Vegan “Ice Cream”

Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan Ice Cream. Yep, that is right in this post we are going to be talking about possibly one of the biggest trends in the ice cream world – vegan ice cream (6% of Americans are now vegan and this figure is growing). I have talked about whether vegan ice cream is profitable as a concept in my post: Is Vegan Ice Cream Profitable. In this post, I just want to talk about vegan ice cream itself. I will share with you everything I know about vegan ice cream – which is quite a lot because since I am vegan and my own a vegan ice cream business. I will explain what the difference is between vegan and non-vegan ice cream, how vegan ice cream can be made, the benefits of vegan ice cream, and whether it is healthier than traditional ice cream.

First and foremost, how is vegan ice cream different from dairy ice cream?

How Is Vegan “Ice Cream” Different from Dairy Ice Cream?

Vegan “ice cream” is a frozen dessert that does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. Vegan “ice cream” therefore does not contain:

  • Milk, cream, or any other dairy,
  • Eggs, or
  • any other animal-derived ingredient.

Most vegan “ice creams” are made with vegan milk such as coconut, almond, or oat milk.


Strictly speaking, vegan ice cream also should not contain sugar that could have been processed with bone char. Here in the USA sugar is often processed with charred animal bones to give it a white appearance. It is very hard to know if sugar has been processed with bone char. Vegan “ice cream” should therefore be made with organic or raw sugar (sugar labeled as organic or raw cannot have been processed with bone char) or an alternative sweetener such as maple or date syrup. Note that a vegan “ice cream” cannot contain honey for sweetness.

Dairy-Free Doesn’t Always Mean Vegan

Just because something is labeled as dairy-free does not make it vegan. It is possible for a frozen dessert to be dairy-free (if made from a dairy-free milk alternative) but not be vegan as it contains egg. Always check the ingredients.

It is not “Ice Cream”

You will have noticed that “ice cream” when it comes to vegan “ice cream” is in inverted commas. This is because legally vegan “ice cream” can not be called Ice Cream. This is because the FDA strictly states that for a product to be called an Ice Cream it must contain at least 10% buttermilk fat from dairy (and not be more than 100% in overrun). Therefore, most vegan “ice creams” are labeled as vegan frozen desserts.

Vegan Ice Cream - Almond Milk

What Replaces Dairy in Vegan Ice Cream?

As a general rule, dairy milk is replaced by a form of nut milk in vegan “ice cream”.

The most common milk alternatives used in vegan “ice cream” are the big four alternatives:

  • Almond Milk,
  • Soy Milk,
  • Coconut Milk, and
  • Oat Milk.

Below is a list of the kinds of milk which can also be used to make vegan ice cream:

  • Cashew;
  • Hazelnut;
  • Sesame;
  • Barley;
  • Macadamia;
  • Flax seed;
  • Hemp seed;
  • Pea protein; and
  • Chickpeas (or chickpea juice known as Aquafaba).

What Is Vegan “Ice Cream” Made Of?

As a general rule, vegan “ice cream” is usually made of:

  • a vegan milk base (almond, coconut, oat, etc);
  • a vegan sweetener (e.g organic, raw, or beet sugar or a healthier sweetener such as maple or date syrup);
  • NO eggs;
  • other vegan ingredients are often also found in dairy ice cream e.g fruit, cocoa, peppermint, or vanilla extract;
  • vegan “ice creams” may contain gums such as guar gum just like dairy ice cream often does.

Bear in mind that some frozen desserts are often “accidentally vegan” like a lot of sorbets and fruit-based gelatos. If you want to read more about the different kinds of frozen desserts, you can here: What Are The Different Types Of Frozen Desserts?.

How Is Vegan Ice Cream Made?

The process for making vegan ice cream is like that of traditional ice cream. The main difference is the lack of a pasteurization step (unless you are making your own plant-based milk from scratch). A vegan ice cream sweetened base will be made and mixed. This will then be flavored to make the desired flavor and then frozen in a traditional ice cream batch freezer.

The final frozen vegan ice cream will be extracted and stored frozen ready for service.

What Are the Challenges with Making Vegan Ice Cream?

The biggest challenge when it comes to making vegan ice cream is a lack of fat content. It is fat content which helps to create a smooth and creamy finish to traditional dairy ice cream. Vegan kinds of milk do not have the same levels or types of fat. They also often contain added water to combat the higher price point of vegan milk compared to dairy milk.

The biggest enemy to making ice cream creamy is water. It can be particularly challenging to make a vegan ice cream that does not turn out icy or crumbly. To combat this a lot of vegan ice cream makers (especially the wholesale variety) will use a bunch of thickeners and stabilizers. The most common ones are Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, and Locust Bean Gum. Though others are also used.

