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Cold Take: Vanilla Ice Cream isn’t Basic

Image courtesy of Fine Cooking Recipes

By Bridget Guinee

How many times have you seen someone walk out of an ice cream store with a cone of vanilla ice cream?

You perhaps can count the amount of times on one hand, for the fact is: a single scoop of vanilla is rarely ordered. So, then why does everyone think it’s “basic?”

Let’s first consider that the word “basic” refers to some activity that everyone partakes in, or an object that is considered mainstream or unoriginal. For example, Hydroflasks covered in stickers, scrunchies, and leggings are all “basic” items for a female college student since the vast majority of women own these objects.

For vanilla ice cream to be basic and unoriginal, it would have to be commonplace for customers to purchase a cone with one scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. But is this really all that typical?

No, it’s not. 

Having worked at a local ice cream store in Pittsburgh for three years, it is a rarity for me to serve more than one cone of plain vanilla ice cream each shift. On the uncommon occasion that it does, one of three situations typically takes place:

  1. After her three-year-old son orders “the white one,” his mother tells him to pick another flavor or put a topping onto it. He ends up choosing chocolate instead.
  2. The man blushes, his friends tease him and demand that he orders “something more interesting,” and the man chooses a new flavor at random.
  3. The newborn baby continues to sleep in her stroller and her parents tell me it’s her first time having ice cream, so vanilla is the “basic” choice.

In these three scenarios, only the newborn baby ends up taking a few licks and the parents finish it. The others are either too self-conscious of their decision or are talked into picking another flavor.

On the other hand, significantly more customers order a scoop of chocolate ice cream without hesitation. Out of the two classic flavors, more people prefer chocolate and vanilla is definitely not the popular choice. This is likely because vanilla is viewed as a “base” flavor and only good if toppings and sprinkles are piled on top. Vanilla is the most commonly used ice cream in sundaes, but is scarcely chosen as a singular flavor in a dish or cone.

When a customer does order a scoop of vanilla, I honestly am shocked. The customer will often face criticism and judgement from their companions, or will feel the need to explain their decision with a “I know, but it’s my favorite” or “You can’t go wrong with a classic!” After scooping at least twenty chocolate scoops, I view that order as bold. That customer knew it wouldn’t be a popular choice but ordered it anyway because vanilla ice cream actually is a solid flavor, and I respect that.

Don’t fall for the stereotype that your vanilla ice cream scoop is mainstream and boring. It’s original, it’s classic, it’s bold, and it’s anything but basic. 

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