Ranking 24 Popular Ice Cream Toppings From Worst To Best

Imagine you're at your favorite ice cream shop during the summer months. You pick your favorite flavor (if you're us, you're going with coffee, anything). After listing out your specs, like the type of cone and size, the person at the counter then asks: "Any toppings with that?" 

You probably didn't think about that question. We should first start by saying that great ice cream is perfect as it is. You shouldn't have to mess up a perfectly good brownie batter or coffee ice cream by adding toppings willy-nilly. But these accompaniments can be used strategically to help elevate the textures, flavors, and consistencies already present in the dessert. In short, use ice cream toppings not as a mask but as a bonus. 

We've outlined some of the most popular ice cream toppings you can find at a scoop shack near you. Here are some of our favorite (and least favorite) ice cream toppings. 

24. Gummy bears

Why do people put gummy bears on ice cream again? We can't understand why it would be enjoyable to have partially frozen gummy candies that never stay soft when they're shoved against cold ice cream. It upsets the texture of the dessert and makes it extremely hard to eat — like a well-done steak. Plus, it's always hard to pair the ice cream with the candy — we can really only see vanilla soft serve as a suitable base for your Haribos. 

23. Hot fudge

We're going to come right out and say it: Hot fudge is overrated. Not only is the product itself weird to taste and eat on ice cream — like because it melts everything it touches — but it also hardens when it cools. That makes cleaning up hot fudge an absolute pain to make and serve. 

The only thing we'll give hot fudge sundaes as a redeeming quality is its ability to be served with other foods besides ice cream, like on top of a pie, decadent chocolate brownie, or cookies. This novelty topping can also be paired with classic accompaniments like nuts, sprinkles, whipped cream, and cherry to craft a nostalgic sundae experience — which is a compelling thing for some people to taste. 

22. Caramel sauce

The decision to put caramel sauce on your ice cream depends on the source of said sauce. If you're making your own caramel sauce to complement a thick, churned vanilla ice cream — then caramel sauce is heavenly. But if you're using a cheap sauce from a jar, you are likely in for a runny, super-sweet concoction that dulls out the ice cream and any other type of topping you plan to add to your ice cream. 

We do give caramel sauce some props because it can be made more complex with the addition of salt, miso paste (don't knock it until you try it), and bourbon. 

21. Chocolate chips

With chocolate chips, we encounter the same problem as gummy bears. When chocolate chips get cold, they get chalky and hard and hurt your teeth to bite into. This takes the pleasure away from eating a perfectly sweet and creamy scoop. 

Another issue with chocolate chips is that the standard-size chip is too large to eat with any ice cream. You have to search far and wide to find mini-chips that intrude on enjoying your ice cream intrusive. Adding chocolate chips into an ice cream can also be a bit much, texturally speaking. If you're craving chocolate, stick to a chocolate base or use thin chocolate shavings. 

20. Marachino cherries

Maraschino cherries are supposed to be the perfect ice cream topping. But the reality is that these cherries, which are sort of like plastic disguised as fruit, are far from the quintessential ice cream accompaniment. These cherries are sickeningly sweet and only acceptable when plunked into a Shirley Temple. Maraschino cherries get their vibrant color from food dyes, which adds to the deceptive nature of this topping. 

There are much more superior alternatives to maraschino cherries that will accent your ice cream rather than detract from it. Luxardo maraschino cherries, for example, are purple fruits submerged in thick syrup. The fruits are complex, with both sweet and acidic notes that elevate sweet ice cream to a new level.

19. Strawberry sauce

Strawberry sauce is a polarizing topping for ice cream. For reference, we're just referring to the strawberry sauce sold in a squeeze bottle at the store — which has a texture similar to chocolate sauce but with an underlying synthetic fruity flavor. Unfortunately, strawberry syrup tends to totter on the line of being too artificial, which can disrupt the texture of the rest of the dessert. Plus, the strawberry sauce just isn't as utilitarian as other sauces because it's really only good on a vanilla, soft-serve ice cream where it's the only topping allowed besides whipped cream. 

18. Chocolate sauce

Chocolate sauce is better than hot fudge by leaps and bounds. Not only can you add chocolate syrup to your milkshakes, but it pairs better with a wider variety of ice cream, including peanut butter, plain vanilla, cookie dough, or Rocky Road. 

The main complaint with chocolate syrup is that it's just that: syrup. It goes on the ice cream cold and doesn't provide the same cinematic effect as adding hot fudge because it merely just drips to the bottom of the cup and pools with the melted ice cream. 

17. Mini marshmallows

Mini marshmallows on ice cream? It's a good idea, but only in theory. The reality is that marshmallows don't like the cold. Cold marshmallows are like what happens when someone forgets to close the marshmallow bag properly. The texture isn't entirely hard, but the state between gelatinous and hard makes it unenjoyable to eat with or without ice cream. 

