help keep the texture smooth, Bolling said. These ingredients make thawing and refreezing less detrimental than homemade ice cream.
“Often these ice creams have to travel long distances to get from the producer to your grocery store freezer shelf, not to mention the trip home to your freezer,” she said.
Homemade ice cream is typically stabilized with nothing more than egg yolks, so it is more likely to suffer when the temperature changes.
“Be extra careful with homemade ice cream and eat it quickly,” Bolling said. “We actually suggest eating our homemade ice cream recipe within five days to avoid loss in quality.”
Though his job is to create some of the most innovative ice creams that delight eager fans, at the end of the day, what Fredette really wants is a mouthful of really good vanilla stored right. And we can’t argue.
“Our vanilla ice cream, at its best, will taste like fresh dairy, sweetened with warm, rich, brown vanilla notes,” Fredette said. “I describe our vanilla as a warm blanket. It is a comfort food.”