Ice Ice Baby: Ice Lolly Taste Test

Summer's here, and that means chomping on frozen treats. Here's our guide to what you'll find in the freezer, and which ices are worth the inevitable brain freeze

Feature by Peter Simpson | 24 May 2019
  • Ice Lolly Taste Test

What are we like, honestly? The first burst of sunshine and everyone’s flocking outside to smash cans in the park, catch a big slice of sunstroke, and accidentally set a whole load of bins on fire. But the summertime isn’t just about wanton destruction and ‘needing a lie down for five minutes’. It’s also about mainlining as much cold, icy sugar as you can, as quickly as possible. It’s about ice lollies, and that’s why we’re here.

The Skinny loves ice cream, and Scotland is home to some fantastic indie gelaterias and iced creameries. They are delicious, and we salute them, but we’re here to help you navigate your options when you’re sent to the shops by your flatmate or colleague and told to get ‘something cold’ while also picking up a cabbage and some lightbulbs. It’s the supermarket ice lollies made by Big Ice Cream, where you know what you’re getting every time and – spoiler alert – it ain’t always particularly good.

We have nine contenders in this test, and frankly we would have tried more if the cool bag we found on top of the kitchen cabinet had been a bit larger. There’s just so much choice, all singing out through the freezer door with bright colours, oversized imagery that ‘may’ be larger than the actual product inside, and the promise of sweet, sticky refreshment. Refreshingness is one of the five categories we settled on to gauge the quality of our ices. We’re also judging them on their looks, their flavour, their ease-of-use (working title for this category was ‘suckability’, just to let you in on the editing process) and, crucially, how quickly they melt into a disgusting puddle.

We kick off with Rowntree’s Watermelon lollies, which, to be fair to them, do look a bit like a slice of watermelon. They also look a lot like an emoji come to life, and their disconcerting rounded edges are reminiscent of a plastic dog toy. If you’re looking for an ice lolly to express your love of the popular trends of two years ago, you could do a lot worse. If you’re looking for something that is a tasty enjoyable treat, you could do a lot better.

The pink segment of the lolly is, by agreement of all present, “rank”, but the green rind-like bit at the bottom fared a lot better. Problem is it’s almost all pink bit, because, as previously mentioned, this thing really looks like a slice of watermelon. It’s also too sweet and cloying to be genuinely refreshing, and dribbles all over the place. Too much surface area, too many melting edges, someone pass a tea towel, let’s move on.

A visual look at the Watermelon and what makes it tick – this graph and (spoiler!) the others later on will give you a handy visual shorthand for each of our lollies. Perfect for the busy young professional who spends their days working with #data, and has no time to read 1600 words about ice cream. Consider yourselves seen.

We’ll take the Fab and its weird cousin, the Nobbly Bobbly, in tandem. For the uninitiated, a Fab is a three-part banger consisting of a strawberry section at the foot, a strawberry and cream middle section, and a strawberry, cream, chocolate and sprinkle section at the top. The Bobbly, meanwhile, is essentially just that top bit but the whole way down, and with hundreds and thousands instead of sprinkles and chocolate in the middle. This is a healthy challenge!

Looks-wise, the Bobbler edges it. It screams ‘youth’, it cries out ‘colour’, it looks like something Oliver Bonas would print on a sofa cushion you might consider buying before thinking better of it and sticking with the classic ‘deep red’. The Fab has a similar vibe, but when you bite into it, there’s a striking resemblance to a tuna steak that’s really hard to shake. A tuna steak can’t cool you off on a hot summer’s day; a bit of sashimi maybe, but even that’s a push.

They both score well on the meltability front. If you want your ice lolly to remain intact on a hot summer’s day, encasing it within a thick film of sugar seems to be a good way to go, with Big Nobble’s all-over sprinkle crust proving impervious to the heat. As for taste… hmmm.

They’re both extremely, almost uncomfortably sugary, and it’s a surface sweetness that is really quite tough to handle. Throw in some questionable texture – the Fab’s middle layer will coat your mouth like the fat from a good steak, and ol’ Bobble-Bobbs has the texture of a cheap sofa cushion – and there’s not much positive to say. Suckable? Yeah, we suppose, but would you want to? As for being refreshing, the Fab split our review panel, whereas Nobbly left us feeling parched. No joke, someone actually used the word “parched”. In 2019. It was that bad.

See, this is where these kind of graphs are super-handy. If you just want something that looks nice and won't melt, Nobbly's your choice. If you care about refreshment, get a Fab. I mean, please do read the rest of the article, but these really are the visual cliff notes.

