This week I reached out for a scoop of Chocolate Escape ice cream at the world's biggest scoop shop, Baskin-Robbins, with 2,800 stores in the U.S. and 5,800 spanning the globe.
Yeah, I know, vanilla is the most popular ice-cream flavor in the world, the U.S., your city and probably your home fridge. But I'm telling you, chocolate is running the show.
OK, Vanilla is on top at Baskin-Robbins, but it's followed by Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pralines and Cream and Chocolate Chip. I'm seeing the word "chocolate" a lot on that Top 5 list.
Let's go back to 1945, the birth of Baskin-Robbins, and crunch some numbers. Of the original 31 flavors, seven were heavy into chocolate -- plain Chocolate, Rocky Road, Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Ribbon. They also had Banana Nut Fudge and Peppermint Fudge Ribbon, which depended on chocolate to close the deal. That sounds like about 30 percent of the total package was chocolate-fied.
Vanilla? I'm serious, I used to think that all ice cream started out as vanilla ... and then they added flavors that made it worth eating. Vanilla is bland. It's nothingness. When a critic calls a movie or play "vanilla" ... it's not a compliment.
That's why the mad scientists in Baskin-Robbins's flavor lab are high-fiving each other over the creation of Chocolate Escape, the "Flavor of the Month" for January. Admittedly, "Flavor of the Month" is mostly an honorary degree, but it looks good on the resume, say, if Chocolate Escape threatens to squeeze Baskin-Robbins for better space in the freezer or, say, take its talents to Häagen-Dazs.
Here's the blueprint: Chocolate and Swiss Chocolate ice creams, loaded with pieces of chocolate ganache cake and chocolate chunks. There's nothing in there I don't love -- even "ganache cake," which I didn't know what it was. ("Ganache cake" is Food Network talk for a fudge brownie.)
Total calories: 300 (for a 4-ounce scoop). Fat grams: 16. Dietary fiber: 1 gram. Carbs: 38 grams. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $3. Price and your mileage may vary.
Chocolate Escape isn't the deepest-chocolatey of Baskin-Robbins' brainstorms. Chocolate Fudge, which should be called Chocolate Sludge, has that honor. But Chocolate Escape has a lot of fun built into it, with chunks of ganache cake and bits and pieces of chocolate candy bar. I love chunky ice cream. It's kind of disappointing when you put a spoonful in your mouth, slosh it around and there's no extra goodies. It's like playing "Family Feud" and you don't make the Fast Money bonus round.
The blend of plain Chocolate and Swiss Chocolate ice creams in Chocolate Escape is interesting. It's a little like World Class Chocolate, which mixes White Chocolate and Milk Chocolate. I prefer the Chocolate Escape pairing, because I'm never 100 percent certain that white chocolate is really chocolate -- it's not the right color.
I'm into food visuals. It has to look right to taste right. I don't like blue strawberry Icees, either. And yet, Winter White Chocolate is probably my favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor of all time. I'm complicated. It's also why I eat alone a lot.
If you ever doubt the dominance of chocolate ice cream, walk into a 31 Flavors on any given day, and you're likely to find: Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, OREO Cookies 'n Cream, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Jamocha Almond Fudge, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Rocky Road, Gold Medal Ribbon, World Class Chocolate and Made With Snickers. And that's not including regional and seasonal classics like Super Fudge Truffle, Bobsled Brownie and Aloha Brownie Fudge.
How terrific is Aloha Brownie Fudge? It's one of Baskin-Robbins' low-fat (and half the calories) ice creams, and I still order it ... without anybody looking at me and suggesting it.