The Great Non-Dairy Ice Cream Taste-Off

6 years ago

July's the Month of Ice Cream on BlogHer -- and as you know, I adore Month of Anything Food (cf. Month of Pie) and would love to play along. But my stupid tummy hates ice cream. Serve me up more than a teaspoon of frozen dairy -- ice cream, gelato, fro-yo, soft-serve, semifreddo, ice milk -- and you WILL regret it. I will, anyway.

So while y'all scream for it, scoop it up and slurp it down, every summer I'm on the sidelines pretending I really savor my sorbet (which is generally not bad -- just different) or treasure my tofutti (I have tasted enough ice cream to know that you, sir, are no ice cream).

But I was at the hippie produce store on an uncharacteristically warm San Francisco summer day (it wasn't drizzling) recently, and my gaze lingered on pint after pint of vegan ice cream -- in non-dairy bases I hadn't seen before. Cashew! Coconut!

So it was time for the Fake Ice Cream Taste-Off. I chose plain chocolate across the board, picked brands that are fairly widely available, evaluated texture and flavor, and considered the remarks of my Ice Cream Snob companion (to whom "non-dairy ice cream" is an oxymoron) to come up with ratings from zero to four slurps.

Nondairy ice cream base #1: Coconut

Product: Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

Texture: Very rich, creamy, smooth. Gelato-like, in fact.

Flavor: Starts out as chocolate, then smacks you with a strong coconut aftertaste. This is not a bad thing if you like coconut and chocolate together (I do) -- just weird at first; there's really a full beat between flavors. I'm not sure I'd be into, say, their cherry-amaretto or pomegranate chip flavors, but I bet I'd love the plain-coconut version.

Ice Cream Snobservation: "Tastes like it should have rum in it. Rum would be the bridge between the chocolate and the coconut."

Rating: 3 slurps.

Nondairy ice cream base #2: Rice

Product: Rice Dream Organic Chocolate

Texture: A little grainy, a little icy, not so nicey.

Flavor: Decent chocolate flavor, though a bit one-note and an off-sweet aftertaste. Not much richness. Forgettable.

Ice Cream Snobservation: "Rice Dream rhymes with ice cream. That's as close as it gets."

Rating: 2 slurps.

Nondairy ice cream base #3: Almond

Product: Almond Dream Organic Chocolate

Texture: Very creamy. No grain whatsoever. A little hard coming out of the freezer; took a good half hour to soften at room temp.

Flavor: Light but chocolatey with an almond-milk -- not an almond-almond -- flavor. (Almond milk tastes sweeter with no roasted notes, to me.)

Ice Cream Snobservation: "This isn't chocolate almond milk-flavored ice cream?"

Rating: Four slurps!

Nondairy ice cream base #4: Soy

Product: So Delicious Soy Ice Cream Chocolate Velvet

Texture: Gross. Gummy. Have you ever tried freeze-dried astronaut ice cream? Like that, but reconstituted and ... fluffed.

Flavor: Chocolate. I think. I couldn't get past the texture.

Ice Cream Snobservation: "There's no way I'm even trying this after seeing the face you just made."

Rating: Zero slurps.

Nondairy ice cream base #5: Cashew

Product: Blue Mountain Cashew Creamery Organic Chocolate

Texture: I was expecting more, because though I love dairy cheese, I think vegan cashew cheese is a miracle of science, but it was a bit gritty.

Flavor: This product bills itself as the "best tasting raw vegan ice cream ever." It's the only tasting raw vegan ice cream ever for me. Though there are no off flavors, I found it a bit bland. I bet raw-foodists are over the moon about it, though. They didn't even get to have tofutti before this stuff came along.

Ice Cream Snobservation: "Best tasting raw vegan ice cream ever? I'm assuming that's meant to be a compliment, huh?"

Rating: 3 slurps -- 2.5 on taste and texture, .5 bonus for being so good for you.

Pint #6: Control Group: Sorbet

Product: Ciao Bella Chocolate Sorbet

Texture: Icy. Very icy. No creaminess, no richness. But a very smooth, very well-churned iciness, not at all slushy.

Flavor: Hands-down winner in the flavor category. This thing was INTENSE -- flavored with both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. I want to wear it as perfume.

Ice Cream Snobservation: "This would be really good with a scoop of pistachio ice cream next to it. Or if you were on a diet or something tragic like that."

Rating: 3.5 slurps on chocolatiness alone.

What's your favorite nondairy ice cream? Are there better versions out there than the ones I tried? Or do you think the whole idea's a travesty?

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