Some prefer colorful, "flavored" marshmallows for their ice creams instead of the classic vanilla puffs. Not only can we not tell what flavor these marshmallows are, but they don't mesh well with any flavor of ice cream. Overall, we recommend saving these toppings for the fire pit and the s'mores.  

16. M&Ms

M&Ms have never been a good ice cream topping, they've only just been kept around by someone who likes watching the swaths of color swirl off the candies and ruin a perfectly white vanilla soft serve. 

It's not only maddening to watch the colorful candies turn into bland little ovals that obstruct the integrity of a perfectly good ice cream, but the texture of these candies is absolutely awful. If the candies are cold, they're rock solid and painful to bite into. If they're lukewarm, there's no separation between the candy coating and the soft chocolate inside — which entirely defeats the purpose of the M&M's design. 

15. Whipped cream

Whipped cream is a sound, logical addition to ice cream, with a caveat. Store-bought cans of whipped cream just aren't cutting it for a frosty dessert. If you want a truly magical experience from your whipped cream topping, you should try making your own. The flavor is creamier, and the texture is more unctuous than using the canned stuff.

If you're making small-batch whipped cream, try putting your whipping cream in a narrow plastic cup and using an immersion blender to combine the cream with the sugar. You can also add ingredients like honey, maple syrup, and extracts to give your whipped cream a touch of uniqueness. 

14. Fresh fruit

Although you might think that adding fresh fruit, like blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, to the top of your ice cream makes it healthy — we can assure you that it's still ice cream. That said, this does provide a topping with some lift. 

Fruit can introduce a pleasant burst of fresh flavor and some tanginess to moderate the sweetness of the ice cream. However, fresh fruit tends to leave some odd textures — from skins and seeds — that may disrupt the other ingredients in the ice cream. You also might get a bite of a berry that's much too sour to go well with sweet ice cream. 

13. Sprinkles

Sprinkles are made to turn desserts into something magical, but often taste is akin to powdery nothingness. Nobody goes out of their way to add sprinkles to make their ice cream taste better, making this a flawed topping. 

Although it can make your ice cream look more colorful and appetizing, eating sprinkles is only a pleasant experience for some. This includes rainbow nonpareils and those egregiously hard-to-eat sprinkles that make you feel like you'll chip your tooth every time you bite down on one. Still, smaller sprinkles can provide a nice contrast if you like a bit of texture and color.

12. Heath bars

We doubt anyone will ever say that their favorite candy is a Health bar — which is probably why it isn't a top option for an ice cream topping. But, many scoop shops still offer chopped Heath bars to customers. 

For those unfamiliar with these candies, Heath bars are made of a hard piece of English toffee encased with milk chocolate. This toffee is by no means easy to eat. In fact, you'll likely have to put it in the back of your mouth so your molars can chomp through the hard toffee. Eating the candy in chopped form makes it a bit easier to get through, though. Because of the difficult-to-eat texture of a Heath bar, it can be challenging to eat. But the crunchiness turns this into a topping for the texturally focused, and toffee can add a deep richness to many flavors of ice cream. 

11. Magic shell

Magic Shell receives a gold star for its cinematic effect on an ice cream. For those unfamiliar with this product, the Magic Shell is often made with a saturated oil, like coconut, to help it form a shatterable coating on the outside of ice cream. The cold temperature causes the shell to harden when it touches the cold ice cream and melt when it touches your mouth. But, if the environment is too warm or too cold, the shell has a tendency to be finicky and not create the desired effect.

That being said, Magic Shell is one of our favorite sauces to put on ice cream because you can DIY with two ingredients, chocolate and oil. It can also be modified to suit other flavors. For example, white chocolate and strawberry powder can make a strawberry shell or add in peanut butter for a Reese's-themed dessert. 

10. Marshmallow spread

Marshmallow sauce is made from melting mini marshmallows down with cream and sugar. The result is a goopy accompaniment to ice creams, sundaes, brownies, and cakes that taste like marshmallows but have the consistency of sludge. 

Like marshmallows straight off the fire, this sauce will stick to absolutely anything and everything it touches. That means the effect of the marshmallow topping sliding down a scoop of ice cream is cool, but it's not fun when you end up with it all over your hands and kitchen. Another drawback of the topping is that it's really only good with flavors like s'mores and Rocky Road. On a vanilla ice cream, it's just plain overwhelming. We believe the sauce is better than just a handful of marshmallows but better suited for shaved ice than ice cream. 

9. Cereal

Cereal has popped up at scoop shops as the trending topping for ice creams everywhere. Although the exact type of cereal used is up to interpretation, many shops seem to favor Fruity Pebbles or Fruit Loops.

Cereal on ice cream solves one of the major issues people have with the breakfast staple — the fact that it gets soggy when suspended in milk for too long. There are no limp cereal pieces here, making for a perfect nostalgic eating experience. 

