While dairy-free ice cream has been on store shelves for almost a decade now, it hasn’t always been loved for its taste, texture, or variety of flavours.
Many of today’s ice creams have a velvety texture. They have the ability to be scooped like soft serve and twirled like ice cream. And the alternatives for both soft and hard versions have dramatically improved as the plant-based milk and creamers used to produce them have become better.
Hanna Darnell made a TikTok video in May in which she had a cup of dairy-free salted peanut soft serve topped with sesame Chex from Morgenstern’s Bananas, a new soft serve business on the Lower East Side.
According to the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade association representing more than 350 plant-based food firms, sales of plant-based foods in the United States skyrocketed in 2020, when the epidemic started many people thinking more about their health. Nondairy ice cream was a popular alternative, with $437 million in sales in 2016. The growing popularity of plant-based diets and the need for dairy-free sweets have led to the proliferation of stores selling just dairy-free ice cream.
Julie Emmett, the vice president of business and development for the trade group, said that the sector is still developing, but at a slower pace. Data analyst Linette Kwon agreed, saying that developments in plant-based milks, notably oat milk, which is creamier and has a natural sweetness, had paved the way for improved dairy-free ice cream.
The ice cream at these trendy new stores is made using a range of plant-based milks. For instance, soy milk is more protein-rich and creamier than other plant milks. Cashew milk, like oat milk, has a velvety texture.
According to Ms. Emmett, “plant-based” alternatives to dairy ice cream have become more popular, and this trend extends beyond individuals who follow vegan or vegetarian diets. She noted that “vegan” is a divisive label.
Shops like Chicago’s Vaca’s Creamery, which caters to customers with numerous food allergies, pay special attention to ingredients and work to prevent cross-contamination.
Last year at this time, the pair launched their second store. About 150 gallons per week are produced between the two stores, with flavours such as vanilla, chocolate, tahini, lemon, strawberry with olive oil, and blueberry with lavender.
Twenty unique toppings are available, several of which are created with those with food allergies in mind. The most well-liked are the churro-like waffle cones flavoured with cinnamon and sunflower butter and the gluten-free brownie pieces with a chocolate hard shell.
Alejandro Ocampo launched his vegan ice cream store in Bakersfield, California, in April after realising that he and his vegan twin daughters, Adaline and Belen, had nowhere to go for frozen treats that suited their diet.
To manufacture ice cream flavours like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mint, he utilises vegan creamers made from oat and coconut milk. The common unpleasantness of plant-based ice creams’ aftertaste is mitigated by this foundation. With flavours like Mexican vanilla, passion fruit, and horchata, he also pays respect to his roots.
Wendy Golding uses a foundation of cashews and oat milk to create creamy and nostalgic flavours like brownies with caramel ripples and peach cobbler with crumbles at the Creamy Spot in Atlanta, which launched in March as a walk-up window with outdoor seating. It took her almost 15 tries to perfect the current formula.