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The Lovely Cones: An Examination of Waffle, Wafer, and Sugar Cones

There's no I in Team, but there is one in Ice Cream, and when it comes to delivery method, people certainly do have strong individual preferences.

I'm talking, of course, about ice cream cones, and which is superior within the accepted holy trinity: waffle, wafer, or sugar cone?

First things first. What is the difference between these three types of cones? As I found on this site,

Three main dry ingredients compose all types of cones. Wheat flour, tapioca flour, and sugar are chosen for baking quality, strength, and relative sweetness, respectively.

The quantity of sugar is a major distinguishing feature between cone types. Sugar and waffle cones are made of one-third sugar. Not only does this influence the sweet flavor, but it affects the brown finished color and the crispy texture. Cake cones have less than 5% sugar.

Who would have thought that such subtle differences could have such a big effect on the ice cream eating experience? But indeed they do, and so let's briefly talk about each cone type and its advantages and disadvantages.

Waffle Cone

What it is: A waffle-patterned cone, generally larger in scale. Texture-wise, generally the softest of the varieties.

Advantages: The size: generally waffle cones are fatter and bigger, and thus accomodate more delicious ice cream. This is a favored cone variety at artisan ice cream shops, so fancy varieties are often found, and likely for the same reason, this style of cone is one of the more flavorful varieties all on its own.

Waffle cones

Photo: Flickr user Joey Wan

Disadvantages: If you don't eat fast, they get soggy and tend to leak toward the end, or to break apart at the seam. Also, sometimes handmade ones have a hole in the bottom, and this equals bad times (though, if they line the bottom with chocolate, this is a delicious solution).

Wafer (or cake cone)

What it is: A flat-bottomed cone with an intricate infrastructure to capture ice cream.

Advantages: Easier to balance (and to set down for a moment, if needed), and it holds more ice cream (esp. soft serve). It's also the go-to cone type for cupcake cones (pictured above), and the visual inspiration for the famous ice cream cone floor lamp (shown below). Though fairly bland on its own, it absorbs ice cream flavors nicely. Also, generally less expensive than the other varieties.

Disadvantages: Relatively flavorless on its own, so if you eat your ice cream too fast and it hasn't absorbed the flavor, the bottom of the cone is kind of like eating lightly sweetened cardboard. Sides can become soggy, although the bottom generally doesn't leak like cornet shaped cones. 

Sugar Cone

What it is: A darker-hued cornet-shaped cone, generally smaller and crunchier than a waffle cone.

Advantages: Sturdy--they generally don't get soggy from the ice cream. Iconic in appearance--for most people, if asked to picture an ice cream cone in their mind, they will likely think of this format.

Disadvantages: Sometimes too crunchy--they can break off in shards as you bite into them, leaving exposed craggy bits where ice cream can escape onto your hand (and maybe not make it into your mouth). Also, they tend to be smaller than waffle cones and may accomodate less ice cream than wafer cones. If you eat it too fast, you may experience a "mourning period" where you've finished the ice cream but still have the end of the cone left.

Of course, simply discussing the pros and cons of each style doesn't resolve the question of which cone is the best. But is there an answer?

According to a poll (via Twitter, the only news and information source), respondents overwhelmingly preferred waffle, with sugar the second choice, and wafer trailing with but a small handful of devotees. 

However, upon further digging, it seemed that this was the favored type of cone when eating ice cream from an ice cream shop. Because seriously, who makes their own waffle cones at home? And they're not generally an easy to find product in grocery stores, unlike wafer and sugar cones.

So it seems to me that ultimately, each type has its time and place. For instance, it's hard to imagine soft-serve ice cream being served in anything other than a wafer cone; if you want a whole lot of ice cream (and maybe a topping to boot), a waffle cone is going to give you the best coverage; if you have a delicate appetite or crave crunch, you will probably go with sugar.

Of course, another--and perhaps the most important--aspect to cone preference is also nostalgia. For me, having grown up by the Jersey shore, where soft-serve is king, it's hard for me to even fathom passing up a wafer cone. But for those who grew up with hard ice cream in sugar cones, I have a feeling they might have more of an affinity for sugar cones.

Of course, if all of this is too much for you to digest, you could always just go for your ice cream in a cup (or better yet, buy a sundae).

Which kind of cone do you favor?

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Reader Comments (25)

I WAS going to say waffle cone, but I guess that I misunderstood what it was... but I do love it when the bottom is chocolate, so I'll go with sugar cone. Wafer cones are just flavourless cones of cardboard. Yuck.


July 28 | Unregistered CommenterWei-Wei

I'm a cup person, I don't actually like any ice cream cones :(

July 28 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Waffle cone ( ! ! ! )
Even when it's 'soggy' the flavor, size, and texture is what wins me over.
...And the dipped waffle cones are fantastic, it's usually the stack of dipped waffle cones that catch my eye and start the ice-cream craving process before I even see the ice-cream itself.

