We’ve been on a longtime tour of alternative food aisles for a variety of dietary needs and flavor preferences. With gluten-free pasta, vegan cheese, alt meats, and chips under our belt, it was time to hit the freezer for ice creams. We tried dozens of dairy-free ice creams and narrowed it down to our twelve favorites. These will be welcome additions to your dessert rotation—for shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and sundae bars and, perhaps most importantly, to serve atop a slice of warm apple pie.
It’s worth noting that we didn’t specifically seek out keto, paleo, or sugar-free ice cream. The chemistry of dairy-free ice cream (or “frozen dessert” as the FDA requires it to be labeled) is challenging. Removing dairy affects flavor, texture, mouthfeel, and how well the dessert freezes. Our focus was solely on replacing dairy and egg yolks, which are common in custard-based ice creams. Many of the picks here include regular sugar, either alone or in combination with some alternatives. They also might include a few additives. Normally we’re in the camp of “the fewer ingredients, the better.” But in this case, vegetable-based gums and syrups from ingredients like tapioca and brown rice act as emulsifiers or stabilizers, giving much-needed thickness and viscosity to dairy-free bases that would otherwise feel thin and icy on your palate. Given that ice cream is a treat and making it without dairy is a feat, we’re cool with the trade-off.
OAT-BASED ICE CREAMS
Oat milk has won over many nondairy enthusiasts. It’s richer than almond milk, with a more neutral flavor than coconut milk. Which makes it versatile for everyday use and an especially great contender for ice cream.
Creamy and extremely light. Almost airy, with a good, strong vanilla flavor. It has a clean finish and won’t linger on your palate. Even if you’re not a vanilla ice cream person, you’ll be glad to have something more neutral for warm pies, crumbles, crisps, and galettes.
Van Leeuwen Vegan
Oat Milk Brown
Smooth, creamy, brown-sugary ice cream studded with cookie, oat, and brownie clusters. Like many of these ice creams, it has a few ingredients making up its base, but oats were listed first, and it tastes more neutral than coconutty.
Planet Oat Coffee
This had the best texture of the oat milk options we tried—it’s right in between dense and light. It’s also priced more accessibly than many of the ice creams we tried. It did skew a little sweeter than we liked, but it is ice cream after all.
OIL-BASED ICE CREAMS
We know how weird this sounds, but in the absence of fat from dairy, ice creams need some source of fat for creaminess. The brands below cleverly use fats that are in regular rotation in our kitchen (olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil) to add creamy richness to plant-based ice creams.
We’d heard of finishing ice cream with fancy olive oil, but making ice cream out of olive oil is another story. The texture of Wildgood’s ice cream is lovely, and the flavors are vibrant. Pistachio was our favorite, but chocolate hazelnut and mango were close behind.
Cado Simply Lemon
Cado’s avocado ice cream is pleasantly light and very citrusy, with no trace of avocado flavor. The texture seemed a bit icier than some of the others we sampled, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable.
We’re fans of Ripple’s pea milk and were intrigued to see how it could translate into ice cream. Turns out the brand did a solid job, leaning on coconut oil as the main ingredient to achieve that creamy texture. (It includes some pea protein as well.) Overall, the combination of silky-smooth ice cream and cookie chunks was an easy win.
COCONUT-BASED ICE CREAMS
Coconut milk has more fat than whole milk, so it’s no surprise that it makes excellent ice cream. But while coconut-flavored desserts are often delicious, that prominent flavor doesn’t always play well with others. Generally, we stick to flavors that complement coconut, and these three brands created well-rounded combinations.
Coconut Bliss has been around for quite a while, but you might not recognize it after a recent rebrand. The ice cream still tastes great. It’s dense and creamy, and the bitterness of the dark chocolate balances the natural sweetness of the coconut nicely. It does taste coconutty, so think about what flavors you like with coconut when selecting a pint.
You know that thing when ice cream is almost chewy, but in a good way? Almost like fudge. It’s rare in a dairy-free ice cream, but Sunscoop has it. It’s likely because it’s been churned instead of whipped, preventing it from becoming overly airy. It’s got the slightest coconut flavor, and it’s not too sweet.
Nada Moo Mint Chip
This one is significantly lighter with an almost fluffy texture. It’s the least coconutty coconut milk ice cream, making it easy to pair with lots of different flavors. The mint-chip is especially delicious, with an assertive cooling mint flavor.
ALMOND-BASED ICE CREAMS
While almond milk can be a reasonable alternative to whole milk at the coffee shop, the lack of fat in almond milk is a downside in the ice cream department. Most of the almond-based options we tried tasted thin and icy. There’s only one we’d recommend.
Ben & Jerry’s Netflix & Chilll’d
No one does loaded-with-almost-too-many-goodies ice cream quite like Ben & Jerry’s. The almond base is creamy, and the chunky mix-ins are as generous as ever. There are several exclusively dairy-free flavors along with some dairy-free versions of the most popular pints. We loved the dairy-free Netflix & Chilll’d. (And if you’re so moved by the name, enjoy your scoops curled up on the couch while streaming an episode of Sex, Love & goop.)
THE ONES WITH THE FEWEST INGREDIENTS
As we said, making dairy-free ice cream without the help of stabilizers, emulsifiers, or syrups is a serious challenge. These ice creams have so few ingredients yet so much going for them.
Frozen Fruit Co. Chocolate
Made with only three ingredients: dates, coconut milk, and cocoa powder. It’s light and almost refreshing—and just sweet enough.
The Coconut Cult
Vanilla Bean Gelato
The Coconut Cult has a…loyal following. It’s our go-to source for all things fermented coconut. We noticed the brand’s vanilla gelato at Erewhon recently and were intrigued. The ingredients are only coconut (in its various forms, like coconut water, coconut cream, etc.), probiotics, Himalayan sea salt, and vanilla. So simple and shockingly good. There may be a shortage at the time you’re reading this—if so, you can check Coconut Cult’s Instagram for an update and delivery timing.