We Froze, and Churned, and Froze Again to Find the Best Ice Cream Makers (2024)

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It's not the fastest or easiest kitchen project, but making your own ice cream is so, so worth it. You'll never find any fresher ice cream on a store shelf, and DIY gives you complete control over flavorings and ingredients.

Here's the thing: It's difficult to make ice cream in the comfort of your own home without an ice cream maker. There are lots of shapes, sizes, and freezing methods available—how do you decide on a model? To help, we took on the task of making and tasting dozens of ice creams. It's a tough job, but someone had to do it.

In This Article

  • Our Picks

  • How We Tested Ice Cream Makers

  • Other Options We Tested

  • What to Look For

  • FAQs

  • Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

  • Sources

What We Like

  • Built-in timer

  • Automatic and manual modes

  • Opening for adding ingredients

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy freezer bowl

  • Loud

The ICE-70 makes a whopping 2 quarts of ice cream per batch and has a simple control panel with an LCD screen that’s easy to read. There are settings for ice cream, gelato, or sorbet, which control the speed of the mixing paddle. The time is automatically set for each option but can be adjusted manually, as well. During testing, it churned out a perfectly creamy soft serve texture in 25 minutes and true ice cream in 30. When time is up, the machine automatically shuts off. The unique gelato setting was a standout for us, due to its slower churn—one of the hallmarks of genuine gelato.

In testing, the Cuisinart outperformed similar freezer bowl models by a wide margin. It was incredibly easy to set up once the bowl was frozen, and it created velvety smooth ice cream. The lid has a removable cup for measuring up to 1/2 cup of add-ins, and when the cup is removed, there’s a handy hole for pouring those ingredients into the ice cream. We liked being able to mix items in without removing the lid, and the upright compact design made this easy to store. It is lightweight enough to move around the kitchen.

This machine's paddle was also a standout—when we mixed M&Ms into a batch of ice cream, they became evenly distributed through the mix. The paddle and freezer bowl were both simple to wash by hand with warm, soapy water.

One downside of this ice cream maker is that it can be loud during churning. Another is that the 2-quart freezer bowl should be refrigerated overnight for best results, so you can't make ice cream on a whim. We suggest storing it in your freezer, so it’s ready to go whenever you have that ice cream craving.

Maximum Yield: 2 quarts | Processing Time: 15-40 minutes | Setting Options: 3 | Dimensions: 9.74 x 8.62 x 13.22 inches | Weight: 14 pounds

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What We Like

  • Easy to use

  • Easy to clean

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like

  • Small capacity

  • Bulky bowl has to freeze 24 hours before use

Cuisinart ICE-21R Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker Review

The Cuisinart ICE-21 may not have all the bells and whistles of higher-end models, but it's fully automatic and can deliver qualityhomemade ice creamin 20 minutes, at an excellent price.

The process is simple and designed to be mess-free. The double-insulated freezer bowl fits into the base, the mixing paddle fits into that, and the plastic cover holds everything together. You pour in your base mixture, and as the bowl spins, the paddle scrapes a layer of frozen material off the interior wall, incorporating it back into the mixture. After about 20 minutes, you get fully churned ice cream. (To add mix-ins, you just toss them into the bowl when the batch is almost done spinning.) There's only one setting, one blade, and no timers to worry about.

In testing, our ice cream and sorbet both had even textures, albeit a bit softer and more soft–serve–like than some other machines. Sticking the finished products in the freezer for a couple of hours firmed them up, but they retained their smoothness and scoopability.

The main catch, though, is that you need a pre-frozen bowl, and this machine's is pretty bulky. If you want to be able to make ice cream at the drop of a hat, it has to live in the freezer all the time, and it'll take up a lot of room. This model has a smaller capacity than some of Cuisinart's other ice cream makers, so be mindful of batch size when you're following recipes and scale down accordingly. We didn't do the math quite right and got a little overflow in one test. Also, none of the parts are dishwasher-safe, but they're also unlikely to need much more than a rinse.