Another way around this is to use a variety of different sugars or oils in the ice cream mixture. This helps create additional particles which can get in the way of water molecules and help prevent the formation of larger ice crystals. Smaller ice crystals mean smoother ice cream.

Vegan Ice Cream - Coconut milk

What Is the Best Vegan Milk for Making Vegan Ice Cream?

The best vegan milk to use for making vegan ice cream is high-fat coconut cream. You want to use a 20% coconut cream. This is because coconut has a naturally high-fat content. The fat is also cholesterol-free. This high-fat content is like dairy and can make for super creamy ice cream. The main disadvantage to using coconut cream is that the ice cream can often end up with a coconutty taste – something which not everyone likes.

To this extent using coconut cream works best for strong flavors which can hide the coconut flavor.

When using coconut cream be on the lookout for the type of coconut cream used. There are many brands which are made from coconut concentrate, are sweetened, or have added water and thickeners added to them. It is always best to use 100% coconut cream.

Is Vegan “Ice Cream” Technically Ice Cream?

In general vegan “ice cream” is not technically ice cream (as I mentioned above). According to the FDA for ice cream to be labeled as ice cream it must be made of at least 10% dairy milk fat and at least 20% total milk solids.

Vegan Ice Cream - does it taste like ice cream

Is Vegan Ice Cream Healthier?

Dairy and cream are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. In comparison, vegan kinds of milk are often lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol. As a general rule, vegan “ice cream” can be lower in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat than dairy ice cream equivalents.

That said whether vegan ice cream is healthier really depends on the ice cream brand and its ethos. I have noticed that there tend to be two types of vegan ice cream:

  1. Ice cream which is just aimed at being vegan; and
  2. Ice cream is aimed at being plant-based and a more guilt-free option.

Often with the former, the ice cream will still contain preservatives, chemicals, and unhealthy sweeteners (such as high fructose corn syrup – it’s vegan). These “ice creams” are therefore vegan, but not necessarily that much healthier than dairy ice cream.

However, the latter types of “ice cream” (i.e., plant-based) can often be made with a small number of simple natural ingredients and sweetened with a healthier sweetener (such as date or maple syrup) and contain no chemicals or preservatives. A vegan “ice cream” like this will often be healthier than dairy ice cream.

What Are the Benefits of Vegan Ice Cream?

As a general rule, there can be three main benefits of vegan “ice cream”:

  • Cruelty-Free – you can eat your vegan “ice cream” knowing no animals were harmed to make it.
  • More Eco-Friendly – vegan “ice cream” has a lower carbon footprint than dairy ice cream.
  • Health – vegan “ice cream” can be healthier with it being lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than dairy ice cream.

Does Vegan Ice Cream Taste Like Ice Cream?

If vegan milk with a high-fat content such as coconut milk is used, then vegan “ice cream” can have a rich creamy mouth full and texture like regular ice cream. Other forms of vegan milk such as almond can result in an “ice cream” with a less creamy texture than dairy ice cream. Vegan ” ce cream” does sometimes have a slightly nutty or coconutty taste to it, depending on which vegan milk is used to make it.

Is Vegan Ice Cream High in Sugar?

As a general rule, the sugar content of vegan “ice cream” can vary. Some vegan “ice creams” can contain just as much sugar, if not more, than dairy ice cream. Other vegan plant-based focused ice creams can contain a lot less sugar than dairy ice cream. As white sugar is often not vegan (due to it being processed with bone char) vegan ice cream often uses healthier vegan sugar alternatives such as raw sugar or maple or date syrup.

Vegan Ice Cream - the final lick

Vegan “Ice Cream” – The Final Lick

Vegan “Ice Cream”. When it comes to ice cream the growing popularity of vegan and plant-based options is just not one any ice cream business can ignore. Customers expect at least one or two vegan options on the menu. I have built a successful ice cream shop around just making vegan and plant-based ice cream. That’s it.

The key when it comes to making vegan ice cream is the recipe.

It can take a lot of time to perfect a vegan ice cream recipe. It must have enough natural fats in it to not be icy and creamy smooth. In terms of the actual freezing process, it really is not different than making traditional ice cream but get the recipe wrong and you will be stuck with a crumbling frozen mess. Most importantly, remember it isn’t technically “ice cream”, but it can be just as good if not better than “ice cream” when made right.

Chilled Startup - Ice Cream Solves Everything

Time To Learn Some More

Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.

Chilled Startup Team

Since 2012, the Chilled Startup team has been in the ice cream business. From creating retail store ice cream concepts from scratch to ice cream trucks to selling ice cream pints wholesale to grocery store outlets to private and public events. We have even set up vegan and plant-based ice cream concepts. The ice cream business is one we understand inside and out.

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