Deep, decadent, delightful. The idea of sitting at home, and nursing a tub of ice cream (or just a cup, for lesser beings) is one that is intricately linked to indulgence.
Something that isn’t necessarily associated with veganism.
And yet, here I am, seven tubs in (clearly I am no lesser being), and I am almost sold on the possibility of vegan ice cream being as good as the real thing. There are some hits and some misses, of course, but it’s really not that much different from how non-vegan ice creams may perform.
And while certain more conventional flavours aren’t quite there in terms of replicating flavour and texture yet, there are some flavours that perform remarkably well in their vegan counterparts – dare I say, possibly even better than the non-vegan options.
So, in the name of science, I have dedicated much of my time and meals to feasting on ice cream. I also purposely chose non-fruit flavours because that would be cheating, since those flavours tend to not contain dairy or eggs anyway.
Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy sunflower butter flavours (Crème Brûlée Cookie and Mint Chocolate Cookie)
Approaching vegan substitutes for long-standing dessert or meal options is essentially problem solving. And while there have been popular substitutes already in place, the cream has not yet set in the vegan game, so to speak.
Although vegan efforts have been pioneered, by and large by smaller, independent creameries, it is no real surprise that ice cream big boys Ben & Jerry’s may have found an interesting alternative to the commonly used coconut milk, as a base for their vegan options.
Switching flavour channels to the subtle notes of sunflower butter, Ben & Jerry’s, instead of having the kick of coconut, have smartly navigated their route of exploration to pair that with Crème Brûlée Cookie, and Mint Chocolate Cookie.
Where the Crème Brûlée Cookie lacks in blatant creaminess, it makes up for in layered texture, generous amounts of salted caramel swirls that taste like Werther’s Original toffee, accompanied by chunks of brown sugar cookies that will leave you digging deeper into the pint for more. It might be a bit too much for those who do not particularly like caramel but the strong sensation of the flavour is a great choice to pair with the taste of the slightly nutty sunflower butter.
Conversely, the Mint Chocolate Cookie is strong on the sunflower butter’s scent and aroma. Surprisingly, though this does little to hamper the refreshing notes that the skilfully placed mint helps to overpower. The true achievement here is that the Mint Chocolate Cookie somehow overcomes the usual divisiveness met by other mint-flavoured ice cream (it’s just toothpaste-flavoured ice cream, people), and instead offers a light and refreshing experience.
Little Moons vegan Chocolate Mochi ice cream
Little Moons’ foray onto this list is enhanced by how it technically sidesteps from being your typical ice cream offering. Little balls of deep, chocolatey ice cream is wrapped in a thin but resilient skin of mochi, dusted in cocoa powder – all working towards offering you the sensation of a bite, something that your everyday ice cream cannot offer.
For a non-cream product, Little Moons’ vegan option is surprisingly decadent, while offering an unprecedented balance between texture and flavour. Though the ice cream filling by itself doesn’t necessarily provide a well-rounded experience, fact is, it doesn’t need to. Contained in each bite-sized flour-wrapped serving is an independent burst of flavour and mouth-feel, making it worthy of a try by any chocolate lover.
Magnum non-dairy Sea Salt Caramel bar
Magnum’s essentially made itself an icon of layered ice cream experiences – literally. Employing the fundamental basics of a rich, creamy interior encased in a shell of richer, chocolatey armour, Magnum ice creams are pretty much the definition of “good things come in chocolate packages.”
And while the basis of their modus operandi is not compromised in their vegan caramel-flavoured, sea salt-enhanced, chocolate-wrapped experiment on a stick, there is a little clash of these iconic flavour titans.
While neither flavour is overpowered by the other, the strength of both ends up working against the euphoria expected from every bite. While Magnum’s quality remains intact despite the vegan-friendly composition of the contents, the synchronicity of the dual-flavoured aspects just doesn’t come through.
But being as dedicated as I am to the mission of enjoying ice cream in all its glorious forms, the solution here seems to be experiencing the exterior and interior flavours independently of each other, alternating between biting off bits of the chocolate shell, and licking the flavourful star-of-the-show within.
Weis dairy-free Dark Chocolate ice cream
While on the one hand I would like to applaud the determination of every effort behind the creation of dairy-free ice cream, I am left, on the other hand, severely underwhelmed (if not completely put off) by certain formulas.
Weis’ Dairy Free Dark Chocolate is an example of the perpetuated stereotype of obviously artificially flavoured, excessively sweet, and almost medicinal-tasting vegan ice cream, which turns many off from even considering dairy-free options.
Thankfully, my dedication to science and you, our esteemed readers, compelled me to maintain my vegan ventures, or this entry may have frozen my efforts faster than any artificially composed cream substitute could.
The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. dairy-free Onde Onde ice cream
This local favourite-inspired entry is the ice cream equivalent of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Where the overpowering coconut flavour tends to be the source of many vegan ice creams’ downfalls, The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. circumvents the problem by leaning into a coconut-friendly option. Ondeh ondeh is a local favourite for a good reason: deep complex flavours, masked by a seemingly simple recipe, countered with layers of texture.
And thanks to its heavy reliance on coconut as a key ingredient, this ice cream flavour easily succeeds where so many others have failed. That said, there is a bit of an experiential curve to appreciating it, because it does taste artificial rather than authentic.
That said, unlike the clawing aftertaste of artificial sweetness in many vegan dessert alternatives, this ice cream manages to, once again, avoid this being a problem by further leaning into its ondeh ondeh flavour profile. It allows the pandan-flavoured body to carry the sweetness without coating the tongue like powdered sugar.
The Original Oatly Chocolate Fudge ice cream
A bit of an anomaly, the Chocolate Fudge ice cream by Original Oatly falls into a unique bracket on the vegan ice cream spectrum. With a surprisingly pleasant creaminess, it remains a serviceable option for those who have no particular issues with the still noticeable differences between dairy-free option and the traditional selection.
While this Oatly flavour does possess some of the more common traits of vegan ice cream, from an obvious sweetness to an oddly silken texture, it doesn’t quite go off the deep end of blatantly artificial ice cream flavours. Nevertheless, the experience is rounded off with a generous swirl of tasty fudge that could easily convince you that this is the real thing. It is neither too light, nor too cloying, as can be the issue with many artificially flavoured options, but does succumb to a very slight oily texture.
My only real issue would be it being on the wrong end of the price point, being a tad more expensive than even the Ben & Jerry’s options.