Maximum Yield: 1.5 quarts | Processing Time: 20 minutes | Setting Options: 1 | Dimensions: 9.5 x 9 x 11.3 inches | Weight: 10.1 pounds

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What We Like

  • Automatic settings

  • Bowl doesn't have to pre-freeze

  • Holds ice cream at serving temperature

What We Don't Like

  • Very pricey

  • Slow

Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker Review

If you’re ready to get serious about making ice cream, the Smart Scoop offers lots of functionality for its steep price tag. Most importantly, it has its own compressor—just like a full-size freezer or air conditioner—and chills the bowl while it churns. After the ice cream is done, it'll even hold it at the perfect scooping temperature for up to three hours. You can pre-freeze the bowl just like with other models, but you can also set the machine to chill the bowl for you while you prepare your ice cream or sorbet base. And you don't have to worry about refreezing the bowl between batches, which is a boon as the machine can only make about a quart at a time, and a batch can take nearly an hour to freeze.

When it comes to settings, the Smart Scoop offers pinpoint control. There are 12 different hardness settings calibrated for different types of frozen desserts, whether you need a scoop of vanilla that will hold up in a root beer float or a softer sorbet to quenelle atop a slice of pie. Internal thermometers measure the mixture, with the internal compressor adjusting to make sure the temperature stays just right. (Unfortunately, there aren't speed settings and no slower churn for gelato.)

During our test, we got wonderfully smooth, rich, and extra-dense ice cream because of the long churn time. It did a great job with mix-ins: About two minutes before the cycle is done, the display tells you it's time to pour them in, and it incorporated all of our Oreo pieces evenly, without breaking up bigger bits. With sorbet, the machine ran for 54 minutes, which ended up with a slightly over-frozen mix with some ice crystals in it. We would have stopped it a few minutes early for better texture, but that goes against the Smart Scoop's set-it-and-forget-it sales pitch.

In all, the Smart Scoop makes really good ice cream and offers amazing control over your final results. But you're absolutely going to pay for that performance, as it carries a serious price tag. It's a great option for the frozen-dessert fanatic, or as a very generous wedding or housewarming present.

Maximum Yield: 1.1 quarts | Processing Time: 35-60 minutes | Setting Options: 12 | Dimensions: 7.2 x 16.2 x 10.7 inches | Weight: 30 pounds

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What We Like

  • Electric cranking mechanism

  • Large capacity

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like

  • Messy

  • Inconsistent results

  • Difficult to set up

Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker Review

Long ago, even before the freezer was invented, it was still possible to make ice cream at home: You just needed a bucket of ice and salt, a hand crank, and lots of muscle power. (The salt is there to melt the ice and lower the freezing point of the liquid.) This machine replicates that method, complete with a wooden bucket, though it thankfully electrifies the crank part. The Nostalgia model is fun for its, well, nostalgia, but it also features a huge capacity of up to a gallon of ice cream per batch.

While we tested this ice cream maker, we found that you need to get the salt-and-ice layering just right for best results, which is unfortunate as there aren't very specific instructions included on how much of each to use. We'd suggest starting with at least 8 pounds of ice and 3 cups of salt, and make sure the interior container is flush with the bottom as you load up ice and salt around the sides. We got pretty good results in both of our tests, with lots of sorbet and ice cream that tasted great but were a bit soft and inconsistent in texture. The contraption did a great job mixing in the cookie bits evenly and thoroughly, although it's a bit of a pain to stop and detach the motor, add the mix-ins, and then put it back on again.

Setup is kind of a general downside with the Nostalgia machine, as the heavy motor sits on top. You have to balance everything carefully in order to get it in place without moving the inner container, but once the motor is locked in, it's quite secure. The churning process is also quite messy, with spillage from both the ice cream container and the outer bucket, which is also pretty heavy when full. We'd say to set the whole thing in the sink while you run it, or better yet use it outdoors for an enjoyable summertime activity.

Overall, the Nostalgia doesn't make the best ice cream in the world, but it makes good ice cream, and a lot of it. Plus, it's inexpensive and fun to use.

