Taste Test: Dairy-Free Ice Cream
Ice cream — that luscious, creamy treat for which a craving hits every summer and only intensifies with the heat — is always on our minds. In its most-classic form, you need only a few ingredients to churn up the chilling possibilities: cow’s milk (or cream), sugar and egg yolks. So what happens when you remove the milk and replace it with nut-based “milks,” like cashew and coconut? We taste-tested dozens of pints from around the nation and these are our picks for the best dairy-free ice cream America’s churning out today. (Note: Since these ice creams contain zero dairy milkfat, they’re technically classified as frozen desserts.)
We used our typical rating scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) for this taste test. Each brand was evaluated based on taste, texture and nutrition, paying special attention to calories, fat, sodium and ingredient quality. All nutrition information is based on a 1/2-cup serving size of vanilla flavor wherever possible.
Per serving: Calories 260; Fat 15 g (Saturated 2.5 g); Sodium 30 mg; Fiber 1 g; Sugars 22 g
This organic, Oakland, Calif.-based cashew ice cream company was built on necessity — often the key incentive for developing the best version of anything — by brothers Ari and Andrew Cohen, whose family couldn’t eat dairy. While there are other brands on the market that are free of stabilizers, emulsifiers or gums, theirs is the first I’ve tasted that has that satisfying chew that usually only premium dairy-full ice creams deliver. Their flavors are incredibly creative, too. Chocolate Orange Chip was my personal favorite, with Salted Pecan coming in a close second.
Per serving: Calories 120; Fat 7 g (Saturated 6 g); Sodium 35 mg; Fiber 5 g; Sugars 8 g
Back in 2004, NadaMoo (a made-up word that means “no dairy”), an organic, GMO-free shop, was one of the first places serving up dairy-free ice creams. This Austin-based, multigenerational family business just added its newest (gluten-free) flavor to their all-star lineup — Cookies & Crème — and it stole my heart. However, I’d have to confess that their basic Creamy Coconut flavor reminds me that their creamy coconut milk base is a secret for a reason — it’s so rich and creamy! NadaMoo also has the lowest sugar content out of all the brands I tested, and if I hadn’t read the nutrition label I wouldn’t have even noticed, since the ice cream is just sweet enough.
Per serving: Calories 230; Fat 16 g (Saturated 14 g); Sodium 10 mg; Fiber 3 g; Sugars 29 g
Steve’s Ice Cream is a Brooklyn-based company already popular for its dairy-full scoops and inventive flavor combinations. I was skeptical that they could pull off a dairy-free version, but oh, how wrong I was! They use organic coconut cream as their base. I don’t know whether it’s the addictive airiness that made it easy for me to eat an entire pint (yes, the whole thing) of the Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream, but I would do it again. The Mint Cacao Chip has a wonderfully unexpected added crunch that you get only when you stir in roasted cocoa nibs.
Per serving: Calories 210; Fat 16 g (Saturated 14 g); Sodium 35 mg; Fiber 1 g; Sugars 13 g
What started in Luna and Larry’s home kitchen in Eugene, Ore., has expanded into national success. Luckily, the commitment to quality is still the same. Classic and fun flavor combos like Chocolate Walnut Brownie and Mocha Maca Crunch are worth seeking out, but their new ice cream bars are a game changer, especially the Coconut Almond in Chocolate, which is creamy coconut ice cream (with chewy shredded coconut pieces and crunchy almonds) dipped in chocolate.
Per serving: Calories 230; Fat 12 g (Saturated 2 g); Sodium 5 mg; Fiber 1 g; Sugars 21 g
Husband-and-wife team Barry (a vegan chef) and Diana (a physician) in Berkeley, Calif., created what they call a “frozen emulsification” or vegan gelato. Genuto uses cream bases made from four different nuts — cashews, pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts — to replace the milk and eggs used in premium ice creams. Unexpectedly, their gelato has a great mouthfeel without any air, gums or stabilizers. The Double Espresso might just take you back to the cobblestone streets of Rome.
Per serving: Calories 150; Fat 7 g (Saturated 1 g); Sodium 20 mg; Fiber 1 g; Sugars 17 g
I found this company’s non-GMO cashew milk ice cream surprisingly satisfying for a mass-produced product. For nut lovers, there’s a seriously nutty flavor (experienced best in the bare-bones flavor, Creamy Cashew) and the texture is super rich and smooth. The Salted Caramel Cluster, swirled with ribbons of caramel and packed with chocolate-covered cashews, is over the top.