Back in the day, vegan ice cream used to be difficult to come by. Vegans would travel half an hour out of their way to find a dessert shop that had something viable to offer. Some vegans would attempt to make sweet and creamy desserts from tofu or coconut fat to satisfy their craving for a decadent, cold treat on a hot day.
Now, vegan ice creams are all over the place. Almost every grocery store stocks at least a few brands of dairy-free ice cream flavors because they appeal to so many people. Dieters, lactose-intolerant people, and those looking to reduce their consumption of animal products are all willing to give vegan ice cream a shot. This larger audience made it more appealing for brands to put forth their best milk-free offerings in the frozen foods section.
Traditional ice cream is always made from cream. If it isn’t, they have to call it something else. Since vegan ice creams cannot call themselves ice creams, they only have to subscribe to the vague definition of “frozen dessert.” As long as they’re frozen and intended to be eaten as dessert, they still fit the bill.
This leaves things open to interpretation, giving brands a wide swath of space for experimentation. Everyone wants to create the best vegan ice cream, but whose dessert base ingredients have most successfully achieved that goal?
Oat milk has become one of the most popular milk alternatives due to its texture. Since oats are vegan, nut-free, and gluten-free, they work well for almost everyone. Oats are naturally starchy, and when turned into a milk, the end result is something thick and creamy. Many people make their own oat milk at home, but more and more brands are bringing ready-made oat milk to the dairy section of your local grocery store.
The thickness and richness of oat milk make it a perfect alternative milk for vegan ice cream. It’s close enough to the “real thing” that it doesn’t require much work to make the transformation happen. Since oats have such a neutral flavor, they easily blend well with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or any other classic dessert variety.
Nut milk is neutral in flavor and naturally thinner. Cashew milk and almond milk are often used to create dairy-free desserts. Since the consistency is watery, these desserts typically require more ingredients to reach the desired bulkiness of an ice cream texture. They’re usually blended with natural thickeners to achieve the creamy effect. Vegetable gums are used for this purpose.
Nuts don’t generally impart much flavor into the final dessert, but a hint of nuttiness might remain. That’s why so many nut milk ice creams have almond, peanut butter, or chocolate flavors. They’re built to work on the existing foundation.
Soy milk has the closest texture and taste to dairy milk. It also has very impressive nutrition facts. A single serving of unsweetened soy milk has fewer calories than dairy milk, but still boasts 7 grams of protein and tons of valuable nutrients for a mere 5 grams of fat. Soy milk is so delicious that it’s easy to convince non-vegans to make the switch.
Unfortunately, soy milk vegan ice creams are somewhat rare. Vegans and health food enthusiasts tend to do their research a little more than the average consumer. Since soy is a phytoestrogen, people tend to be afraid of the ingredient. This is unfortunately the case of a bad public relations campaign winning out and becoming viral, rather than an accurate piece of reporting.
Phytoestrogens would need to be consumed in very large amounts in order to change the way the body produces or uses the hormone estrogen, and you’re unlikely to see any effects from the occasional dessert. Phytoestrogens are also present in beans, flax seeds, sesame seeds, wheat, berries, lentils, apples, and carrots. Still, people choose to steer clear of soy milk but ingest these other healthy foods on a daily basis.
Coconut milk is a lot like dairy milk. There is coconut water, which is the equivalent of skim milk, traditional coconut milk, which is similar to full-fat dairy milk, and coconut cream, which is similar to heavy dairy cream. This cream is often used to make vegan ice cream alternatives due to its rich texture. It was practically made for this purpose.
While coconut milk does make for an excellent ice cream base, it will always taste like coconuts. Coconuts have a strong and distinct flavor that’s hard to shake. Some heavy chocolate flavors will successfully mask remnants of the coconut aroma, but in most cases, a little bit of that coconut is going to shine through. If you love coconut, that won’t be a problem. If you’re not a fan of the taste, you’ll probably strongly dislike every coconut milk ice cream alternative.
Fruit is obviously not any kind of milk. But fruits, when mashed or pureed, often have a naturally creamy texture. They’re already a bit like ice cream, whether or not they’ve frozen. They’re naturally rich in vitamins and fiber, giving a health boost to every ice cream they help create.
Which is Better?
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect vegan ice cream, it’s a little more economical to start by trying what you believe would work best for you. Although it’s a lot more fun to pick up a pint of everything and dig in, you won’t be doing your waistline or your pockets any favors.
In Terms of Taste and Texture
Nut milk-based ice creams lose in terms of taste and texture. Nut milk is just a bit too thin to make a vegan ice cream feel like a traditional dairy milk ice cream.
Coconut milk and oat milk do a good job of replicating the way that dairy milk feels in an ice cream. Soy milk does the best job out of any plant-based milk at mimicking the taste, texture, and nutrition of dairy ice cream.
If you want a non-dairy ice cream that sticks to your spoon the same way a cream-based dessert will, go for the fruit base. Sometimes, the closest duplicate to dairy isn’t an alternative milk, but a similar texture from another source.
In Terms of Nutrition
Nut milk, coconut milk, and oat milk are all severely lacking in the nutrition department. You won’t find many essential nutrients in these formulas, and they’re all sorely lacking in protein. While whole nuts contain protein, the overwhelming majority of that protein never makes its way into the nut milk.
Soy ice cream and fruit-based ice cream alternatives will do a better job at providing you with enough nutrients to allow you to rightfully consider your frozen dessert healthy.
We made our frozen anytime dessert with a fruit base-infused with hemp protein because we understood what other brands were lacking.
Plant milk just can’t provide the same nutrients that bananas, apples, hemp, and sunflower butter can. It also can’t provide the perfect creamy texture that so many ice cream lovers miss when they make the leap to eliminate dairy from their diets.
Making a healthy decision shouldn’t have to be hard, so we created easy great choices in every flavor.
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