There came a point, sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, when the balance in the frozen aisle seemed to tip. In some parts of Brooklyn, anyway, vegan ice creams now outnumber the cow-made stuff. And unlike the ’70s era look that previously plagued these vegan options, the current roster of plant-based cartons looks goooood. But savvy branding doesn’t always equal delicious, as I must remind myself. I love an arbitrary food challenge, so I set out to try as many non-dairy ice creams as I could get my spoon into. My freezer got pretty chaotic, but I persevered through the too hard, too watery, and too banana-y to find the best vegan pints out there. Whether you’re a froyo stan or an EVOO enthusiast or an eco warrior looking to cut back on animal products, these have you covered.
Sunscoop Vanilla Bean Cream
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this is the creamiest non-dairy ice cream I’ve ever had straight from the freezer. This particular flavor is made with a coconut cream base and takes me back, waaay back, to when I lived a block from a Pinkberry and spent 50 percent of my grad student budget on cups of tart froyo with lil mochi on top. Now I can spend $7 on this pint at the fancy bodega and feel young at heart.
Runner Up: Toasted Coconut Butter
As far as mouthfeel is concerned, Wildgood is a close second. And that makes sense, because Wildgood uses olive oil as the base in its fully non-dairy line. If you’ve ever topped your soft serve with EVOO and flaky salt, you’re probably as excited as I am about this new brand. I was expecting the savory undertones to work best with classics like chocolate and vanilla, but it was the mango I fell for. Have I become a fruity-ice-cream person after all these years?
Runner Up: Chocolate
Coconut Bliss Legendary Cookie Dough
The last time I tried Coconut Bliss, I was in my post-Pinkberry ~vegan phase~ and the packaging looked like that lower-back tattoo your friend got after her first yoga retreat. But now it’s 2021, I’m no longer vegan, and Coconut Bliss has rebranded its pints with bright, Pixar-esque avatars! The only flavor I tried was Cookie Dough, and while I’m not sure if it reaches “legendary” status, it’s definitely the best non-dairy version of the flavor I’ve tried. And in case you’re wondering, I’m definitely that person who meticulously digs out all the (oat-flour based) cookie dough bits with a spoon.
I didn’t think I liked strawberry ice cream until I tried their silky, pink number, but I’m a full convert now. The coffee flavor is ROBUST. The chocolate is more Hershey’s Milk than fancy dark, which is nice. The vanilla tastes like cold oats, and I’m not mad about it. What else is there to say? This Scandi brand is unstoppable.
Runner Up: Coffee
N!ck’s Vanilj Bean
N!ck’s branding makes me want to scream, “We get it! You’re Swedish!” The Oatly vibes, the “Swedish-style light ice cream” written prominently on certain labels, the insistence on calling the flavors by their Swedish names as if this were IKEA and not the frozen food aisle. As someone who is exactly one-quarter Swedish, I feel that I can roll my eyes at all of this while also enjoying N!ck’s wholeheartedly. Yes, it’s “light ice cream” (including both vegan and non-vegan lines) but I believe there’s a time and a place for such things, like when you’re too busy screaming at the NBA refs to realize that you’ve eaten an entire pint. But while other light ice creams rely solely on sugar alcohols like xylitol, which make my digestive system unhappy, N!ck’s uses allulose, a lab-made version of a type of sugar that doesn’t cause insulin spikes, in addition to erythritol, and I haven’t noticed any digestive distress. As with all light ice cream, the more decadent options are bound to disappoint (Peanöt Butter Fudge is a shell of its full-fat, full-sugar self) but the vanilla—I mean *Vanilj—*is a refreshing delight.
Runner Up: Strawbär Kräm
KIND Caramel Almond Sea Salt
You know them from airports, gas stations, and your mother’s pantry: America’s favorite mouthful of nuts in bar form now offers mouthfuls of nuts in ice cream form. The first ingredient is pear juice but I’m not complaining! These pints pay homage to their predecessors in terms of sheer quantity of nuts, so rejoice, people who like to chew their ice cream. (If you’re not on Team Chunky, try the Strawberry flavor instead.) My favorite flavors were the ones that cut the nuts with swirls of caramel or peanut butter. These babies need a few minutes on the counter to get to a scoopable consistency, but they’re worth the wait.
Runner Up: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter
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