I came of age at a Branson church camp in the shadow of a Yakov Smirnoff billboard. There, I spent summers communing with other sunburnt young Evangelicals, learning the words to John 3:16 and writhing hornily at the annual camp hoedown. I developed a semi-permanent farmer’s tan, and I fell prey to the Blob (a giant inflatable water mattress also depicted in 1995 masterpiece Heavyweights)—but most importantly, I ate my body weight in Bomb Pops, which were readily available in the mess hall freezer. I devoured those things by the box, roaming the camp with an ominous red stain around my mouth for a solid week.
To this day, I like to keep Bomb Pops in the freezer whenever temps hit 80. And now, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is reimagining the flavor ice cream form, along with four other limited-edition, ice-cream-truck-inspired flavors which the brand hopes will “transport you back to the nostalgic summer break of your youth.” Intrigued, I got my hands on all five new flavors. As expected, they are all beautiful and special in their own way—but I did go ahead and rank them below, just for fun.
First place: High Five Candy Bar
The High Five Candy Bar pint features “four ingredients to rule them all,” per a press release sent to The Takeout. Those ingredients are peanut butter, caramel, chocolate, and pretzels. The base is a peanut butter ice cream, which is drizzled with honey for a mildly nougat-y texture. It’s exactly as good as it sounds, sending this flavor soaring to the top of my ranking. First, I’m a real sucker for mixing salty and sweet, and Jeni’s always does peanut butter right. (The salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks available year-round at the chain is one of my go-tos). The saltiness of the peanuts and pretzels cut the sweetness of the cream cheese base, adding plenty of crunch in every bite. My only complaint is that the little brown pretzel bits are all U-shaped. They do, unfortunately, look like little poops. But I can deal with that, because this is a rock-solid flavor experience.
Second place: Mango Cheesecake Swirl
I’m a huge sucker for classic vanilla ice cream with fruity mix-ins. Fruity ice cream reminds me of cobbler, which reminds me of eating dessert in my grandmother’s backyard kiddie pool on a 100-degrees day. It doesn’t get much better than that. With this in mind, Mango Cheesecake Swirl really hit the spot. The fruity concoction less complex than High Five Candy Bar: it’s just a New York-style cheesecake ice cream with an alphonso mango drizzle. The base is rich, rich, rich, and it’s a bit thicker and more toothsome than Jeni’s standard cream cheese formula. Fortunately, the tart mango cuts the richness and creates a deliciously sweet final product—without being too heavy for summertime.
Third place: Golden Nectar
Okay, listen. I really liked this flavor, but it made me feel insane. Why? Because the press release describes Golden Nectar as “round and soft and almost magical with notes of nectar, vanilla, and clove.” The effect is supposed to taste like “chilled summer chai.” The amber-colored ice cream is also contains “firecracker-like snaps of aerated toffee candy.” So I serve myself a scoop, expecting a chai-toffee combo. Makes sense, right?
This is not a chai-toffee combo. Golden Nectar tastes exactly like Big League Chew bubble gum. This is bubble gum ice cream.
That’s not a complaint: the flavor is fabulous, like the first two chomps of Double Bubble when you’re stretched out grumpily across the bleachers at your kid brother’s baseball game, arms crossed, scratching a mosquito bite, trying to figure out if the kid working the Sno-Cone stand thinks you’re cute. But there’s not a hint of chai here, and I found the toffee candy to be essentially undetectable. Is there something wrong with me? Is this like the cilantro thing where only certain people can taste the chai? I even conducted two separate taste tests on different days to confirm the flavor. This is all to say: Golden Nectar is delicious, but it doesn’t taste like chai. Summery, yes. Chai, no.
Fourth place: Orange Freeze
Boasting “juicy blood orange, tart OJ, and coconut cream,” Orange Freeze—the only dairy-free option of the five—seeks to reimagine a certain unnamed “classic food court beverage.” This is, of course, an homage to Orange Julius, which Jeni’s likely can’t name for copyright reasons. The result is an orange-coconut ice cream bursting with significantly more tartness than the Orange Juliuses of my youth. This one has more of a sherbet effect flavor-wise, but it still rocks the creamy texture of other Jeni’s ice creams. I love tart flavors, but I found that I most enjoyed Orange Freeze after mixing it with a scoop of Mango Cheesecake Swirl. The mango brightens up Orange Freeze’s generic citrus twang and adds another welcome layer of creaminess. Who says you can’t have it all?
Participation trophy: Rocket Pop
And just like that, we’re back where we started. Rocket Pop is a play on the classic Bomb Pop (again, copyright issues), featuring a tart blueberry-pineapple swirl against a buttermilk cream cheese backdrop. I expected Rocket Pop to transport me right back to summer camp, where I’d learn all of the movements to “O, Pharaoh, Let My People Go” and annihilate the chocolate milk in the mess hall. But Rocket Pop ice cream doesn’t taste as much like Bomb Pops. Instead, it reminds me of those bug-eyed SpongeBob popsicles you score from neighborhood ice cream carts. Again, this isn’t a complaint. All of these flavors are quite good, but Rocket Pop didn’t satisfy my sugar-coated sensibilities. If I want a Bomb Pop, I’ll eat a Bomb Pop—and if I want ice cream, I’ll eat ice cream. (All of this being said, this one also tastes awesome mixed with the mango flavor. Like the Orange Freeze, it just needs more creaminess!)
You really can’t go wrong with any of the flavors in this collection. If you’re looking for something tart, Rocket Pop and Orange Freeze are sure to please. Otherwise, any of the new ice creams will make a great midday treat during the dog days of summer. The limited-time flavors will be available as a collection online starting today, July 8, but if you’d rather buy individual pints you’ll have to wait for each flavor’s release date. Those are as follows:
Rocket Pop: July 8
Mango Cheesecake Swirl: July 15
Orange Freeze: July 22
High Five Candy Bar: July 29
Golden Nectar: August 6