Maximum Yield: 4 quarts | Processing Time: 30-45 minutes | Setting Options: 1 | Dimensions: 15 x 17 x 16 inches | Weight: 5.2 pounds

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The Best Freezer Containers to Keep Your Leftovers and Meal Prep Freshly Preserved

What We Like

  • No pre-freezing needed

  • Reliable results

  • Simple to use

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive

  • Not many "extras"

Most ice cream makers can freeze a batch in an hour or less—if you don't count the full day the bowl has to chill beforehand. (Yes, you could keep the bowl in the freezer, but it takes up a lot of space.) The Cuisinart ICE-100 has an onboard compressor, which means there's no pre-freezing required. It lets you make ice cream on a whim whenever you'd like, but the tradeoff is that compressor ice cream makers are quite a bit more expensive than units with a basic motor and a freezable bowl.

The Cuisinart ICE-100 is a great base-level compressor unit, a workhorse that freezes a quart-and-a-half batch in an hour or less. Its single churning speed is fairly slow, which was a good thing in our sorbet test. We got a very smooth and fruit-forward strawberry sorbet, and it was ready in 41 minutes. (The manual recommends a full hour for sorbet; we were monitoring the machine and decided to stop it early.)

With ice cream, we got to a soft-serve-like consistency in 36 minutes, and then we tossed in the Oreo crumbles to mix in thoroughly in about 30 seconds. Both test batches firmed up to a more scoopable texture after a couple of hours in the freezer, though freezing overnight produced some significant ice crystals.

This machine doesn't have any recipe-specific modes or temperature adjustments or a pre-chill setting; it has an on/off switch and a timer, and that's really it.

Maximum Yield: 1.5 quarts | Processing Time: 30-60 minutes | Setting Options: 1 | Dimensions: 16.3 x 12 x 9.3 inches | Weight: 27.2 pounds

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The Best Ice Cream Scoops For Sundae-Worthy Spheres

What We Like

  • Fun and safe for kids to use

  • Easy to incorporate mix-ins

  • Fast

What We Don't Like

  • Small capacity

Rolled ice cream is a treat made by spreading and scraping a liquid base across an ice-cold surface as it freezes. The technique yields a delicious texture, and it's also a fun—and safe—way for kids to get hands-on in making their own ice cream.

The Sweet Spot is in the shape of a pie pan, made of dense material that will stay ice-cold for a good while after freezing overnight. You pour about half a cup of liquid into the pan, then use the included plastic paddles to stir, scrape, and scoop as it freezes. You have to keep everything in constant motion for best results, but the instructions say it should only take two minutes to freeze. (In our tests, it took a minute and a half for excellent ice cream, but we went for just over three minutes to get firmer sorbet.)

We were honestly blown away by the sorbet this thing made. The recipe we used is vegan, with only strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt, but the scraping and mixing technique made for a light but creamy texture that was far better than we expected. The constant motion prevents ice crystals from forming while working in a lot of air, and the resulting sorbet melts on the tongue like cotton candy. For ice cream, adding mix-ins in the last few seconds of the process is easy, the pieces work in evenly, and you have lots of control over how much you chop things into smaller bits. Cleanup is also really easy, thanks to a high lip that keeps everything fairly well-contained. The pan isn't dishwasher-safe, but washing by hand is quite simple.

Unfortunately, the small size of the Sweet Spot makes it a poor choice for high-volume ice cream production. It makes less than a half a pint at a time, and it can only make so many servings before it warms up and needs to go back in the freezer. With that said, it's perfect for a fun DIY ice cream night with the family.

Maximum Yield: About 6 ounces | Processing time: 2-3 minutes | Dimensions: 11 x 11 x 2 inches | Weight: 4.8 pounds

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We Tested the Best Whipped Cream Dispensers for Sweet Treats

What We Like

  • Makes vegan sorbet from frozen fruit

  • Most parts are dishwasher-safe

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like

  • Chunky texture

  • Can only use frozen fruit

The Yonanas machine is admittedly a little gimmicky. It chops up frozen bananas (and other fruit) into a soft serve–like vegan dessert, and that's really all it does. You can't use it to freeze standard ice cream or sorbet bases, and you can't put anything in it besides peeled, pitted fruit. But we enjoyed the tasty "soft serve" we got when we tested it out.

