If you're vegan or allergic to dairy, it can be more painful than an ice cream headache to watch your friends dig into a hot fudge sundae. But there are ice cream facsimiles, dairy-free (and soy-free and gluten-free) options that aren't taste-free.
So Indy staffers decided to take one for the team and taste some of the best (and worst) vegan ice creams for our dairy-averse readers. We set up a selection of different flavors and varieties in our office, all purchased from a grocery store. Staffers sampled each flavor, knowing it was vegan but not knowing the brand or the flavor. Here are the results. (Nutritional information is based on a 1/2-cup serving.)
This selection is an almond-based ice cream but also contains soy. Most of our taste testers picked up on the nut flavor in the ice cream and agreed that the taste was more or less satisfactory. Several criticized it as being too sweet, and a few others thought the taste was too strong. Several samplers mistook the flavor for butter pecan—but that's not necessarily a bad thing. All in all, not a bad vegan alternative—especially taking into account its rich and creamy texture, which in the world of vegan ice cream is hard to come by. (Calories 140; total fat 7g; carbs 20g; sugars 15g)
This coconut milk-based product, which is both soy-free and dairy-free, sounds like it should be "so delicious," in line with its product manufacturer. Chocolate and peanut butter is a hard combination to get wrong. And, for some of our tasters, this flavor was just right. "Yum! I could eat lots of this. Creamy and rich, can't even tell it's different [from standard ice cream]," said one reviewer. Others commended the "yummy salty peanut butter chunks" and said that the texture is "strangely OK"—in contrast with the funkier textures of several other vegan ice creams.
However this flavor lost points from other reviewers. "Chocolate with a touch of alfalfa" doesn't sound so appetizing. Another noted the "hint of suntan lotion." Maybe we'll leave this one out to melt. (Calories 210; total fat 13g; carbs 21g; sugars 12g)
Naked coconut is, indeed, relatively naked. There are only five ingredients in the dessert—all are organic, and even more remarkably, all can be easily pronounced. The "nondairy frozen dessert" is also advertised to be low glycemic, gluten-free, soy-free and vegan. However, one person thought the taste was chalky and the texture far from creamy. Another said, "More icy than creamy. Nah." Our harshest critic labeled it a "super-no." Yet most reviews were more favorable. One taster commented that she liked the coconut shreds, and another noted that the coconut "tastes super fresh." One staffer was even spotted snacking on it for breakfast the next day. (Calories 220; total fat 16g; carbs 18g; sugars 12g)
Cappuccino Swirl, like Praline Crunch, is also almond-based but includes soy. Unfortunately, that seemed to be where the (good) similarities end for most of our taste testers. A few complimented the texture: "creamy, pretty good," and "smooth like sorbet or shaved ice." Most tasters, however, were dismayed. One labeled the dessert "flavored tofu," and another called the flavor "too harsh, bro." Perhaps the biggest problem with this option is the lack of actual coffee flavor. Only one person commented that the dessert tasted like coffee—others thought it tasted more like butterscotch (burnt butterscotch, according to one), and others criticized the weird aftertaste. Coffee lovers should look elsewhere. (Calories 140; total fat 7g; carbs 20g; sugars 15g)
This fruit-sweetened dessert was just too scary, in all respects. Next to all the other frozen desserts, which at least looked appetizing, its bright green hue was off-putting. And its taste did not save the day. Just a small sampling of our comments: "like licking the bottom of the aquarium"; "I'm not a rabbit"; "An abomination. Tastes like algae"; "hay ice cream." One taster gave the dessert "a point for effort" because he thought it accurately captured the green tea flavor—but still only gave it three points out of 10. Another thought the flavor was "not like the pond water I was expecting." Getting closer to a compliment? Anyway, moving on ... (Calories 110; total fat 1.5g; carbs 24g; sugars 9g)
The tart of the pomegranate, tempered with the sweet, dark chocolate chips, was a winning (and unique) combo. For most of us, at least. Several of us confused the pomegranate for other things, like cherry or raspberry. Regardless, the taste had "potent berry action!" to use the words of one of our testers. Another even thought the flavor was good enough to be considered real ice cream and gave it a nine out of 10. Pomegranate Chip lost points because a few tasters accused it of having a chemical taste and for being too sweet. Can't win 'em all. (Calories 180; total fat 7g; carbs 29g; sugars 24g)
Maggie Spini is a summer intern at the Independent Weekly.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Got milk? Nope."