Vegan ice cream has come a long way in recent years. With more people adopting plant-based diets or avoiding dairy for health reasons, the demand for dairy-free frozen desserts has exploded. Today there are countless brands offering high-quality vegan ice cream, from new startups using unique bases like avocado and macadamia nuts to established companies releasing vegan versions of classic flavors.
While the options may seem endless, not all vegan ice cream is created equal. Texture and taste can vary wildly depending on the base ingredients. To help you navigate the crowded world of vegan ice cream, we’ve compiled this guide covering some of the best brands, flavors, and tips. Keep reading to discover your new favorite dairy-free indulgence.
- Vegan ice cream has exploded in popularity and quality in recent years
- Bases like coconut, cashew, and oat milk impact taste and texture
- Look for creamy texture and natural, non-artificial flavors
- Try unique flavors beyond just chocolate and vanilla
- Making your own gives you total control over ingredients
- Churning makes a big difference in texture
- Pair and top vegan ice creams just like regular ice cream
How to Choose the Best Vegan Ice Cream
When evaluating vegan ice creams, here are a few key factors to consider:
The base ingredients greatly impact the taste and texture of vegan ice cream. Some common bases include:
- Coconut milk – Rich and creamy, imparts light coconut flavor
- Cashew milk – Smooth and decadent, neutral flavor
- Almond milk – Subtly nutty, can be icy if not formulated well
- Oat milk – Neutral flavor, can be thick and creamy
- Soy milk – Smooth, creamy, and protein-rich
- Macadamia nut milk – Ultra-rich and fatty like dairy cream
- Avocado – Imparts creaminess; undetectable flavor
Not all vegan ice creams melt and scoop like traditional dairy ice cream. Look for brands that use natural stabilizers like guar or xanthan gum to create a creamy, scoopable texture.
Avoid brands that have an artificial or chemical taste from flavors and sweeteners. Look for those using natural extracts, herbs, spices, and unrefined sugar for clean, pure flavor.
Some brands load up their products with stabilizers, emulsifiers, and other additives. Opt for those with simpler, more recognizable ingredients.
Look for certified organic, non-GMO, fair trade ingredients if these factors are important to you.
12 Top Vegan Ice Cream Brands
After considering all of the above, here are 12 of the top vegan ice cream brands that get high marks for taste, texture, and ingredients:
1. So Delicious
One of the first and most popular dairy-free ice cream brands, So Delicious offers a huge selection of flavors made from various bases like cashew milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. Their unique “wondermilk” blends coconut oil and pea protein for a creamy consistency. Standout flavors include Salted Caramel Cashewmilk and Chocolate Cookies ‘n Cream Coconutmilk.
2. Ben & Jerry’s
The iconic Vermont brand was one of the first large companies to dive into vegan ice cream in 2016. Now they offer dozens of dairy-free flavors including non-dairy versions of their classics like Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, and Chocolate Fudge Brownie, made with an almond milk base.
Best known for its barista-style oat milks, Oatly uses oat milk as the base for its line of dairy-free frozen desserts. The subtle oat flavor pairs nicely with mix-ins like chocolate chips, fudge swirls, and cookie crumbles. Popular flavors include Hazelnut Swirl and Salted Caramel.
4. Coconut Bliss
One of the first plant-based brands, Coconut Bliss (recently rebranded as Cosmic Bliss) uses coconut milk and coconut cream for rich, creamy flavors like Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge and Dark Chocolate Orange. Those avoiding coconut should look elsewhere.
With coconut milk as the base, NadaMoo’s pints are certified organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free. Fan-favorite flavors include Cookie Dough, Mint Chip, and Birthday Cake. Their creaminess rivals dairy ice cream.
6. Van Leeuwen
Started in NYC as a vegan ice cream truck, Van Leeuwen now has scoop shops nationwide and pints in grocery stores. They use a blend of cashew milk, coconut cream, and oat milk for flavors like Planet Earth (chocolate, caramel, and cookie swirl) and Earl Grey Tea.
7. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni’s jumped on the dairy-free train in 2019 with a line of indulgent vegan flavors including Cold Brew with Coconut Cream, Dark Chocolate Truffle, and Cherry Lambic Sorbet. The coconut cream base provides richness.
8. Cado Avocado Ice Cream
By swapping dairy cream for nutrient-dense avocados, Cado achieves a super creamy texture. Their simplicity lets flavors like Deep Dark Chocolate and mint shine.
9. Salt & Straw
Known for unconventional flavors, this brand uses a coconut cream base for vegan options like Freckled Mint TCHO-Chip and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper. Their texture rivals dairy ice cream.
