Once a niche interest and available in select grocery stores only, plenty of brands now want to capture customers’ attention with creamy vegan ice cream and gelato products.
Allergen-aware, dairy-identical, and even carbon-neutral offerings mean that the landscape of ice cream is changing forever and becoming more inclusive. But who makes the best dairy-free products in the space, and the really burning question: is vegan ice cream good for you?
Here are our two scoops:
Some of the most popular include:
Newer developments include bases made using precision fermentation. These imitate dairy whey protein for a creamy feel and neutral taste.
Californian alternative dairy startup Perfect Day has cornered this market, so far. It offers animal-free dairy proteins to some ice cream manufacturers that want to create comparable textures and tastes to conventional frozen desserts.
Aside from plant milk bases, vegan ice cream contains many of the same ingredients as its regular counterparts. Sugar, flavorings, and preservatives tend to come as standard.
When compared to dairy-based ice cream, there are potential health benefits to plant-based alternatives. Chief amongst them are lower saturated fat levels and zero cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol contributes to heart and circulatory diseases. Only animal products contain it. Whole-fat milk bases are often used in dairy ice cream. When combined with high sugar content, they become a potential contributor to health issues.
Vegan ice cream removes the cholesterol issue and usually offers lower saturated fat levels. However, the sugar content tends to remain high.
The only truly healthy ice cream is “nice cream.” It’s totally vegan, made just from frozen bananas, and thus contains no “nasties.” On its own, the blitzed fruit offers potassium and fiber. Adding a sprinkle of cinnamon will up the antioxidant levels of the homemade frozen treat too.
Dairy is problematic for multiple reasons, but sustainability is a current focal point.
The dairy industry generates an enormous amount of emissions, though pinpointing exactly how much is difficult. It requires vast water resources as well. Calculating the environmental cost of animal agriculture sees dairy and meat banded together frequently.
The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization estimates dairy to contribute at least 3.4 percent of all anthropogenic-generated emissions. The majority take the form of methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Research shows that it takes 628 liters of water to produce one liter of cow’s milk. The same amount of soy milk uses just 28 liters of water.
As a result, leading climate experts are now calling for a reduction in dairy consumption, alongside less meat.
Aside from environmental issues, animal welfare concerns are also driving consumers away from conventional dairy.
The plight of dairy cows in New Zealand is laid bare in the award-winning documentary Milked. The film highlights the cycle of cruelty that dairy cows face. From forced insemination to being separated from their calves, repeatedly milked for profit, and finally, slaughtered when no longer useful, the torture endured by the animals is evident.
New Zealand is one of the largest dairy producers globally, and its methodologies are mirrored throughout the world.
As consumers begin to understand more about the way their food is produced, a shift towards dairy alternatives is happening. Experts predict the alternative dairy market will reach $66.9 billion by 2030, if the current annual growth of 12.5 percent per year is maintained.
Vegan ice cream will be a major contributor to the sector. Valuation predictions say it will be an $805.3 million market, by 2027.
New non-dairy ice cream brands spring up all the time, and large manufacturers are looking to get in on the action as well.
Existing ice cream giants including Unilever (which owns Walls, Magnum, and Ben & Jerry’s) and Breyers have their own dairy-free frozen ranges.
For plant-based ice cream made by (mostly) vegan companies, try some of these:
The founders call Nadamoo the “original coconut ice cream company.” Founded in 2005, the brand boasts organic and certified vegan ingredients across the range.
Consumer favorite Oatly debuted three flavored oat-based ice creams in 2019. It now has five flavors on the shelves.
Powered by Perfect Day whey proteins, Brave Robot is vegan but unsuitable for those with lactose intolerance. The animal-free whey acts identically to dairy whey, creating comparable creaminess but also digestive discomfort for some.
Superfood-fueled ice cream brand Sunscoop produces desserts to make people feel good. There’s no refined sugar, however, you will find mushrooms, maca root, and other magical ingredients on the list.
Eclipse markets “cowlessly creamy” ice cream that it claims is indistinguishable from conventional options. In fact, the company says it made its products specifically for dairy lovers.
Spanish brand Pink Albatross specializes in vegan ice creams that tap into the clean label trend. It uses no artificial ingredients and the coconut-cashew base maximizes creaminess.
Making authentic gelato but with a vegan twist, Wonderlab uses hemp and oats to create a comparable mouthfeel to regular frozen treats. The flavors include more unusual combinations than some, including banana cinnamon date swirl.
Another Perfect Day partner, Coolhaus is LGBTQIA+ and woman-led. The founders bootstrapped the venture and are in the process of making the entire product range 100 percent vegan.
Another gelato brand, Sacred Serve prides itself on outrageous flavors, underpinned by adaptogenic herbs and sustainable packaging. All containers are home compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable.
The Chilean brand Live Green Co uses AI technology to recreate existing foods in a plant-based guise. The ice creams contain unusual ingredients including avocado and sunflower seeds.
Or why not have a go at making your own? This no-churn recipe takes 10 minutes to make and lets you take control of your ingredients. Alternatively, there are a number of vegan ice cream recipe books on the market.
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