3 reasons why it is so hard to find good vegan ice cream

Getting vegan ice cream right can be a surprisingly hard task. While vegan ‘nice cream’ (frozen bananas blended with chocolate) is good on occasion, it never really matches up to the kind of ice cream we are used to. Ice cream isn’t something that we want to give up on when we go vegan and it’s a bit surprising that despite all the progress being put into creating great vegan foods that are indistinguishable from their non-vegan counterparts, somehow vegan ice creams seem to be lagging behind.

In order to create the creaminess of milk without actual dairy is quite a bit more complex than you might think. Milk may look surprisingly simple in its smooth, silky whiteness, but it's actually a complex choreography of water, protein, fat and sugar. When it's made into ice cream, each of those components plays a distinct role. We don’t want to steal milk from the mouths of baby cows of course, so how do we find a solution to this problem. 

The situation, unfortunately is that non-dairy milks generally have high water content and low fat content, which creates hard, icy crystals when frozen. It’s quite tricky to use off the shelf plant-milk to make the perfect vegan ice cream. You are better off making a batch of almond or cashew milk at home with the right consistency and amount of fat to get it to easily convert to ice cream.

Another thing that you must consider is that freezing temperatures can be altered by the specific types of sugars that are added: For example, fructose will lower the freezing point of water nearly twice as much as sucrose. This may be one reason why you see both corn syrup and sugar in many vegan frozen desserts.  

1. Hard to get the consistency right

Even legacy ice cream makers struggle with this one. You can’t use traditional ice cream making methods and off the shelf plant-milks to get the perfect bowl of vegan ice cream. It’s just not that simple. Thick almond milk has been found to render the best texture and consistency once it has been turned into ice cream. There are tons of recipes online and don’t be shy to experiment. You’ll know once you’ve found the perfect homemade ice cream for you!

2. Its expensive

The base of vegan ice cream and the fruits that go into it all help to make the price skyrocket. Almond milk, cashew milk and coconut milk don’t come cheap and neither do natural ingredients such as vanilla, chocolate and mango. Apart from that, there is a far more niche market for vegan ice creams than regular dairy ones and that also drives the price up. There is also this perception in the market that veganism is only for the super rich and there are very few vegan products catering to the budget segment. I doubt it will be significantly cheaper even if you make it at home, unless of course all the raw ingredients are available in your backyard. 

It’s wrong however to compare these prices with that of the dairy industry which is highly subsidized by the government. Cows are paid in soybeans and antibiotics and no one pays for the carbon-di-oxide and methane that is emitted into the atmosphere.

3. Plant-milks have their own flavor

Plant-milks come with their own distinct flavours and its quite hard to nullify them without adding too much sugar or other flavouring agents in. The plant milk you buy at your local supermarket is pasteurized (heated up to very high temperatures), so it can last for anywhere between 1-3 years on the store shelves at room temperature. Manufacturers also try to cut corners on the base ingredient in order to save money and use thickeners to keep the non-dairy milk from being overly watery. Then they add natural flavors to enhance the taste and oils to improve the texture. All in all, It will give you a suboptimal ice cream experience if you use these vegan milks. 

So, when choosing milk alternatives, you need to keep in mind that not all products are created equal. With limitless choices from almond, cashew, coconut, flax, hazelnut, hemp, macadamia, oat, rice, soy, walnut, quinoa and even pea milk, the options can be overwhelming. So which are the best non-dairy milk alternatives? And how do these different plant milks compare nutritionally? It all depends on what you’re looking for. You can give them all a go and see what you like best. But conventionally, almond and cashew milk are the way to go!