Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Tasting Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

By Carolyn Grillo Published

Today there are more vegan ice creams than ever before. Are any of them as good as traditional dairy ice cream?

My love affair with ice cream began at a young age and continued until I begrudgingly accepted years later that I was sensitive to lactose, the sugar found naturally in milk. I’m not alone—between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant and many avoid eating foods containing it, including ice cream. Many others choose to minimize or eliminate their intake of animal products. In short, there are a lot of consumers, including me, looking for delicious vegan ice cream. Supermarket frozen-food aisles are filled with options, but the question remains: Are any vegan ice creams comparable in texture and flavor to dairy ice creams?

We rounded up 10 nationally available vegan ice creams, priced from about $0.27 to about $0.75 per ounce. (There’s some debate about whether they can be called ice cream because they don’t contain dairy, but we’ll refer to them as vegan ice creams for simplicity.) We focused on chocolate because it was the most common flavor among available brands. Three of the products in our lineup contained additional ingredients such as brownie or cake pieces or fudge truffles. The products in our lineup also contained a range of ingredients, from almond milk to coconut cream to pureed avocado, apple, and banana.

We created our very own Reviews team ice cream truck as we dropped off coolers full of vegan ice cream at editors' homes around the Boston area. Editors and their family members or roommates provided vital feedback on each sample's texture and flavor.

The Role of Sweeteners and Fat in Ice Cream’s Texture

As we tasted the ice creams, we quickly realized how drastically their textures differed. Some were so icy and hard that scooping them was “like driving a wedge into cement.” Other ice creams’ textures were silky and smooth, very close to that of a traditional dairy ice cream.

Some of the ice creams were icy and hard, while others were luscious and creamy.

We know from years of researching the production of ice cream that sweeteners and fat play important roles in creating its creamy texture. Both prevent large ice crystals from forming, so without enough of either, ice cream can become icy and hard. The ice creams in our lineup incorporated a variety of sweeteners, from sugar or powdered sugar to agave syrup and corn syrup, with most products containing at least two types. Each of those sweeteners has a unique effect on the texture of the end product. The amount of sugar per 100-gram serving of the ice creams ranged from 9 to 26 grams of sugar. The two ice creams with 11 grams or less of sugar per serving were “hard” and “icy.”

Fat content also varied. In dairy ice cream, fat comes from milk or cream. In the vegan ice creams in our lineup, fat came from nondairy milk or cream, pureed avocado, chocolate, and/or added oil. The products we tasted contained 0 to 16 grams of fat per serving, with the silkiest, creamiest ones containing at least 11 grams of fat. The textures of the ice creams that contained 4 grams of fat or less were “really hard” and reminded tasters of “bad frozen ice.”

The Role of Chocolate, Base Ingredients, and Sodium in Ice Cream’s Flavor

We also noticed that some of the ice creams tasted more chocolaty than others. Every ice cream contained cocoa powder, which is a source of strong chocolate flavor. But one ice cream was made with both cocoa powder and chocolate; it had an especially “intense” chocolate flavor that tasters loved. It turned out that the bits of fudge or cake weren’t the secrets to good chocolate flavor; rather, they were more of a bonus for already chocolaty ice creams.

Five ice creams were made from nondairy cream or milks made from coconuts, almonds, or oats. The other five used chocolate, fruit purees, avocados, or legume proteins.

Base ingredients were important, too. We liked several ice creams made with base ingredients that tasted pleasant and didn’t overpower the chocolate flavor, such as coconut milk or cream or oat milk. Light, natural-tasting coconut flavor (from the coconut milk or cream) came through clearly in two of our highly rated samples, but we found that it complemented the chocolate flavors. One ice cream made with coconut milk, however, was "heavy on the coconut to the point [that] it ruined everything.” It tasted “artificial” and “manufactured.” The strong flavors of the banana puree and apple puree concentrate in another ice cream were overpowering and “didn’t work with the chocolate at all.” An ice cream made with pureed avocado also stood out. According to one taster, “you're not really ready for the avocado flavor to accompany chocolate ice cream.”

Sodium also played a role in flavor. The sodium levels ranged from 5 to 171 milligrams per serving, with most samples containing 40 to 80 milligrams. The top two samples, however, contained significantly more sodium, with 122 and 171 milligrams, respectively. Sodium helps bring the flavors of other ingredients to life and balances sweetness. In this case, the additional sodium improved the flavors of our favorite ice creams.

Co-Winners: Jeni’s Dairy-Free Texas Sheet Cake Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert and Häagen-Dazs Non-Dairy Chocolate Salted Fudge Truffle Frozen Dessert

We’re thrilled to name two winners: Jeni’s Dairy-Free Texas Sheet Cake Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert and Häagen-Dazs Non-Dairy Chocolate Salted Fudge Truffle Frozen Dessert. Made with a base of coconut cream, the ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams won tasters over with a “phenomenal” texture “that was very close to dairy ice cream.” In addition to providing plenty of fat for a “smooth” and “decadent” texture, the coconut cream contributed a pleasant flavor. It’s a great option for people who like the combination of “big chocolate and coconut flavor.”

Tasters also loved the Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which is the only one in our lineup to include chocolate in addition to cocoa powder. The combination provides a “really delicious,” “rich cocoa flavor.” The base of this ice cream didn’t introduce any competing flavors, allowing the chocolate flavor to shine. One of our tasters raved, “It's not just good for vegan ice cream; it's good—period.”

Taste Test Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

Today there are more vegan ice creams than ever before. Are any of them as good as traditional dairy ice cream?

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.