Milk, cream, and sugar are the most abundant ingredients in vanilla ice cream. These products are white which is where vanilla ice cream gets its color.
The non-white additional ingredients in this ice cream are not used in significant quantities to impact the color to a great degree. For example, there may be real vanilla bean in a vanilla ice cream, which is a dark brown or black in color (see the image below). However, a small amount of it is used in each batch which has a minimal impact on its color.
The same holds true for the use of vanilla extracts, sweeteners (sugar), stabilizers, emulsifiers or other potential ingredients used to make vanilla ice cream. These additional ingredients aren’t used in sufficient quantities to alter the white color produced from the milk and cream.
One ingredient that is known to influence the color of vanilla ice cream is egg yolks. Egg yolks are commonly found in Old Fashioned or French vanilla ice cream to produce a richer, creamier texture. The addition of them often turns the ice cream pale yellow but it depends on how many yolks are used.
It should be noted that it is uncommon for ice cream manufacturers to add coloring to vanilla ice cream to make it white. It is unnecessary since the ingredients already produce its natural color and society accepts that vanilla ice cream is traditionally white. This is in contrast to something like mint chocolate chip ice cream which some manufacturers tint green to match its flavor.
Keep in mind that vanilla ice cream is old. According to National Geographic, the first recipe known in the United States dates back to 1824 in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife. This recipe only uses vanilla bean, milk, eggs, and sugar to make the ice cream.
In other words, vanilla has always traditional been made with minimal ingredients without the need for coloring. The beauty of it is its massive amount of versatility. Its white color is a sort of blank slate that helps other more colorful foods placed alongside it to pop.
In summary, the cream and milk are primarily responsible for natural white color of vanilla ice cream. Additional ingredients such as vanilla extract, stabilizers and emulsifiers have minimal impact on color since they are used in small quantities. Food dye is traditionally not used to make this type of ice cream.