Plus, since the ice cream is frozen, it pulls off the delicious flavor dust the cereal leaves behind, infusing it right into your treat. The major downside of adding cereal to ice cream is it only pairs well with a few flavors. Although it doesn't have the greatest utility, it is still a fun topping to eat. 

8. Peanut butter cups

Peanut butter cups are a common option at scoop shacks and sundae bars — either as mini cups or as chopped pieces of whole cups. We would argue that only the latter is acceptable because the mini chips are fully encased in chocolate, which makes biting into them difficult and annoying. If you want a better ratio of peanut butter, you should opt for roughly chopped cups instead. 

Peanut butter cups go with almost any chocolate or vanilla ice cream base in both hard and soft-serve varieties. We love adding peanut butter cups to cookie dough ice cream or, strangely enough, coffee ice cream.

7. Chopped nuts

Chopped nuts are so simple, but they are one of the best toppings you can add to ice cream. Not only do you get the textural crunch of adding chopped walnuts, peanuts, almonds, or pistachios to a creamy backdrop, but you can also get a touch of salinity to dial back on the sweetness of the dessert, along with a naturalness that balances sugar. Tried and true favorite pairings include honey-roasted peanuts on a vanilla ice cream or toasted almonds on an Almond Joy or coconut ice cream base. 

6. Crushed OREO cookies

Adding crushed Oreo cookies to the top of your cookies & cream ice cream (or any variation of it, such as with a coffee or a mint base) is an elite move. You can never truly have too many Oreos in your dessert. 

We love adding Oreos to our ice cream because the cookies work well with the cold. You won't experience any residual chalkiness from this topping — just a pleasant contrast against a smooth ice cream. Plus, this topping can be added to either soft serve or hard ice cream, making it very useful on a sundae bar. 

5. Strawberries in syrup

Do you want to find out how to make anything better? Suspend it in a sugary syrup. Although raw strawberries may have some sour notes, strawberries covered in sweet, juicy syrup don't have the same problem. Otherwise known as a strawberry topping, this sweetened goodness can go on anything from soft-serve vanilla to strawberry hard ice cream. You can also use your leftovers to top your strawberry shortcake or smother on your stack of pancakes. 

The only major drawback we see from using strawberry topping is that the strawberries can get a little limp and mushy, which can be off-putting for someone unfamiliar with strawberry topping. But you do get an ice cream topping and syrup packed into one — which is a win in our book. 

4. Peanut butter

The ears of ice cream lovers everywhere tend to perk up when peanut butter gets mentioned. Peanut butter, which is often thinned with a bit of sugar syrup, is perfect for spooning on top of chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, or cookie dough ice cream. The consistency of peanut butter ice cream topping is much less viscous than that in the jar, which makes it easy to dribble on top of your frozen dessert or sundae. Plus, it plays well with others — notably chocolate peanut butter cups, Reese's Pieces, cookie dough, and chocolate sauce. 

The main complaint with peanut butter sauce is that it can be a lot. Peanut butter is already rich, making spooning on top of ice cream a bit overwhelming. Granted, peanut butter lovers should keep this sauce in their fridge.

3. Butterscotch sauce

Butterscotch sauce is the superior ice cream sauce. Although it has some of the same sweet notes as caramel, it tends to be thicker and more flavorful. Caramel and butterscotch are different because the former uses white sugar while the latter uses dark brown sugar. This creates a richer flavor and color than using white sugar alone. 

Butterscotch sauce is less viscous when added to ice cream, a more satisfying option to spoon into than caramel sauce alone. Although you certainly can use it on chocolate ice cream and other darker flavors, it's really best suited for vanilla bases instead. With that in mind, butterscotch can also pair with banana or cookie dough pieces for an ultimate sundae that will cancel any future thoughts about hot fudge. 

2. Wet nuts

Wet nuts are a niche topping, but you may be able to find them at a local scoop shop if you specifically ask for them. This topping, which is made from chopped walnuts suspended in a thick, corn-syrupy substrate, can go on nearly any non-fruity ice cream. They're perfect for boosting up the flavor of your maple walnut or adding more depth to plain chocolate. 

The only complaint we could see with this topping is making the ice cream to saccharine (as if there is such a thing) because of the syrup. However, the solution is integral to the eating experience because it makes the nuts slightly less crunchy and blends them into the ice cream more seamlessly. 

1. Cookie dough

Cookie dough as a topping is nothing short of heavenly. The big thing that this topping brings to the table is texture. It's slightly gritty but not obtrusive, which makes eating this ice cream very easy and a pleasurable experience. Plus, adding more cookie dough chunks to the top of your ice cream allows you to make up for a cookie dough ice cream slacking in the chunk department. 

Our only complaint with cookie dough on top of ice cream is that the chocolate chips inside of the dough can be annoying to pick through. If given the option, albeit rare, we would go with a topping without the annoying chocolate chips peppered in.