10. Planet Oat
Oat milk makes an ideal base for Planet Oat’s line of dairy-free frozen desserts. Flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl and Coffee Fudge Swirl are plant-based perfection.
Founded in LA, Coolhaus makes dairy-free coated ice cream sandwiches and pints. Their new Perfect Day partnership allows them to use animal-free whey protein for an extra creamy vegan base.
12. Mauna Loa
New in 2022, this Hawaiian brand taps into macadamia nuts for an ultra-rich and creamy base. Flavors include Kona Coffee, Mango Liliko‘i, and Rocky Road to Hana.
Tips for Choosing the Best Vegan Ice Cream Flavors
With so many options on the market, it can be tough deciding which vegan ice cream flavors to try. Here are a few tips:
- Sample classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry first to gauge taste and texture
- Look for fun mix-ins like cookies, swirls, and chocolate chunks to satisfy cravings
- Branch out with unique flavors involving spices, herbs, fruits, nuts, and alcohol
- Consider flavored non-dairy milks like horchata, matcha, lavender, and chai
- Try reinvented childhood favorites like cookie dough, mint chip, and cookies ‘n cream
- Select seasonally appropriate options like pumpkin in fall and berry flavors in summer
No matter your preferences, there’s a vegan ice cream out there for you. The key is sampling different brands and flavors to discover your new plant-based obsession.
8 Creative Vegan Ice Cream Flavor Ideas
If you’re looking to venture beyond the typical chocolate and vanilla options, here are some creative vegan ice cream flavors to try:
- Lavender honey lemon – Floral and sweet with a tart lemon zing
- Rose water saffron – Fragrant, golden, and totally unique
- Horchata – Cinnamon and rice milk create this Mexican favorite
- Mango lassi – Sweet, tangy, and lusciously creamy
- Honeydew melon & basil – Refreshing flavor combination perfect for summer
- Pumpkin pie – Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg paired with real pumpkin
- Thai iced tea – Strong black tea balanced out by creamy coconut milk
- Butter pecan – A classic flavor that many brands now offer in dairy-free versions
Let your imagination run wild and get inspired by your favorite desserts, beverages, herbs, spices, and produce to develop your own signature vegan ice cream tastes.
5 Tips for Making Your Own Vegan Ice Cream
Want to make your own dairy-free frozen treats at home? Here are 5 tips for whipping up delicious homemade vegan ice cream:
1. Use Full-Fat Non-Dairy Milk
For a rich, creamy base, opt for full-fat coconut milk, cashew milk, or your favorite vegan milk. Lower fat milks result in an icy, watery texture.
2. Pick a Flavorful Sweetener
Granulated white sugar makes ice cream freeze hard. Swap it for maple syrup, coconut sugar, or agave to keep things scoopably soft.
3. Add Natural Stabilizers
A small amount of guar gum or xanthan gum helps prevent iciness and crystallization for a smooth texture.
4. Give It Time to Chill
Allow your ice cream base to chill in the fridge for a few hours before churning to improve texture.
5. Use an Ice Cream Maker
While not required, an ice cream maker produces better texture and flavor incorporation than hand mixing or freezing alone.
5 Delicious Vegan Ice Cream Recipes to Try
Once you’re ready to start experimenting with making your own dairy-free frozen treats, here are 5 indulgent vegan ice cream recipes to try:
1. Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream
By blending up frozen bananas, peanut butter, cocoa powder, and plant milk, you can achieve an ice cream-like treat that’s healthy and naturally sweetened.
2. Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
Blend up cashews, coconut cream, strawberries, lemon juice, and vanilla for a cool, creamy, and tangy treat.
3. Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Simmer dates, non-dairy milk, coconut sugar, salt, and vanilla to create a sweet caramel swirl through coconut-based ice cream.
4. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Fold vegan chocolate chip cookie dough filled with walnuts, oats, flour, and brown sugar into a simple cashew and coconut milk base.
5. Coffee Almond Fudge Ice Cream
Brewed coffee and cocoa powder amp up the flavor of creamy almond milk-based ice cream with swirls of thick chocolate fudge.
Are Vegan Ice Creams Healthy?
While vegan ice creams eliminate dairy, they aren’t necessarily diet foods. Here’s a look at the nutrition pros and cons:
- Dairy-free and vegan (no milk, cream, eggs, etc.)
- Often made from plants like nuts, seeds, coconut, oats
- Can be lower in saturated fat than dairy ice cream
- Can contain probiotics from nutrient-rich bases
- Often high in sugar and calories like regular ice cream
- Contains natural fats from ingredients like nuts and coconut
- Many contain stabilizers and emulsifiers
- Serving sizes tend to be small since they are rich
As an occasional treat, vegan ice cream can be part of a healthy diet, especially if you choose brands made from whole foods that are low in refined sugars. But portion control is still important, even with dairy-free options.
