Taste Test

Battle Soft-Serve: Which Fastfood Chain Serves the Best Plain Cone?

March 12, 2017

With summer fast approaching and temperatures rising, is there a better way to cool off than with a creamy, ice-cold cone of soft-serve that melts and drips down your fingers in between subsequent licks? Softer than regular ice cream (as the name implies) due to the incorporation of more air during freezing, soft-serve is one of the few desserts that hits the right spot between indulgence and refreshment. It’s not too lean that it leaves you feeling deprived, nor too rich that it overwhelms the senses (and the stomach). There are multiple theories surrounding its creation, but soft-serve kiosks these days are ubiquitous to say the least. And while upscale versions have gone on the rise as of late, we can’t help but harken back to simpler, much cheaper iterations—that is, swirled right from the fast-food counter.

To combat the upcoming heat, we take a look look at soft-serve from three chains: McDonald’s, KFC, and Jollibee. While we wouldn’t ever say no to mix-ins (Syrup! Oreos! Candy bars and chocolate!), we’re going back to the basics and trying them plain, sans any bells and whistles. All three are priced at ten bucks a pop and come swirled into a cone, so how do they compare?

MCDONALD’S vanilla sundae cone

The soft-serve at McDonald’s stays true to the name: soft and supple with a whippy consistency that feels smooth on the tongue, for the most part, save for the occasional teensy ice particles at the end (notably, some branches’ soft-serve feel icier than others). You get a flavor similar to what you find in pre-packaged cake mix or in the thrice-as-expensive soft-serve at Dairy Queen—a creamy “vanilla” that’s not exactly, y’know, real vanilla, but triggers nostalgia anyway. It definitely doesn’t hurt that their cones are always crisp and malty, making it difficult to resist finishing the entire thing (and maybe getting a second helping).

KFC’s classic kone

KFC’s soft-serve, for whatever reason, is not available at all of their stores, nor do they present an official list of branches that do serve it up (For reference, we got ours at KFC Katipunan, and we’ve also seen it at the Eastwood and Jupiter St. branches). But keep your eye out for the KFC Kreamery, where they serve up a plain cone that’s even smoother and more velvety than McDonald’s. Like McDo’s, they pair a lightweight, airy, whip-y texture with a fatty creaminess. Theirs, however, takes on a much “cleaner” taste with less sweetness, little to no vanilla flavor (not that they claim to flavor it with vanilla, anyway), and a slightly pleasant (but odd) taste we can mostly describe as being floral and coconut-y at best, but borderline soapy at worst.

JOLLIBEE’s cone twirl vanilla

Taking on a pale yellow hue, the Bee’s soft-serve looks closer to real, egg yolk-based ice cream. We’re torn on the texture; on one hand, it’s much sludgier than the previous two, consistently filled with teensy ice particles; on the other hand, we appreciate that it feels much thicker that it almost resembles higher-end versions, e.g. Rita’s or Milkcow’s. Whether you lick it off the cone or dip in and pull out your spoon from a cup, this scoop offers a more substantial body that it latches on and “stretches” in the same direction right before it melts. Taste-wise there’s some “vanilla” in there too, but it ends with a peculiar fattiness that reminds us of canned Evaporada (read: not evaporated milk).

THE VERDICT

It’s a tough call as each soft-serve stands out for different reasons. We love McDonald’s for its creamy, dreamy flavor; KFC’s for its ultra-velvety mouthfeel; and Jollibee’s for its thick body. But for a cone that gives you the best compromise between all worlds, we bestow the title of Best Soft Serve to McDonald’s. It could be thicker like Jollibee’s, but its lightness is not necessarily a bad thing, especially under the heat or after an already-greasy fastfood meal. More importantly, their soft-serve offers a distinct flavor that makes the plain cone worth seeking out, even without any embellishments. If you’re ever in need of a quick, cheap dessert that satisfies, head over to the Golden Arches—the solution is only a ten-peso coin away.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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