With summer right around the corner, whose thoughts don't turn to creamy, cold ice cream?
Nowadays, you can find packaged ice cream just about anywhere, but that wasn't the case 100 years ago. If you wanted to partake of this frozen treat, you pretty much had to make it yourself. And that got us thinking: Which is cheaper, making it yourself or buying it ready to eat?
For this edition of The Savings Experiment, we dug into the matter, scoop by scoop. The Price Face-Off: Store-Bought Ice Cream vs. Homemade
Both versions have their pros and cons. With store-bought ice cream, you're buying convenience. With homemade, you know exactly which ingredients are going into your creamy treat, and you can create just about any flavor you want -- from green tea, mango and mint to lavender, peach and dark chocolate, you're limited only by your imagination.
Because not all packaged ice creams are created equal (some of the very inexpensive ones barely contain milk, let alone cream), for our cost comparison, we tested some high-end ice creams that are most similar to our homemade recipe. For the face-off, we chose Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's and Breyers.
To simplify the calculations, we broke the pricing down into ounces. Haagen-Dazs ranked the most expensive at 25 cents per ounce, Ben & Jerry's was 21 cents per ounce, and Breyers was 12 cents per ounce.
These days, electric ice cream makers come in all sizes and shapes. You can get a small one for as little as $29.95. On the opposite end of the price spectrum, you'll find heavy-duty, six-quart models for as much as $299.95.
To create our homemade ice cream, we chose the medium priced Cuisinart Pure Indulgence ice cream maker, which costs $79.95. This model can make two quarts of your favorite frozen treat, and it's simple to use.
We decided to keep things simple and chose to make vanilla ice cream. For this recipe, we used one cup of milk, which cost about 19 cents; four egg yolks for 44 cents; a half a cup of sugar, about 57 cents; one cup of heavy cream for just around $1.34; and two teaspoons of vanilla extract for about 70 cents. (These prices were taken from the Consumer Price Index, issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Our total: $3.24.
Some vanilla ice cream recipes call for using a vanilla bean that gets split open and steeped in the mixture while it's cooking. But at $4.63 per pod, this was way more than we wanted to spend, so we used the extract instead.
To keep the comparisons equal, you also have to factor in the cost of a container to store the ice cream; a two-quart container will run you about $1.42.
We'll save you all the cooking details -- your ice cream maker will come with instructions -- but will give you a quick overview of the hour-long process. To start, you have to make sure the bowl of the ice cream maker is frozen. Then you'll mix most of the ingredients together and heat them in a saucepan for about 20 minutes.
You then pour the mixture into a bowl, add the heavy cream, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When the mixture is cold, you transfer it the bowl of the ice cream maker. Then you'll attach the stirrer and start up the machine. What the ice cream maker does is continuously stir the mixture while keeping it cold. This part of the process takes anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes.
Now let's add up the cost of making two quarts of homemade vanilla ice cream.
Your ingredients total $3.24. The cost of the ice cream maker is $79.95, and the container is $1.42. We'll also factor in the cost of the time it takes to make the ice cream, using a minimum wage value of $7.25 for the hour of labor; we'll also add in 11 cents of electricity -- just about what it'll cost you to run the ice cream maker.
Cooking two quarts of ice cream every week for a year adds up to about $13.56 per batch, or almost 21 cents per ounce -- equal to an equivalent Ben & Jerry's ounce of store-bought ice cream.
But if you're using your ice cream maker just during the summer months, you're averaging around $18.17 per batch, or close to 29 cents per ounce, about four cents more per ounce than Haagen-Dazs, the highest priced ice cream in our cost-comparison test. (The higher price is due to the higher per-month average cost of the ice cream maker.)
As time goes on, your costs will go down because these calculations include the cost of the ice cream maker. Factoring out the cost of that initial investment in subsequent years cuts your per-ounce price down to about 19 cents.
With the store-bought ice cream costing between 12 cents and 25 cents per ounce, in the long run, you're saving as much as two-thirds the cost of the premium brands -- a little less if you whip up a batch less frequently. And of course, this is just for vanilla ice cream. More complex ingredients will jack up your costs.
So is it worth it? If you don't mind the time and effort it takes to whip up the creamy treat and you'll be using the ice cream maker on a regular basis, the savings can add up.
If you plan on purchasing more exotic ingredients and don't envision yourself whipping up a batch of ice cream every week, however, the savings won't be dramatic.
Homemade or store bought, it all adds up to happy eating!