It works essentially like a food processor: You load the fruit into the top and push it down with a plunger, and then pulverized frozen pulp comes out directly into the serving bowl. Using a combination of bananas and strawberries, we got a treat that was creamy and scoopable.

Look, you're not going to mistake the results of the Yonanas for "real" dairy ice cream—our test batch had chunks of fruit in it and kind of a gooey texture—but it makes a healthier dessert that could be great for ice cream-loving kids. The sweetness level depends entirely on the fruit you use, so we'd aim for overripe over underripe. (The manual recommends "cheetah-spotted" bananas.)

Since it doesn't work in batches, there's really no limit on how much the Yonanas can make at a time, though the instructions say not to run the motor for more than two minutes straight without some cooldown time in between. All told, we put two bananas and 2 cups of strawberries through in less than five minutes, though it took some force on the plunger to push everything through the machine.

Setting Options: 1 | Dimensions: 13.8 x 6.2 x 7.5 inches | Weight: 3.1 pounds

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The 9 Best Non-Dairy Milks

What We Like

  • Simple and straightforward to use

  • Produces creamy results

What We Don't Like

  • Inconsistent freezing

  • No automatic controls

We Tested KitchenAid's Ice Cream Maker Attachment

The classic KitchenAid stand mixer can of course mix batters, whip egg whites, and knead doughs, but it's an even more indispensable kitchen appliance when you consider all the attachments and accessories that can extend its functionality to everything from stuffing sausages to pressing fresh pasta. Compatible with both tilt-head and bowl-lift mixers, this attachment turns the KitchenAid into an electric ice cream maker, too.

It comes with a 2-quart bowl that you freeze for 24 hours, as well as a special paddle attachment sized to fit. (You can't use the standard KitchenAid paddle since the bowl is smaller.) You pour in your base mixture, set the mixer to stir (that's the slowest setting), and let it do its thing.

The instructions say a batch should take 20 to 30 minutes to freeze, but with both the sorbet and ice cream tests, our batches were still a bit soft even after half an hour. We'd suggest letting it go for 35 or even 40 minutes if you like a firmer texture, as well as an hour or two in the freezer after churning. We also have to take issue with KitchenAid's instructions for mix-ins: It says to add the mix-ins 13 minutes into the churning process, which resulted in completely powdered Oreos turning the ice cream grey (a delicious grey, but still). You're better off keeping mix-ins out until just a few minutes before the churning is done.

If you have a KitchenAid already, this kit is a great choice to dip your toe into making ice cream at home. It might not offer all the functionality of a standalone model, but it's easy to use and gives your existing appliance one more ability. It's also easy to clean, with a dishwasher-safe paddle assembly and a bowl you can easily rinse out by hand.

Maximum Yield: 2 quarts | Processing Time: 20-30 minutes | Dimensions: 9 x 11 x 7 inches | Weight: 6 pounds

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The 5 Best Stand Mixers of 2024

Final Verdict

We love the Cuisinart Cool Creations because it makes perfectly smooth soft serve, creamy ice cream, or thick gelato quickly. For a more budget-priced option, the classic Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker delivers excellent frozen desserts at an excellent price.

How We Tested Ice Cream Makers

We researched the many styles, brands, and models of ice cream makers available and narrowed down the field to 20, which we purchased and tested in our Lab. Following the included instructions, we used each machine to make a batch of vegan strawberry sorbet and basic vanilla ice cream, mixing crushed Oreo cookies into the ice cream using the mix-in directions, if included. We tasted and rated the test batches directly out of the machine, after two hours in the freezer, and after freezing overnight. We also evaluated the machines on ease of setup, use, and cleaning. (For machines like the Yonanas with their own specific recipes, we made a test batch using the included instructions.) Only after testing was complete did we reveal and evaluate retail prices.