Are Vegan Ice Creams Eco-Friendly?
One of the main reasons people choose veganism is out of concern for the environment. But are vegan ice creams more eco-friendly than dairy-based? Here are some key considerations around sustainability:
- Ingredients – Some bases like oat and soy milk have lower environmental impact than almond and coconut.
- Manufacturing – Small batch artisan brands tend to be more sustainable than mass market products.
- Packaging – Cardboard pints and biodegradable spoons are better than single-use plastics.
- Transportation – Locally produced ice creams have a smaller carbon footprint.
- Veganism – Dairy production creates more emissions than plant-based foods.
While vegan ice cream may be better for the planet since it eliminates dairy, much depends on specific production practices. Do your homework to determine the eco-friendly brands.
Should You Store Vegan Ice Cream Upside Down?
You may have heard the advice to store ice cream upside down in the freezer. But does it make a difference for dairy-free brands? Here’s the scoop on upside down storage:
- Prevents freezer burn by keeping ice crystals away from surface
- Creates a tighter seal to minimize air exposure
- Helps liquid at bottom incorporate for smoother texture
- Risk of ice cream toppling over when opened
- Can make a mess if pint leaks or drips
- Requires double checking flavor before serving
While not critical, upside down storage can potentially help minimize ice crystal formation in any type of ice cream, including vegan varieties. Try it if you’re noticing texture issues or freezer burn. Just take precautions against spills.
Is It Safe to Eat Vegan Ice Cream While Pregnant?
Pregnancy comes with a long list of dietary restrictions. But if you’re expecting, can you still enjoy the occasional bowl of vegan ice cream? Here’s what you need to know:
- Unpasteurized products like raw vegan ice cream should be avoided due to bacterial risks.
- Added sugars should be limited, but small amounts are considered safe.
- Most ingredients like oat milk and natural flavors are safe in moderation.
- If allergic, steer clear of potential allergens like nuts, soy, and coconut.
- Caffeine from chocolate, coffee, and tea varieties should be restricted.
While you might have hoped that being pregnant would mean you could eat for two and indulge on as much vegan ice cream and dairy-free cake as you could get your hands on, it’s not healthy for your baby. A great resource for your strict vegetarian pregnancy is Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven.
Overall, commercially produced vegan ice creams from reputable brands are considered pregnancy-safe when portion-controlled and avoidance of specific allergens. But check with your doctor to be sure.
Can Toddlers and Kids Eat Vegan Ice Cream?
Parents of little ones may wonder if plant-based frozen desserts are suitable for children. Here are a few guidelines:
- 1+ years – Once toddlers can handle dairy, small amounts of vegan ice cream are fine. Focus on simple, fruit-based flavors.
- 2-3 years – More flavors can be introduced, but keep quantities small and look out for common allergens like nuts.
- 4+ years – Varieties with mix-ins and more complex flavors can be enjoyed, aligning with recommended daily sugar allowance.
- Avoid – Unpasteurized products until age 5. Caffeine for those sensitive.
While most toddlers should technically be able to enjoy vegan ice creams safely, quantities and frequencies should be restricted. Check with pediatricians for any child-specific concerns.
Does Vegan Ice Cream Contain Gluten?
Those avoiding gluten for health reasons will be happy to know that many dairy-free ice creams are also gluten-free. But it’s important to check labels since not all are. Here’s what to look out for:
Gluten Sources to Avoid
- Wheat, barley, rye or derivatives
- Swirls with brownies, cookies, cakes or candy
- Malt or malt extract
- Some thickeners like wheat starch
- Bases like coconut, nut, and oat milks
- Fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices as flavors
- Natural sweeteners like maple and agave syrup
Due to potential cross-contamination, those with celiac disease should look for brands that are certified gluten-free to be safest. Call or email manufacturers with any questions.
Does Vegan Ice Cream Contain Lactose?
By definition, vegan ice creams are completely lactose-free since they do not contain any dairy ingredients whatsoever. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in them instead of lactose:
- Plant-based milks like almond, oat, and coconut
- Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and agave
- Thickeners like guar gum or carob bean gum
- Oils such as coconut or avocado oil
- Vegan flavors from fruits, nuts, cocoa, etc.
Vegans and those avoiding lactose due to intolerance or allergy can enjoy traditional flavors of ice cream worry-free. Just be sure to check labels for potential nut or coconut allergies depending on the product.