July 28 | Unregistered CommenterNicole B.

It's so funny that you ask who makes their own waffle cones at home. I do!

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterStef

I hate cake cones so much I will usually pass up on ice-cream if the only option is to eat it in a cake cone.

I'd rather have a cup. (As I did last time I ate ice-cream - two scoops, hazelnut and melon flavors, yum.)

I like sugar cones. I'm not sure I've ever had a waffle cone.

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterJesurgislac

Waffle? Wafer? Sugar? PSHAW, I say!

Give me a pretzel cone any day, preferably from Merry Mead Farm and filled with their delicious, home-made vanilla-peanutbutter swirl ice cream!

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterMaggi

Now I just want ice cream! Your pics are making me drool. I used to go to Ben and Jerrys where they will serve you a hot fudge sundae IN a waffle cone. THAT is heaven!

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen

Waffle cones are #1 hands-down. I'm glad to see Stef posting a link to her blog here, because she was my inspiration to get a waffle cone maker! I make mine at home now, too.

It's nice making your own since you can control what goes into them, how big they are, and whether or not there is a gap at the bottom/how to handle that if it does happen. My favorite trick, even on the ones I get to close perfectly, is to shove a mini marshmallow into the tip and drizzle melted chocolate over that. The last bite is an extra special treat that way!

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterCathryn

I call them cake cones (actually, I haven't heard anyone call them wafer cones, colloquially), and while they are totally tasteless I kind of love them. Does anyone else remember the cake cones from the grocery store that had random names--Janet, Arthur, that sort of thing--imprinted on them? That's what we always had in my '80s childhood, from Safeway. Maybe they're still around; I haven't looked.

While the cake cone is tasteless it is fun to eat because you have all the different parts: the collar around the top, then the sides, and the bottom, which is its own little cup with the waffly part on the inside. I love eating different parts.

I grew up, in Portland OR, near both a Baskin-Robbins and a Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen (where I worked as a teen) only has cake cones, so sugar cones were (and still are) a special Baskin-Robbins thing for me. I never order waffle cones.

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterLaurieA-B

i would have to go with waffle because they are the biggest and you get to dip them in chocolate and sprinkles before you even put the ice cream in it... wafer cones taste like styrafome and the sugar cones are too small....

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterCaitycake

another brilliant expose, cakspy!! and a tough question you pose... i love how in soft serve the ice cream gets pumped down to the deepest regions of a wafer cone (which i didn't know it was called, BTW!)... a waffle cone spells classy times (and the addition of extra coinage, which i can always chip in when it comes to ice cream)... but i think i like the sugar cone the best. the super crunchiness is a sheer delight, and the best tasting. (waffle cones can be too eggy, as much as i adore waffles!!)

i have a little ice cream blog i hope you don't mind me sharing here:


(I've made waffle cones on it... but am VERY interested in finding a sugar cone recipe, or seeing a behind-the-scenes how and where wafer cones are made!!)

July 29 | Unregistered Commenterlyndsay

It depends on how hungry I am. I always prefer a waffle cone, but sometimes that's just too much ice cream. In that case I will use a sugar cone. I love dipped waffle cones with sprinkles. Yum!

When it comes to cones, I just say, YES PLEASE! I have a fairly small appetite so, although I love waffle cones, I usually don't get them. I normally get a sugar cone unless it is soft serve- then it's cake all the way. Also, with the cake I miss the multi-colored kind with the names on them... so much fun! Give the cups a pass- cones all the way!

I just love the wafer/cake cone! This really clears up the cone confusion! Great post!

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Definitely sugar cones! But if I have the extra appetite (and money) I'll spring for a waffle cone. The only time I get wafer cones is if I have soft-serve (which is pretty rare). I love this post! Very scientific.

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterJeanne

waffle cones are definitely the best.

as a odd side note, i once had a summer job in a factory that made ice cream cones. it was a terrible job, but you could take home all the ice cream cones you wanted (and then some). on rare occasions, they would make chocolate waffle cones, and the factory smelled delicious.

July 29 | Unregistered Commenteramanda

Wafer. Most definitely. Perfect for a luscious scoop of sherbet.

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterEB

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July 29 | Unregistered Commenterwasai

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July 29 | Unregistered Commenterwasai

what a fun post! Loved the idea!

Waffle all the way.

Props on the break down though! This is great.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

is the bubble gum ice cream cone, in your photo, from molly moon in wallingford?! the now defunct flavor they abandoned in favor of natural, organic ingredients.... oh, how i pine for that bubble gum ice cream. i say we petition to bring it back!

Straight up the hard way, no cone, in a cup. I'd rather not distract my ice cream experience with a cone. although if I have to pick a type of cone, I'm going with the sugar cone. It holds up the best and then at the end of the ice cream, you can bite a hole in the bottom and suck out the goods.

August 2 | Unregistered CommenterNick the Hat

Waffle cones dipped in chocolate and heath bar!


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