When I attempted my first taste of Portland restaurateur Micah Camden’s Little Chickpea ice cream I did what everyone always does: I took a tiny spoonful and raised it slowly, hesitantly to my mouth. Can you blame me? Ice cream made from chickpeas… (shudder) I was braced for a sandy/watery texture, a funky bean aftertaste, and that awkward moment when I smile anyway and say something polite.
For my second taste, I went for a much larger spoonful.
They got it right. The creamy mouthfeel, no sandy/watery texture, the clear, true flavors free of beany-ness, everything you’d want from any ice cream, vegan or dairy, they were all there. We did a flight starting with their cherry chai, then Szechuan strawberry, then mint matcha, and finally, the deep, dark triple chocolate (they also make Cold Brew Coffee and Blackberry Basil). No basics here; each flavor has layers and ranges from delicate to intense with finesse. It helps that each of the flavors we tried also has a subtle element of savory to them that probably plays well with the chickpea base. But then, that’s on-trend for flavors these days.
Now for the bad news. This vegan ice cream is currently available only at the Little Chickpea shop in Portland, and no, they don’t ship. Camden is introducing the brand ever so slowly. This spring and summer we’ll see pop ups in New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, and San Francisco. Camden wants to get the story of chickpea ice cream out ahead of filling up freezer shelves.
Little Chickpea was the first vegan ice cream to really turn my head and make me take the plant-based dessert wave seriously. As a longtime vegan ice cream skeptic I have been rejecting everyone’s efforts left and right. I’m a committed omnivore who digests dairy just fine, thank you. (I lie. Dairy gives me puffy Benicio del Toro eyes.) It takes a lot to lure me away from cow cream.
And look, we’re going to be honest with you: the coconut milk-based ice creams we’ve tried thus far simply don’t do it for us (and yes, we keep trying new ones). There’s always at least a faint flavor of coconut milk--not that there’s anything terrible about that, at least if you really like that flavor. We’re OK with it for certain vegan yogurts. But coconut is one of those flavors...either you like it or you hate it, you know? And at this point in the plant-based treats game, we don’t believe a preference for coconut milk should be a prerequisite for enjoying vegan ice cream.
As for oat milk ice cream, keep trying. You’re not there, yet.
For that matter, should we be calling these frozen desserts “ice cream” if they’re not made from dairy cream? We’ll let other folks take up that debate. Until the dust clears, we’re just going to keep going with ”ice cream” to keep things simple.
Anyway, this encounter with chickpea ice cream got me combing the local artisan shops to see if anything else comes close. I dragged my colleague Nicole Taylor with me (it was not hard to convince her) and we found a few other flavors we liked.