Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Product Review Blog: Vegan Ice Cream

Between the oppressively hot days this summer and the availability of a greater variety of vegan ice creams, I’ve been eating more of the frozen dessert than I normally would. That is why I’ve decided to dedicate the first ever review entry to this blog entirely to vegan ice creams and all that goes with them.

First up is Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss. While I was camping (in a cabin) in early July I found Luna and Larry’s Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge on sale at Kimberton Whole Foods (Douglassville, Pa). This was not the first coconut milk ice cream I tried but it was the first one where I didn’t feel the coconut flavor overpowered everything else. It was light, airy ice cream with a richly chocolate flavor and large pieces of hazelnut mixed through. The coconut flavor was present but not in a way that detracted from the chocolate and hazelnut.

The next product is not an ice cream but a sorbet: Ciao Bella Dark Chocolate Sorbet. Normally I dismiss store-bought sorbets as not worth trying, because they always seem excessively sweet. This one looked so good on the carton that I was tempted enough to buy a pint. I am very glad I did. Ciao Bella is not lying when they call it “dark chocolate”; this sorbet is extremely chocolate (like the equivalent of eating a bar of chocolate with a cocoa content above 70%) and not overly sweet. A peek at the nutrition panel reveals that it does in fact contain plenty of sugar (19g per ½ cup) but the sweetness doesn’t seem too much when combined with the strong chocolate flavor.

I first tried So Delicious Purely Decadent vegan ice creams a while ago when all that was available was soy-based. Out of those, my favorite was (and still is) the Peanut Butter Zig-Zag with salty peanut butter swirled through creamy chocolate. When the coconut-milk-based pints first appeared in my local grocery store the options were Vanilla and Cookie Dough (which happens to be gluten-free!). The first time I tasted the Cookie Dough I didn’t love it; the cookie dough bits were perfect but the coconut flavor was strong and (not that I don’t love coconut) I wasn’t sure I wanted cookie dough ice cream to taste that much of coconut. I might not have bought it again had my 4-year-old not decided he liked it very much. On vacation at the beach recently, I found a pint of Purely Decadent German Chocolate coconut milk ice cream in Green Street Market (Rio Grande, NJ) and decided to try it based on the logic that coconut is an important flavor in German chocolate cake, so what harm could the coconut milk do to it? This time not only did the coconut milk not detract from the flavor of the ice cream, it enhanced it. The chocolate was creamy but strong, the caramel was sweet and smooth, the bits of coconut and pecan added texture without too much crunchiness. It is now my favorite of all the vegan ice creams I’ve ever tried. Unfortunately, since coming home from the beach I haven’t found it anywhere; even a trip to Whole Foods didn’t produce any pints of German Chocolate. I did find two other delicious coconut-milk-based flavors there. The first was Pomegranate Chip, which I was skeptical of (pomegranate with chocolate?) until I actually tried it; the coconut flavor was pretty much hidden by the pomegranate and it actually reminded me of black raspberry soft serve I had at a park-and-eat restaurant (Tropical Treat in Hanover, Pa) as a kid, but with chocolate chips thrown in. My 4-year-old, who called it “the purple kind”, thought it was wonderful and between the two of us we managed to finish it off in just two days. The second kind was Cherry Amaretto. The cherry-vanilla flavor doesn’t have much almond to it, despite being called amaretto. It has a coconut aftertaste but it’s so light and airy, yet very creamy, that the coconut isn’t enough to keep me from thoroughly enjoying it. There aren’t as many cherry halves in it as I would choose to put in, and I wish there were chocolate chips, but it is still delicious.
(Unfortunately most of the flavors I mentioned aren’t listed at Turtle Mountain’s website yet but I promise they do exist.)

With the popularity of bite-size chocolate covered ice cream bits it is almost surprising that a vegan version didn’t appear sooner, but finally there are Almond Dream Bites. In the past I had tried Rice Dream and Soy Dream and was not impressed but the chocolate covered almond-based vanilla ice cream bites looked too good to pass up. The chocolate is smooth and melts nicely if you don’t bite into the “bite”, slowly revealing the sweet vanilla ice cream inside. There is a slight almond flavor but not as much as I expected. I could easily eat a whole pint of these bites in one sitting if not careful. There are also pints of Almond Dream not in “bite” form. The Chocolate is good, with a flavor similar to hot cocoa. The Cappuccino Swirl is similar in flavor to So Delicious Mocha Fudge, coffee with chocolate fudge swirled through; I think I prefer the Almond Dream version slightly to the soy-based So Delicious. I am not really a fan of praline as a rule, so I was surprised to find how much I liked Almond Dream Praline Crunch; I would recommend it to any vegans who miss butter pecan ice cream because if my memory of it is correct this is about the same flavor. The Almond Dream ice creams are not as rich as coconut-based, but I perceived them to be sweeter; they’re creamier than soy-based varieties but seem to be pretty equal with them in terms of sweetness. (Again, the products I mention don’t seem to be listed on the company’s website yet.)

All the vegan ice cream cones I’m going to include here also happen to be gluten-free. The first brand I stumbled across in a store was Edward & Sons Let’s Do Gluten Free Ice Cream Cones. The ones I’m referring to are the “cake cup” style cones, not sugar cones. Besides being a little more fragile they’re basically a vegan, gluten-free equivalent to wheat flour “cake cup” style cones. They’re crunchy (be sure to store in a sealed container with as little air as possible to avoid getting stale) and have very little flavor just like the cones you may remember getting at ice cream parlors.

The second brand, Goldbaum’s, I found in a local health food store (Sonnewald in Spring Grove, Pa) and a week later in a not particularly vegan-friendly grocery store (Martin’s Country Market in Morgantown, Pa) which was a pleasant surprise. This time the cones were my favorite type: sugar cones. The first box I got was the standard sugar cone flavor but the ones I found in Morgantown were chocolate sugar cones which, paired with chocolate ice cream, could please any chocolate addict. Goldbaum’s sugar cones are gluten-free and I actually prefer them to the wheat-based cones I remember eating because they have the flavor I remember enjoying so much but the texture is lighter, crunchier, and I have yet to find one getting at all soggy from the ice cream inside. They’re so good I’ve munched on one like a cookie without any ice cream inside on more than one occasion. If you look at the Goldbaum’s website (which is not very elaborate and difficult to read, sadly) it appears that they also offer “cake cup” style cones, waffle bowls, and “jumbo” cones; I haven’t seen any in a store yet but I’ll be watching for them.

The last product I’m going to include here is Soyatoo! Rice Whip. I tried the Soy Whip some time ago and while it was nice to have a vegan whipped cream there was something about the flavor I didn’t particularly like. My 4-year-old, however, thought it was wonderful, probably because it was so novel to him. More recently I was in Whole Foods looking for a can of the Soy Whip and while it was out of stock they did have Rice Whip, which I had not seen before. It wouldn’t matter to my son whether it was soy or rice so I bought a can of it. He was pleased with it and I decided to taste it too. This time Soyatoo! got vegan whipped cream right! Their Rice Whip is fluffy, creamy, just a little sweet, and is superior in flavor to the Soy Whip. I will seek out Rice Whip in the future and not Soy Whip.