In 2017, a brand called Halo Top became America’s bestselling pint of ice cream.
The low-calorie, low-sugar, high-protein "frozen dairy dessert" descended from the heavens, answering the prayers of ice cream lovers everywhere: finally, ice cream you can eat the way it was meant to be eaten — by the pint. Cue the choir of angels.
(Actually, Halo Top was launched in 2012 by a guy named Justin Woolverton, a former Los Angeles attorney who began making his own ice cream to accommodate his own hypoglycemic diet restrictions.)
The accepted serving size for ice cream is half a cup, but let’s get real: no one eats half a cup of ice cream. The fact that you can eat an entire pint of Halo Top and not also simultaneously eat half a day’s calories is not only a big part of Halo Top’s appeal, but its branding strategy. Save the bowl, eat the pint.
An entire pint of Halo Top comes in at 280 to 360 calories, depending on the flavour. An entire pint of Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s, meanwhile, is more than 1,000 calories.
This past Monday, Halo Top finally arrived in Canada. As part of Good or Gross?, a semi-regular segment on our Bury the Lede podcast in which we taste-test trendy new products and tell you whether they are good or gross, we tried four of the 12 flavours available in Canadian freezer aisles. (Check halotop.ca for stores and call ahead; many places are already sold out and certain flavours can be hard to find.)
We’ll admit, we were skeptical. Halo Top sounds too good to be true. So we dug in our spoons to taste for ourselves.
● 80 calories and 6 g of sugar per 125-ml serving, 303 calories for whole pint (473 ml)
Erin says: This one is surprisingly creamy and has that punch of cinnamon you’d expect from an oatmeal cookie (as well as actual bits of oatmeal). It’s also super light, in terms of texture, which makes it easier to scarf a whole pint if that’s something you’re considering. I’m not a fan of oatmeal, generally speaking, but this is something I could see myself coming back to.
Jen says: Yeah, this is pretty good. It definitely tastes like an oatmeal cookie, and I like the light texture, which I wasn’t expecting. This tastes and smells like cookie dough, but has the consistency of frozen whipped cream. The container is also physically light compared to a pint of traditional ice cream.
● 90 calories and 7 g of sugar per 125 ml, 337 cals for whole pint (473 ml)
Erin says: I’m not crazy about this one. Also, I’m pretty sure "pancakes" and "waffles" are the same thing? Shouldn’t it be called pancakes and syrup? Anyway, as you know, Jen, I hate pancakes and maple, so this one had its work cut out for it, and it just didn’t strike a chord with me. The maple is too strong and too sweet, and there’s a clear artificial sweetener aftertaste I’m not too keen on. I do, however, enjoy the tiny waffle pieces that are mixed in. If maple is your thing, you’ll probably like it.
Jen says: Pancakes and waffles ARE my thing and they are most certainly not the same. Points, again, for accuracy in terms of flavour — it literally smells like the inside of an IHOP. But while I appreciate that the maple tasted like real maple syrup and not maple-adjacent high-fructose corn syrup, I agree with you, Erin: the maple flavour was too aggressive. I also liked the waffle chunks; they added a bit of chew to the otherwise feathery texture.
● 90 calories and 6 g of sugar per 125 ml, 337 calories for whole pint (473 ml)
Erin says: This. Is. Amazing. Peanut butter ice cream with a salty peanut butter swirl? Yes please. Just like the others, this is a relatively fluffy, light texture, but dang, that salty kick from the peanut butter swirl is everything. I could definitely down a pint of this in no time — this one is my favourite of the four, no question.
Jen says: I wasn’t jacked about this one when I initially tried it. I think I was expecting it to be a chocolate-peanut butter swirl, even though the label says nothing about chocolate. But it really grew on me after a few more bites. That peanut butter swirl is definitely the salty star here — I just wish there was more of it!
● 90 calories and 8 g of sugar per 125 ml, 337 calories for whole pint (473 ml)
Erin says: As expected, this one tastes sweeeeeet. But also gooooood. It reminds me very much of butterscotch ripple, but an elevated version of it — it’s mostly vanilla with a caramel swirl I wouldn’t know contained sea salt if it weren’t in the name. More sea salt would have added a nice layer of flavour to this but it definitely doesn’t top Peanut Butter Swirl on my "must-eat" list. Regardless, it is a very tasty, low-cal option.
Jen says: It’s definitely not salty enough — at least not enough to stand up to that sweet butterscotch ripple. The textural interplay is a bit strange in this one; the cream itself is almost too light for such a heavy syrup. This one is also the most cloying.
Erin says: Overall, I am pleasantly surprised with the creaminess and ice-cream-like texture Halo Top has achieved. Many other "frozen dairy desserts" are more like ice milk — they lack flavour and have a gritty, grainy texture that is unappealing, but these really feel like you’re eating full-fat, full-flavour ice cream. The difference in tasting and eating experience between Halo Top and something such as, say, Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs, is negligible, in my opinion, and for what you’re saving in terms of fat, sugar and calories, Halo Top is worth trying. Even at more than $7 per pint.
Jen says: I was convinced I was going to hate this because there’s nothing like real-deal ice cream, and I find the whole "indulge guilt-free!" branding a bit problematic. I believe in everything in moderation. But, while I think they are all a bit too sweet across the board — I think owing to the fact that they are sweetened with stevia — I, too, was pleasantly surprised at the quality of flavour and texture. I couldn’t detect any weird aftertaste, and it didn’t make me feel bloated. I would buy this.
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email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @NireRabel @JenZoratti
Erin Lebar joined the Free Press in December 2013 as a web and copy editor, often working the overnight shift, or ‘the other 9-5’ as she likes to call it.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Monday, March 12, 2018 at 8:22 AM CDT: Adds photos
11:25 AM: Rearranges photos