Things hit a low with the Mini Milk, which is a real shame because many of us around the table have fond memories of these weird rods of whipped dairy nonsense. Still, strip them of their context and present them to your colleagues on a chopping board for tasting, and a lot of the childhood magic is stripped away. Throw in the fact that these things will melt if you say the word ‘sunshine’ within earshot, and things aren’t looking great.

In terms of taste, Mini Milks do taste like milk; they also kinda taste like cheese, which, fair play, is made of milk. Strong dairy vibes either way. In terms of lickability, they have an excellent form factor, but if an ice lolly doesn’t taste great and is melting all over your hand like a pissing puppy, then lickability doesn’t enter into it. Chalky texture, excessively creamy taste, we are not refreshed, let’s keep this train rolling.

The less said about the Strawberries and Cream Calippo the better. A standard Calippo is just a long extrusion of vaguely fruity sugar water; this thing looks like a scallop that’s been forced through a keyhole. It doesn’t taste bad, per se, but there’s just no reason for it to exist. It melts very quickly, there’s a strange goopiness to the whole thing, it’s a no from us.

Oh dear oh dear, etc etc. Even this impressively-detailed graph can't save these two.

What a good ice lolly needs is a fruity angle, with a blend of flavours and something a bit left-field to pique one’s interest. Twister lollies have most of the boxes ticked – the look is iconic, and swirly. The flavour is pleasant and surprisingly well-balanced; put away your Soleros, people, this is the correct ratio of ice cream to whatever this green stuff is, sorbet presumably! The structure holds up to the heat, and that helps with the lickability issue; you could conceivably eat one of these while walking down the street without getting it all over yourself. Also, for the first time in this test, we are genuinely refreshed. See, we don’t just do these tests to dunk on mass-market foodstuffs; sometimes we actually like things!

Look at that graph! So well-rounded. Good job, Twister.

As these things go, they don’t get much more mass-market than a Mars ice cream bar. All the sugary goodness of a Mars bar, but now with more dairy, and cold! Visually, it doesn’t scream summer fun; it just looks like a Mars bar, albeit with a light frost on top. This also means it completely fails the suckability/ lickability test; you can’t sit there licking a Mars bar, people will start to murmur. It isn’t refreshing either; it’s claggy and super-duper sweet.

Two things it does have in its favour are its chocolate shell, which helps it stay in one piece, and the taste. Whisper it in case any food snobs are listening, but this is actually alright. It’s just a really, really, really sweet choc ice, but we like choc ices and we’re trying out nine different ice lollies on a Wednesday afternoon so it looks as though we enjoy sweet things as well. Not our first choice, but we don’t hate it; Mars, you can have that slogan for free.

That shape says one thing to us – a Mars ice cream isn't really an ice cream at all. Also, it kinda looks like a seal's head. Imagine the number '1' is the eye, and you'll see what we mean. Jowly. 

As we said at the outset, these lollies are really only suitable for the occasions when you want a nice ice cream but can’t find one. But when you really want an ice cream, needs must, and that’s where a Cornetto comes in. Slightly soggy cone? Check. Weirdly synthetic ice cream? Mmm-hmm. Odd chocolate bits on the top? Sure, why not. Visually, it hits the spot; it looks exactly like what you’d expect an ice cream cone to look like.

Melting isn’t an enormous issue, as a large part of the thing is wafer, which is famously unmeltable. As for lickability, it’s an ice cream, so, yeah, knock yourself out. Taste-wise, it’s a bit mediocre, but surprisingly OK. But when it comes to refreshment, the Cornetto just can’t get it done. How can you be refreshed when you’re constantly thinking that you’d rather have a good, actual, proper ice cream? That’s no recipe for summer fun.

Trendy people – purchase a Cornetto! It looks good and you won't want to eat it anyway, so it can be a permanent part of your outfit!

Nope, the best ice lolly can’t be too close to real ice cream. It needs to be a technicolour marvel of food science, and should probably taste of about fifteen different fruits but also nothing in particular. Ideally, it should evoke some childhood nostalgia. It should also stand up to an extended burst of Scottish sunshine. Really, we’re talking about a Rowntree’s Fruit Pastille lolly. It has a solid structure and an excellent look; so many colours, so little time. It tastes fantastic in that generically fruity way, and is a truly excellent licker. You’ll go on a genuine journey with this one, although at this point that may just be the sugar talking. It’s the best ice lolly we could find, now point us in the direction of the nearest good ice cream shop and pass us an enormous glass of water.

That's what a winner looks like! Just like that one from earlier, but a bit easier to eat!