Do You Need an Ice Cream Maker to Make Vegan Ice Cream?
While owning an ice cream maker streamlines the process, you can still whip up dairy-free frozen treats without fancy equipment. Here are two options:
No Machine Method
- Freeze ice cube trays of your milk/sweetener mixture
- Process cubes in a blender or food processor until smooth
- Add mix-ins if desired
- Freeze, stirring every 30 minutes until set
- Blend ingredients in high-speed blender like Vitamix
- Pour into chilled bowl and freeze 2+ hours
- Fluff and stir every 30 minutes
You can even shake up cubes, milk, and flavors in a lidded gallon milk jug to get creative! While not as smooth as machine churning, these low-tech methods work fine.
Can You Make Vegan Ice Cream Without Sugar?
Cutting out added sugar doesn’t mean you have to give up ice cream entirely. Here are 5 ways to make sugar-free vegan ice creams:
- Fruits – Bananas, dates, and other fruits lend natural sweetness
- Stevia -This zero-calorie plant extract mimics sugar content
- Monk fruit – 300x sweeter than sugar without the calories or carbs
- Erythritol – Sugar alcohol provides sweetness without blood sugar spikes
- Yacon syrup – Sweet syrup from yacon roots that is low glycemic
You can also reduce sweetness overall and boost other flavors using cocoa, spices, coffee, teas, and extracts. Just adjust recipes slowly and taste as you go until the sweetness level satisfies your preferences.
Is Sorbet Considered Vegan Ice Cream?
While sorbet looks similar to ice cream, it technically doesn’t qualify as “ice cream.” Here’s how they differ:
- Made from fruit puree, fruit juice, water, and sweetener
- Contains no dairy or cream
- Very little fat, if any
- More icy texture than creamy
- Contains dairy ingredients like cream, milk, or egg yolks
- Also made from plant-based milks like coconut or oat milk
- Higher in fat due to cream or oil
- Creamy, scoopable texture
While sorbet is dairy-free, most brands aren’t technically vegan since they contain honey or other animal products. However, there are vegan sorbets available made with natural sweeteners and no animal ingredients. Read labels to verify.
What Can You Mix Vegan Ice Cream With?
The possibilities are endless when it comes to mix-ins and toppings for dairy-free frozen treats. Get creative with any of these delicious additions:
- Fresh fruit like strawberries, bananas, pineapple, mango
- Roasted nuts such as almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts
- Granola, cereal, toasted oats or coconut for crunch
- Syrups like chocolate, caramel, strawberry, or maple
- Pie fillings including apple, cherry, blueberry, lemon
- Nut butters like peanut, almond, cashew, and sunflower seed
- Crumbled cookies, brownies, or baked goods
- Plant-based whipped cream or coconut whipped cream
- Hot fudge, chocolate shells, or vegan “magic” shell sauces
- Shredded coconut, toasted coconut flakes
- Dried fruits like cherries, raisins, apricots, cranberries
- Extracts and liqueurs like vanilla, almond, coffee, rum
Drizzle, dollop, sprinkle, or swirl in anything that sounds tasty! The beauty of vegan ice cream is you control exactly what goes into it.
What Can You Serve Vegan Ice Cream With?
Beyond mix-ins, vegan ice cream also pairs deliciously with all sorts of baked goods, desserts, and snacks. Here are some sweet serving suggestions:
- Vegan brownies, blondies, and other bars
- Cookies like chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal
- Muffins including blueberry, banana walnut, and corn
- Slices of banana bread, pumpkin bread, or zucchini bread
- Pancakes, waffles, crepes, and vegan donuts
- Pie and tart fillings with fruit, chocolate, pecan, etc.
- Cakes like chocolate, vanilla, lemon, gingerbread, and carrot
- Cupcakes or cake pops to make ice cream sandwiches
- Fresh fruit bowls and parfaits
- Granola, muesli, cereals, and trail mixes
- Plant-based milks like oat, almond, soy, rice, and coconut
- Vegan coffee drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies
Pair creamy vegan ice cream with any complementary flavors and textures. The options for delicious combinations are truly endless.
Does Vegan Ice Cream Melt Faster Than Dairy Ice Cream?
Many vegan ice creams do seem to melt faster than their dairy counterparts. There are a few reasons why:
- Lower fat content since they lack cream
- Bases freeze harder than dairy milk and cream
- Some stabilizers impact melting point
- Alcohol content lowers freezing point in boozy flavors
- Higher air content (overrun) makes them lighter
However, not all vegan ice creams behave the same. Here are some tips for minimizing fast melting:
- Eat straight from the freezer before softening
- Choose higher fat bases like cashew or coconut milk
- Look for alcohol-free varieties
- Try brands using natural stabilizers
- Opt for lower overrun/air options if listed
With a little trial and error, you can likely find dairy-free options that mimic the melt factor of traditional ice cream relatively closely.