Learn More About How We Test Products

Testing Ice Cream Makers for Size, Settings, and Freezing Style

Other Options We Tested

  • Whynter ICM 15-LS Automatic Ice Cream Maker: This self-freezing machine works and looks much like the Cuisinart ICE-100 we named our best compressor model. It also has the same capacity and is roughly the same price. Taste-testing gave the Cuisinart the edge, but it's only a slight edge.
  • Donvier Manual Ice Cream Maker: With a freezer bowl and a hand crank, this model combines old and new technology. It made pretty good ice cream and sorbet, but the level of babysitting required—cranking every minute or two for half an hour—just isn't worth it.
  • Yaylabs Softshell Ice Cream Ball: This toy has a great concept. You fill the ball with ice and liquid base, let the kids kick it around the yard for a while, and out comes tasty ice cream. In practice, though, it's kind of a pain to use. We had to spend as much time filling, sealing, readjusting, and tediously scooping out the ball as we got playing with it. And as of mid-2024, this option is out of stock.
  • Elite Gourmet Americana Electric Ice Cream Maker: We like the look of this ice cream maker—not to mention its value price. Unfortunately, it couldn't freeze ice cream to anything more solid than thick soup, even after an hour of churning. And the motor simply stopped running 34 minutes into the sorbet test, leaving a half-frozen, half-liquid batch.

What to Look for in an Ice Cream Maker

Machine Size

Let’s admit it: Ice cream makers aren’t exactly essential kitchen items for most homes, so it might be tough to justify storing one. However, they are a lot of fun to experiment with, and most people enjoy a scoop or two of cold, extra-smooth ice cream year-round. Even a small-capacity electric ice cream maker needs a fair bit of counter or cabinet space, with a separate motor, freezer bowl, and paddle. That goes double for machines that include their own heavy compressor, though they do handle the freezing themselves. These are better for frozen-dessert fanatics, while a small kitchen that only makes ice cream a few times a year might be better off with a single-serving manual device.

Machine Capacity

The amount an ice cream maker can freeze in a single batch varies widely. The machines we tested range from about half a cup to a full gallon. Keep in mind that homemade ice cream doesn't store as well in the freezer as commercial brands, so it's best not to make much more than you plan to use within a day or two. The FDA considers 6 ounces to be a serving of ice cream, which means a quart is (in theory) enough for six people.

Settings and Options

The most basic ice cream machines may have nothing more than an on/off switch. Others come equipped with timers, automatic shut-off or "keep cool" features, extra freezer bowls, settings for making gelato, special paddles, and more. In general, ice cream makers with their own compressors are designed with more controls and options for making different styles of ice cream from other models. While it’s great to have versatility, these machines are also generally more expensive.

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Types of Ice Cream Makers

Salt and Ice

Around since the mid-1800s, an old-fashioned way to make ice cream churns the base in a container surrounded a mixture of salt and ice to freeze it. The method must work well, because machines like this are still around. Some require manual cranking to turn the paddle, while others use an electric motor to do the churning for you. Without big insulated bowls involved, salt-and-ice-style machines can freeze a larger amount of ice cream in a smaller space. You need a lot of ice and salt on hand with this method, but it's also easy to make multiple batches: You scoop the finished ice cream out of the inner container, reload it with base, and start churning again. Be careful not to overfill the ice compartment, though, as you don't want salty water seeping into your ice cream.

Freezer Bowl

Freezer bowl ice cream machines are the most popular for home use. They have a special bowl that goes in the freezer well ahead of churning—overnight or a full 24 hours, so you have to plan ahead or leave the bowl in the freezer. The ice cream freezes to the inside of the ice-cold bowl as a rotating paddle scrapes off the frozen layers and incorporates them back into the mixture. There are freezer-bowl models with hand cranks, but most are electric and very simple to use. Churning a single batch of ice cream typically warms the bowl enough so it can't be reused, but some machines include a second freezer bowl (or sell them separately) so you can make batch after batch. The only downside is that those bowls all take up space, in the freezer or a cabinet.

Compressor

Compressor ice cream makers operate like tiny freezers. Using the same method as a home freezer or air conditioner, they cool themselves down, making ice cream with no long pre-chilling required. These machines typically have more features, with settings for making gelato, sorbet, and other frozen treats. Some models have advanced timers to remind you when to add mix-ins or keep-cold features that will keep the ice cream chilled for a few hours before serving. (A soft serve machine is a type of compressor ice cream maker, set at just the right temperature to maintain a flowing, sorta-solid, sorta-liquid texture.)

