Last Updated on February 15, 2021 by Novotaste
No kidding, plant-based ice “cream” has become a lot more playful in the past few years as producers respond to the growing demand for high concept flavors. That includes the brand new sweet salute to football trailblazer and social justice activist Colin Kaepernick from Ben & Jerry’s. How about a high five on the launch of Change the Whirled?
Here’s the scoop on what makes these frozen treats exceptional.
Lemon Cheesecake Crumble from Salt & Straw
This Portland, Ore., based artisan ice cream maker is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and the commitment to vegan options goes way back. “It’s always been a passion project,” said founder Tyler Malek. “I’ve always wanted to prove to the world that vegan indulgence is a thing.”
Which is exactly why the company calls its plant-based lineup Vegandulgence, a word they trademarked.
Some of the indulgent options actually weigh in at a higher fat content than traditional ice cream. “With ice cream, you can’t go above 17 percent butterfat or you’ll start to get little bits of butter forming,” Malek explained. “Using plant-based ingredients, we’re actually able to push it to 20 percent.”
For years, the go-to foundation was coconut milk and coconut cream. Salt & Straw also used cashew milk. Then, the whole oat milk trend made a huge splash, pushing that ingredient to the forefront of the vegan ice cream revolution. “The first time we tried making ice cream with oat milk, we really liked the texture, the heartiness,” Malek said.
Salt & Straw works with a small California dairy as an exclusive source for the oat milk, allowing for stricter control of the final product. The oats are processed using the same pasteurization and homogenization protocol followed for dairy, albeit done on completely different production lines.
As far as the research and development of new flavors, Malek said that’s an ongoing exercise in creativity. New flavors might take up to a year to bring to the table and are routinely rolled out on a Friday. The launch of new flavors is eagerly anticipated by the ever-expanding legion of Salt & Straw fans. “We treat it like a Broadway show,” Malek said. “Some of our regulars show up early that day because they’re so excited.”
Recent dairy-free standouts:
- Bourbon and Caramelized Honeycomb featuring chocolate-dipped honeycomb candy and spirits from Eastside Distiling in an oat milk base.
- Peanut Butter Strawberry Crumble showcasing preserves from Oregon Hill Jams.
- Coconut Rice Pudding elevated by warming spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.
- Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies and Cream gets its ultra-rich texture from the combo of hazelnut butter and coconut cream. Those addictive cookies that make this one so memorable are also gluten-free.
- The Lemon Cheesecake Crumble appeared on the first-ever Vegandulgence menu. It’s being currently featured during the current offerings from The Vault, part of Salt & Straw’s 10th anniversary tribute to its best-sellers. The tribute to winter citrus season gets its tart kick comes from lemon zest swirled into coconut yogurt, an almond crumble standing in for graham crackers.
Churros and Fudge from Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
The Brooklyn-centric producer of so much good sweet stuff started as a food truck back in 2008, eventually expanded to 23 shops and counting. Houston, they’re to your city coming soon! Van Leewen Ice Cream is available for nationwide shipping and at more than 3,000 supermarkets.
Still, the company’s mission remains rooted in making the very best ice cream from scratch, right down to the oat milk. No shortcuts taken. No flavors are created for shock value. (Though that CBD-infused Couch Potato from a couple of years ago might sneak into that category.) Nothing sourced from ubiquitous flavor houses.
Of course, that makes the process more time-consuming and complicated, but it’s absolutely worth it, said founder and CEO Ben Van Leewen in a recent phone interview. Many of the inclusions are made in-house, for instance. “We learned early on that you can’t just find the best doughnuts and put them in ice cream. It just doesn’t work,” he explained. The add-ins made for them are done under the team’s watchful eye and keen palates.
Being super selective about what goes into the vegan ice cream was a strategy fueled by the collective desire to steer clear of any products using palm oil, an ingredient that’s linked to climate change. (Read those labels, people!)
Van Leeuwen’s tight team — in addition to Ben and his brother, Laura O’Neill is a co-owner — also works directly with cacao producers that value biodiversity on farms that grow the key ingredient for making chocolate.
All of those steps gives these vegan flavors extra feel-good cred:
- Mint Cookies and Cream just might remind you of something you ate as a kid, but it’s even better with the intensely peppermint-y character coming from an organic extract.
- Passionfruit Layer Cake wraps its tart creaminess around a complex-tasting cake made from wheat and malted barley flour.
- Churros and Fudge starts with a base of brown sugar and cinnamon oat milk-driven ice cream with gooey fudge swirled in. It’s the churros that take this treat to the Next Level, the vegan bites actually maintain that crave-able crunch. That’s because those itty bitty bites are really more of a cookie than the traditional fried pastry. Better make it a double scoop!
Texas Sheet Cake from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
Five years of research went into the development of a dairy-free ice cream that’s got the velvety texture of its traditional dairy-based flavors. The brand launched its vegan ice cream lineup in 2019 and each round of flavors released takes the project into even tastier territory.
The winning formula leans into high-quality coconut cream as the base, steering clear of ingredients such as pea protein and avocado. That ingredient is gorgeously presented in one of the latest releases, Cold Brew with Coconut Cream. Sharing the stage with the coconut cream is a strong, sweet sorbet made from Slingshot Coffee. Bring on the brain freeze and the caffeine buzz!
For the Texas Sheet Cake, founder Jeni Britton Bauer drew on sweet memories. The product description credits the clever bakers at her church’s Sunday potluck for carving out a special place for that humble treat during Jeni’s childhood. Even though she grew up in the Midwest. The ice cream delivers a triple shot of chocolate goodness with the cake mixing in alongside Fair Trade cocoa and bittersweet fudge sauce.
Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns and the Lemon Bar continue that journey of including evocative goodies into the creamy, yet plant-based foundation.
All flavors are available in the various Jeni’s Scoop Shops, as well as online.
Ben & Jerry’s Change The Whirled
This cool collaboration with Colin Kaepernick benefits the organization he founded. Know Your Rights Camp works to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities. Teaming up with Kaep clearly demonstrates Ben and Jerry’s bold willingness to put its support of racial and social justice out there during these turbulent times.
That partnership was actually years in the making and finally started gaining serious traction last year as calls for justice grew louder and the pandemic had a overwhelming impact on the nation’s Black and Brown communities.
The plant-based ice cream — Kaepernick eats a vegan diet — has got a lot going on. There’s caramel with fudge chips swirled together with two kinds of cookies. The base is made from sunflower seed butter. All ingredients are non-GMO and the cocoa, sugar and vanilla are Fairtrade.
The taste? It’s a winner.
Besides that dramatic launch, Ben & Jerry’s also grabbed the attention of its fans by introducing a vegan version of one of its all-time faves, Phish Food. Yes, of course, the fudge fish are swimming in this almond milk-based chocolate ice cream, paddling amidst the ribbons of gooey marshmallow and caramel swirls. It’s one of the 18 flavors of non-dairy frozen desserts Ben & Jerry’s has out now, demonstrating its commitment to that category.