Many of my favorite summer memories from childhood involve ice cream cones ending in sticky fingers and a full belly. In my 30s, I love ice cream as much as any little kid on summer vacation and eating an ice cream cone on a hot day with my daughter makes us both grin from ear to ear.
But 10 years ago I had to give up dairy completely, and my ice cream dreams were shattered. It was the first time I had sinus polyps and my stomach was constantly giving me issues. Dropping dairy from my diet changed my life. I felt healthy, less fatigued, and my stomach wasn’t bloated and in pain for the first time in my entire life. But back then, there weren’t a lot of dairy-free options so it was kind of a challenge.
A few years later I added sheep and goat dairy back into my life and had no problems with it. But cow dairy still made me ill both in my sinuses and stomach. When I got pregnant with Amalia, I was magically able to eat dairy without a problem and it was one of the few physically positive things about my tough pregnancy. Giving it up again after she was born was brutal, so I let myself eat cow dairy once in a while. I always feel sick and regret it so I really try to avoid it as much as possible.
It’s not that hard because I’m used to it and because there are so many great dairy-free options from yogurt to ice cream to coffee creamers. The amount of dairy-free ice cream brands has grown exponentially in 10 years and I don’t even really miss regular ice cream that much (except for soft serve) because there are so many great options.
The other cool thing I’m seeing is ice cream shops offering vegan options. In Nantucket last week, the famous Juice Bar ice cream shop had three vegan flavors including pistachio which is pictured in these photos. In Newport, we always go to Ben & Jerry’s for our after-dinner ‘cream fix because they have a bunch of their dairy-free flavors too. It makes me very very happy.
Today I’m ranking all of my favorite brands and flavors after years of very tough work testing the market. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur in this department and I take my ice cream ratings quite seriously!
I should preface this list by telling you a very odd fact about me: I don’t like chocolate ice cream. I know, I’m a total weirdo, but I just don’t! So you’ll notice that all of my picks have a non-chocolate base. If you’re a chocolate ice cream kind of person, walk away now. Or don’t, because I promise these flavors are even better.
The Best Dairy-Free Ice Creams
Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
Notes: As a kid, I grew up going to Ben & Jerry’s regularly because it was the only ice cream shop in town. I will forever feel nostalgia towards the brand. Cherry Garcia was always a favorite of mine and when they came out with it in the dairy-free formula I literally screamed at the grocery store. Out of all the ice cream brands making dairy-free options, Ben & Jerry’s gets the texture and flavor the best, in my opinion. The Cherry Garcia is creamy and cherry-ish and delicious with big chunks of dark chocolate mixed in. Ok, my mouth is watering now. How am I supposed to finish this post?
Ben & Jerry’s Caramel Almond Brittle
Notes: For some reason, I have a hard time finding this flavor in stores, but whenever I do I stock up because it’s full of crunchy caramel almond brittle and really satisfies a sweet tooth. I don’t usually like things that are too sweet but this is an exception.
Nada Moo! That Snickerdoodle Dough
Notes: People always recommend Nada Moo! to me, but this is the only flavor that I really love out of the ones I’ve tried. It’s cinnamon-y and has a good amount of cookie dough chunks. So Delicious makes an ok Snickerdoodle too but this one is better!
Steve’s Burnt Sugar Vanilla
Notes: I’m not much of a plain old vanilla ice cream kind of gal but Steve’s Burnt Sugar Vanilla is the exception. It’s rich, perfectly sweet, and has the exact right amount of vanilla flavor. This is one of those pints that I could polish off in one sitting, no problem.
Ben & Jerry’s PB & Cookies
Notes: The only reason my rating for this isn’t an A or A- is because I OD’ed on it last summer. I love the big chunks of cookie and I’m a peanut butter girl through and through. But I definitely got sick of it. Ask me again after a little break and it will probably move back to the top of my list.
Van Leeuwen Sicilian Pistachio
Notes: The Vean Leeuwen DF ice creams are beautifully packaged but most of them don’t do it for me texture-wise (unless I get them scooped from the shop in the city). Pistachio is one of my all-time favorite ice cream flavors and out of the few dairy-free versions I’ve tried, this is definitely the best one.
CoconutBliss Ginger Cookie & Caramel
Notes: This is more of a wintertime ice cream because of the ginger cookie but I love it year-round. It has been one of my go-to flavors for years and it really never gets old. The cookie dough chunks are soft and super ginger-y and the caramel swirls aren’t too heavy. It is also the softest and most ice-cream like of all the CoconutBliss flavors I’ve tried. And for anyone who avoids gluten, the ginger cookies are gluten-free which is a nice added bonus.
So Delicious Cashewmilk Salted Caramel Cluster
Notes: So Delicious was the first brand of dairy-free ice cream that I ever tried. They used to only have a few flavors but they’ve really expanded their product line in the last few years. They have cashew, coconut, almond, soy, and oat-based ice creams. I’m here to tell you that the only ones worth your while are the cashew and coconut. And the best of the bunch is Salted Caramel Cluster. It’s super caramel-y and rich. Very creamy and yummy!
Another random note about So Delicious is that they make the most insane “whipped cream” that they call Coco Whip, made with a coconut milk base. My friend brought a tub of it over for a BBQ last week with some berries and it was a perfect summer night dessert.
Nada Moo! Lotta Mint Chip
Notes: Mint chip was always my favorite ice cream flavor growing up. And I’ve searched far and wide for a good dairy-free alternative. They are few and far between, let me tell you. A bunch of you guys recommended the Nada Moo! Lotta Mint Chip to me so I tried it and while I definitely liked it, it doesn’t get as good of a rating as some of the others because there were too many chocolate chips and they were too dark and bitter for my taste. The minty base was great though! If they can perfect the chips, I’ll be sold. PS, Ben & Jerry’s if you make a dairy-free mint chip I will love you forever!
So Delicious Cashewmilk Cookies & Cream
Notes: I love me some cookies and cream. There is something lacking in the flavor here, so to make this ice cream perfect, I always add in a swirl of peanut butter. That really hits the spot!
And on a total sidebar for you, Anel asked me to note his favorite regular ice cream flavors! They are, in this order:
Hagaan Daaz Caramel Cone
Talenti Sea Salt Caramel
Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked
Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake
What are your favorite dairy-free ice creams? What should I try next?
Photos by Julia Dags.