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 10 favorite pints, plus six shops serving seriously good dairy-free scoops. 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.
Planet Oat Coffee Fudge Swirl
Van Leeuwen Vegan Oat Milk Brown Sugar Chunk
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.
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 Dark Chocolate
Sunscoop Vanilla Bean Cream
Nada Moo Mint Chip
ALMOND-BASED ICE CREAM
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 and jerry’s netflix and chill’d
6 TOP SCOOP SHOPS
At Magpies Soft Serve in LA, everything is made in house, and the flavors are inspired by comfort foods from across the globe, like chili mango and Vietnamese coffee. The menu changes frequently, so you’ll want to make return trips.
Salt & Straw is originally from Portland, and it has shops up and down the West Coast, with additional outposts in Las Vegas and Miami. There are a handful of nondairy flavors, but the freckled mint chocolate chip is our favorite—so, so good.
Van Leeuwen’s nondairy options are made with cashew and oat bases, and they’re really good. The scoop shops all over NYC and LA these days, and there are a smattering of shops in Philly, Houston, Dallas, Denver, and Washington, DC, too.
Walk up to Awan’s takeout window in West Hollywood and walk away with an Indonesian-style scoop made from rich coconut cream. Maybe the vibe today is saffron ice cream with pistachios and dates. Or maybe it’s Oishii strawberries. The menu changes regularly, and it’s always special.
In San Francisco, Bi-Rite is the best place to get a scoop, vegan or otherwise. The dairy-free menu is tight but excellent, with top-of-the-line ingredients like Guittard chocolate and house-made strawberry jam.
This is the vegan ice cream spot in Seattle. They start with a cashew and coconut milk base and mix in unexpected flavors and superfoods. The cookies and cream, for example, contains adaptogenic maca. And the vanilla has pine and black-pepper-and-cardamom shortbread cookies.