The downside of these machines is that they're quite heavy and quite expensive. A compressor ice cream maker is probably overkill for a home that only makes ice cream a few times a year, but if you're a true fanatic who'll be using it constantly, it could be ideal.

FAQs

How do you clean an ice cream maker?

You follow the directions in your ice cream maker's instruction manual, of course! Every ice cream maker has slightly different rules, but you'll want to disassemble all the parts and thoroughly wash everything soon after use. Things like paddles and lids might be dishwasher-safe, but freezer bowls almost always have to be washed by hand. You should never submerge or run water over the motor base or other electrical parts; just use a sponge or damp cloth to wipe down buttons and other surfaces.

After washing, it's very important to dry off all the parts thoroughly, especially the freezer bowl, before reuse. Ice can accumulate on the walls of the bowl and can cause damage and interfere with the ice cream-making process.

Can you use an ice cream maker to make gelato and frozen yogurt?

Yes! Much of the difference in texture and flavor between ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt is due to their different recipes, any of which will freeze in almost any kind of ice cream maker. However, the amount and speed of churning also affect the finished product, and not every ice cream maker lets you adjust those. You might get the best results with an ice cream maker that has specific settings for different recipes, but you can also fine-turn your recipe and procedure for your particular machine.

Is ice cream expensive to make at home?

It depends on the ingredients you use. The main ingredients for ice cream are cream, milk, sugar, and sometimes eggs, all of which come in inexpensive and pricier versions. Fresh and local ingredients, grass-fed dairy, and cage-free eggs can be costly but can also make a difference in flavor. The same is true for non-dairy ice cream. Base ingredients like soy milk or canned coconut milk are more affordable, while something like cashew milk can be quite expensive.

How does homemade ice cream compare to store-bought ice cream?

There's no way around this: Homemade ice cream tastes better and fresher than store-bought ice cream. The longer ice cream—homemade or not—sits in the freezer, the more flavor it loses to oxidation. Store-bought ice creams also often have binders or artificial flavors and way more sugar than the DIY stuff. Making your own ice cream puts you in the driver's seat in terms of ingredients, and it lets you create flavors that just don't exist in grocery store freezers.

What's the best flavor of homemade ice cream?

"I always recommend mastering vanilla ice cream before moving on to more complicated flavors," saysEllen Coatney, creator and owner of Fifth Scoop, a plant-based ice cream brand based in Madison, Wisconsin. "This helps you get the technique down without worrying about your chocolate breaking or your fruit swirl getting icy. Once you're confident, you can mix and churn a delicious vanilla ice cream, start adding some basic mix-ins—cookie pieces or chocolate chips are easy ones to start with—and then you can get more creative."

How do you make vegan ice cream?

There are lots of ice cream recipes that use plant-based milk as a base, but non-dairy ice cream generally needs an extra ingredient to help avoid ice-crystal formation during freezing and ensure a smooth texture. In our basic vegan ice cream recipe, we use coconut and oat milks, along with xanthan gum, a thickener and stabilizer you might also find in gluten-free breads and salad dressings.

Fifth Scoop's Coatney has a different secret. "For vegan ice creams, adding a little vodka to the mix before churning helps produce smoother, more scoopable ice cream because the vodka prevents it from freezing so hard."

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

The Spruce Eats Editor Siobhan Wallace wrote this roundup based on insights from our first round of Lab testing, and Jason Horn, a The Spruce Eats commerce writer with nearly 20 years of experience writing about food and drinks, updated it with a fresh batch of insights and photos from our second round of tests. Kitchen tools expert Donna Currie, who has tested over 100 products for The Spruce Eats, also contributed to this roundup.

Sources

  • Ellen Coatney is the creator and owner of Fifth Scoop, a plant-based frozen dessert shop in Madison, Wisconsin

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Article Sources

The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/serving-size-updates-new-nutrition-facts-label

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