Two Scoops, Hold the Dairy
What’s the best vegan ice cream?
Coconut Bliss ($6.39 per pint) Founded by Luna and Larry Kaplowitz, a married couple who gave up dairy for health and ethical reasons, Coconut Bliss gives off the feel of a New Age mom-and-pop shop. It also perpetuates vegan-lifestyle stereotypes: Luna’s title, according to the company’s website, is “Goddess of Flavor and Design,” while Coconut Bliss’ social media editor answers to “Digital Goddess and Twitter Empress.”
Coconut Bliss was the first of the two coconut-based ice creams we sampled, and it tasted overwhelmingly like its base, which was not a positive for the coconut averse in our group. (“It tasted like macaroons, and not the good kind.”) Even for those of us who liked coconut, the taste was overwhelming. The texture, on the other hand, was definitely a step up. Also, Coconut Bliss contains only four ingredients (or six if you break down the coconut milk into its component parts). This was a definite plus in theory—take that, Häagen Dazs Five!—but I can’t help but think that an additional ingredient might have improved the flavor.
Conclusion: Coconutty yes, blissful no.
Cashewtopia ($8.99 per pint)
If we were grading based on packaging, we’d have a winner. But no one buys ice cream for its sleek, minimalist design, and aside from the classy container, Cashewtopia was the biggest disappointment. Like all of Organic Nectars’ products, Cashewtopia is made entirely of raw ingredients—or, more precisely, ingredients that haven’t been heated above 118 degrees. (This ostensibly preserves foods’ maximum nutritional value.) I can’t say whether the cashews would have benefited from being cooked, but they definitely could have used another round in the blender to address the grainy consistency that felt absolutely nothing like cream on the tongue. The taste was also overwhelmingly nutty: more of a cashew-chocolate flavor than a purely chocolate one. And while all the ingredients may have been raw, there were still 12 of them.
Purely Decadent ($6.49 per pint)
Since soy is king of nondairy milks, you’d think soy-based ice cream would make a strong showing—but alas. Purely Decadent comes from Turtle Mountain, the company that also makes the coconut-based So Delicious (about which more below). The pint we chose was sort of a cheat because it had chunks of chocolate mixed in to it. (Turtle Mountain has an apparent fondness for mixing various solids into its frozen desserts.) In the end, the chunks worked in its favor, disguising the fact that the consistency and texture were off—we got the distinct feeling that the chocolate chunks were the only thing holding it together, since, as one family member pointed out as he went to take a second bite, it melted surprisingly quickly. Still, the rich, chocolaty taste was unanimously praised. Yet, with its disconcerting texture and more than 15 ingredients (including carrageenan and algin, an extract from kelp), Purely Decadent left much to be desired.
Conclusion: Not decadent enough.
Almond Dream ($4.19 per pint)
This company dreams big: It also puts out Soy Dream, Coconut Dream, and Rice Dream frozen desserts. And its dreams appear to have paid off; one of the oldest nondairy ice cream producers, the company has been going strong for over 40 years. They seem to have taken advantage of that time to hone their recipes. Almond Dream was one of the chocolatiest ice creams we tasted, though it still smacked slightly of almonds. Its texture was also surprisingly smooth. (Cashewtopia, start taking notes!) If only the ingredients were a bit more appealing: There are more than 10 of them, and the second one is evaporated cane juice—plus our old friend carrageenan pays a visit.
Conclusion: Dream almost come true.
So Delicious ($6.49 per pint)
The second coconut-based ice cream we tried was the first to fully live up to its name. Even if So Delicious doesn’t taste exactly like ice cream, it accomplished everything a good ice cream should. For starters, it felt like the real deal: Where most of the others seemed like weird, inexact approximations of frozen custard, this one excelled in its extra creamy texture. With no premature meltage or jagged texture, this one was smooth sailing from the beginning of the bowl to the end. Equally important: It had a rich, chocolaty flavor that wasn’t overwhelmed by that of its coconut base—no evocations of bad macaroons here. With only seven ingredients, it aced the simplicity test, too. Granted, I haven’t tasted real ice cream in some time—but I’m fairly confident that So Delicious will remind everyone, vegan or not, of everything they loved about ice cream in the first place.
Conclusion: So very delicious.
Miriam Krule is a Slate copy editor and edits Slate's religion column "Faith-Based."