Food & Drink

Non-Dairy Ice Cream That Doesn't Actually Suck

Published On 03/06/2016 Published On 03/06/2016
Non-dairy ice cream in a row
Gary Swartzel

According to modern scientists, most human adults aren't supposed to drink milk, because of the genome which produces lactase -- something about enzymes and being old and not being able to digest it and other buzzkills. That especially sucks, because ice cream is kind of the best.

So let’s say you want some ice cream but can’t have dairy. You probably saw that Ben & Jerry’s recently released four new non-dairy flavors, but B&J’s isn’t the only non-dairy frozen dessert in town. Between the major national grocery chains, roughly 10 companies combine to sell a whopping 60 flavors. Unfortunately, most of the flavors taste like they came out the wrong end of a cow.

But not all of them. In the interest of helping our dairy-free friends, we’ve cracked open the best pints to fill you in on the non-dairy ice cream that still actually tastes like ice cream. With most of them, we couldn’t even tell that we weren’t eating the real thing.

Gray Swartzel

Ben & Jerry’s P.B. & Cookies

Base: Almond
Certifications: Dairy-free, Fair Trade, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Cream, nuts, vanilla
“What?” you say. “One thousand one hundred and sixty calories in a pint of vegan ice cream? Surely this is some mistake?” But it’s not. This high-calorie, non-dairy frozen dessert comes from the same company that will sell you 20 scoops of ice cream, four bananas, hot fudge, and something like 74 toppings in a plastic bucket under a trademarked name (the Vermonster). We contend that there isn’t a better non-dairy flavor than P.B. & Cookies on the market. It contains everything fans love about Ben & Jerry’s (creamy flavor, rich toppings, ampersands) without any of the dairy. Serve this to us in a blind tasting and we’d never know it was dairy-free.

Gray Swartzel

NadaMoo! Cookies & Crème

Base: Coconut
Certifications: Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Cream, vanilla, chocolate cookie
Our choice for second-best non-dairy frozen dessert on the market, NadaMoo! Cookies & Crème gives us hope for the future. For one day, when Earth gets visited by hostile aliens that demand intensely smooth, intensely creamy non-dairy ice cream with enough thick chunks of sweet chocolate cookie to satisfy their leader, known to the galaxy as the Cookie Connoisseur, we will present them with NadaMoo!, and they will be pleased. And there will be great rejoicing, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Gray Swartzel

Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey

Base: Almond
Certifications: Dairy-free, Fair Trade, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Banana, cream, nuts
In the words of some junior wordsmith from Ben & Jerry’s marketing team, “The nuttiest chocolatey-chunkiest concoction-gone-bananas you’ll ever go ape for.” Yikes. Thankfully, this non-dairy version of the classic Ben & Jerry’s flavor is palatable enough that you’ll forgive the description. For people that love bananas and choose not to eat dairy, this is an absolute no-brainer.

Gray Swartzel

Almond Dream Toffee Almond Fudge

Base: Almond
Certifications: Dairy-free, glutenfree, non-GMO, kosher
Tasting notes: Toffee, almond, chocolate
Lactose-intolerant British grandmothers everywhere, rejoice! Now you can get your daily ration of toffee in a delicious non-dairy frozen dessert. Is it weird that we picture British grandmothers eating toffee? Maybe. But can’t you see it? Their eyes alight, their hands pressed together at their chests, and they’re saying, “Oh Jonathan, thank you! You know how much I love toffee. Such a treat.” Whatever. This one is good.

Gray Swartzel

Luna & Larry's Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

Base: Coconut
Certifications: Dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Coconut, chocolate, hazelnut
From the picture on the container, Luna and Larry might look like they came from a commune, but it was probably a commune that enjoyed some redankulous coconut-based ice cream. The Oregon couple 100% achieves the goal of creating a totally satisfying ice cream without the health and ecological impacts of dairy and soy. And with agave syrup extracted from something known as the Mexican Tree of Life and Abundance, how could they not? The final product is rich and creamy with a distinct coconut flavor and real bits of organic hazelnut in every bite.

Gray Swartzel

So Delicious Turtle Trails

Base: Coconut
Certifications: Dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Vanilla, chocolate, salt
Gooey non-dairy caramel sauce. Chocolate-coated praline pecans. Real bits of sea turtle. For anyone who hates boring flavors, Turtle Trails is the way to go. The coconut-based vanilla ice cream goes great with the caramel sauce, and the chocolate praline pecans add some interesting crunch, not to mention a hint of salt (note: does not actually contain sea turtle).

Gray Swartzel

So Delicious Peanut Butter Zig Zag

Base: Soy
Certifications: Dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Soy, peanut butter, chocolate
You remember that Reese’s commercial from the ‘80s? Guy who looks like Fred from Scooby-Doo walks down the sidewalk holding an outsized chocolate bar. Girl who looks like Hermione from the Harry Potter movies walks the other way holding an open jar labeled “Peanut Butter.” They’re both listening to Walkmen. They collide. “Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate!” says Fred from Scooby-Doo. “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” says Hermione. They look into each other's eyes, all wistful and dreamy, and each take a bite of peanut butter-covered chocolate. “Yum, delicious!” they say, at the same time. There is a lot of sexual tension. An old stranger who kinda looks like Mr. Rogers hands them each a packet of Reese’s. They’re stoked. They each take a bite and Hermione reaches for Fred’s crotch. Oh my gosh, you think. Are they about to get it on? But no -- she just turns up the Walkman clipped to his belt and they start dancing. You’re left feeling excited, breathless, and craving the perfect union of peanut butter and chocolate.

Staring at this soy-based non-dairy frozen dessert is a lot like watching that commercial.

Gray Swartzel

Steve's Burnt Sugar Vanilla

Base: Coconut
Certifications: Dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, non-GMO
Tasting notes: Cream, vanilla, caramel
Brooklyn-based Steve’s Ice Cream makes a variety of Brooklyn-sounding, dairy-rich flavors (Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla, Wildflower Honey Pistachio, Thai Peanut Butter Pretzel) but it also shows some love to the dairy-less -- again, with flavors that could only come from Brooklyn. We got our hands on Burnt Sugar Vanilla, which features rich, gooey veins of caramel-colored liquid sugar and tastes a lot like a mix between the caramel of a Twix and the vanilla ice cream inside an ice cream bar.

Gray Swartzel

NadaMoo! Vanilla Cha-Cha-Chai

Base: Coconut
Certifications: Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, kosher
Tasting notes: Chai
Boom! It’s a chai-flavored, vanilla, non-dairy frozen dessert. Your move, ice cream.

Gray Swartzel

Arctic Zero Vanilla Maple

Base: Water
Certifications: Dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, fat-free, non-GMO, kosher
Tasting notes: Water, vanilla, maple
So you want a sweet dessert but don’t want a thousand-calorie-per-pint mega-treat. That’s why Arctic Zero created a water-based non-dairy frozen dessert with only 150 calories per pint. This one, Vanilla Maple, adds a hint of maple sweetness to a vanilla-flavored base. We’ll be honest -- it’s not our favorite, but if you’re watching your waistline, it’s the best in a sea of low-calorie options.

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Kenny Gould is a Pittsburgh-based writer and journalist currently on his sixth day of brain freeze. Follow him on Twitter at @kb_gould and on his website at KennyGould.com.

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