Does Churning Affect Vegan Ice Cream Texture?
Using an ice cream maker to churn base ingredients makes a significant difference in the finished texture of vegan ice creams. Here’s why:
- Creaminess – Churning whips in air for lighter, creamier results
- Crystal formation – Constant mixing breaks up ice grains for a smooth, creamy mouthfeel
- Emulsification – Ingredients are blended rather than separated for consistency
- Temperature – Rapid chilling during churning sets ice cream smoothly
- Fat dispersion – Fat droplets get evenly distributed instead of clumping
- Flavor incorporation – Mix-ins and extracts blend throughout instead of sinking
With that said, delicious dairy-free ice cream can be made without a machine. But for best texture and taste, churning is ideal if you can.
Should You Buy Vegan Ice Cream from the Grocery Store or Make it at Home?
Vegan ice creams are widely available at grocery stores, but is it worth making your own? Here’s how homemade and store-bought compare:
- Huge variety of innovative flavors
- Convenient, no time commitment
- Consistent quality and texture
- Higher cost per serving
- Additives and stabilizers commonly used
- Melts faster due to overrun
- Customize flavors and ingredients
- Adjust sugar and fat to your tastes
- Better texture retention due to low/no overrun
- Requires special equipment and time
- Results vary batch to batch
- Limited flavor options unless making different bases
While specialty vegan ice cream brands have certainly raised the bar, nothing quite compares to the taste of fresh, homemade. The effort can yield delicious rewards if you’re up for it.
Can Dogs Eat Vegan Ice Cream?
Many dog owners wonder if it’s okay to let their pup lick up some spilled vegan ice cream. Technically dogs can eat dairy-free frozen desserts, but there are some important cautions:
- Xylitol sweetener is extremely toxic to dogs
- Chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts should be avoided
- Artificial flavors and gums may cause digestive upset
- Sugar and fat contents could lead to weight gain or illness
- Allergies to base ingredients need to be considered
Overall, sharing a bite or two of plain, pet-safe vegan ice cream probably won’t harm most dogs. But it shouldn’t make up any substantial portion of their diet. Check with your vet for breed-specific concerns.
Does Vegan Ice Cream Ever Expire or Go Bad?
With proper storage, commercially produced vegan ice creams stay fresh for an impressively long shelf life. Here are some guidelines:
- Unopened, store-bought pint – Stays fresh up to 12 months when frozen
- Opened pint – Keeps 2-3 months when tightly resealed and frozen
- Homemade ice cream – Lasts 1-2 months when frozen; up to 5 days thawed
- If ice crystals, freezer burn, or smell – Should discard to be safe
- If consumed past prime – Not hazardous, but compromised taste/texture
Tips like freezing at 0°F, minimizing temperature fluctuations, and avoiding repeated thawing/re-freezing all help maintain freshness and quality.
Is It Safe to Make Vegan Ice Cream with Alcohol?
Many vegan ice cream brands incorporate liquors, liqueurs, and extracts into their flavors. Is it safe to add alcohol to homemade recipes? Here’s what to know:
- Alcohol content remains unless cooked off, so portions for children/those avoiding alcohol
- Adds depth of flavor for coffee, chocolate, vanilla, fruit flavors
- Use extracts for kid-friendly versions without alcohol
- Lower freezing point means softer texture when storing
- Imparts antioxidant benefits of red wine, cocoa liquors, etc.
- Avoid raw recipes with uncooked alcohol due to food safety risks
When handled properly, spirits can be used safely in cooked bases for delicious results. But raw vegan ice creams uncooked alcohol are not considered food-safe.
What ingredients make the best vegan ice creams?
Coconut milk, cashew milk, and oat milk tend to produce the richest, creamiest results.
What are some unique vegan ice cream flavors to try?
Rose water saffron, pumpkin pie, Thai iced tea, chai spice, and mocha chip offer fun twists on the classics.
Is vegan ice cream healthier than regular ice cream?
It depends. Many commercial brands are still high in sugar. But homemade recipes can allow control over ingredients.
Do you need an ice cream maker for vegan ice cream?
No, but using a machine produces better texture. You can also blend frozen cubes in a food processor.
How long does store-bought vegan ice cream last?
Unopened, it stays fresh up to 12 months frozen. Opened, it lasts 2-3 months frozen.