Ve­gan ice cream is nice cream thanks to creamier bases

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY LEANNE ITALIE

Nice cream: It’s what they call ve­gan ice cream. But with creamier bases and more in­ter­est­ing flavours, it’s not just for ve­g­ans any­more.

Dairy-free ice cream op­tions have come a long way thanks in part to meat-eat­ing folk look­ing to avoid dairy or just make health­ier choices with­out de­fault­ing to sor­bet, the usual sub­sti­tute.

Though ba­nana is a pop­u­lar base for ve­gan ice cream, so are nut but­ters, rice, soy and even hemp milk. What­ever the base, the tex­ture and qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents are giv­ing the prod­ucts a higher profile, both in scoop shops and on gro­cery shelves.

“I love, love, love ice cream but I can’t eat it ev­ery day, you know,” said meat-eater Alexis Druyan, 24, on a re­cent stop at Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co., a scoop shop in Man­hat­tan’s bustling Union Square. “If I want to be healthy, I def­i­nitely come here for dessert.”

The In­sta­gram-wor­thy neon light ba­nana on Chloe’s wall says it all: Started by a fro-yo ad­dict look­ing for a health­ier choice, the shop uses only fruit, wa­ter and a touch of or­ganic cane sugar to blend up creamy frozen treats like dark choco­late and pump­kin. Chloe’s opened its first shop in 2010, and now sells frozen pops in su­per­mar­kets and to hos­pi­tals, schools and ho­tels.

“The ve­gan thought process and con­no­ta­tion has changed over the last seven years,” said Michael Sloan, CEO and co­founder of Chloe’s. “When we first opened and some­thing was ve­gan, it couldn’t be good, and now I think we’ve helped ex­plain that food can be de­li­cious and oh, by the way, it’s ve­gan. We used to hide that we were ve­gan or say it just for the ve­g­ans who wanted to see it was for ve­g­ans. Now we pro­mote that it’s ve­gan.”

While all Chloe’s of­fer­ings are ve­gan, Ben Van Leeuwen serves up dairy and non-dairy ice cream at five shops in New York and three in Los Angeles — and busi­ness is boom­ing.

“Our cus­tomers asked for it. From day one we didn’t want the ve­gan ice cream to be an af­ter­thought or a sup­ple­ment to our reg­u­lar menu,” he said of his Van Leeuwen Ar­ti­san Ice Cream. “We ap­plied the same com­mit­ment to us­ing the best qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and us­ing lit­tle or no sta­bi­liz­ers. We make the ve­gan ice cream with house­made raw cashew and al­mond, or­ganic co­conut cream, raw co­coa but­ter from Ecuador, raw ex­tra vir­gin co­conut oil and or­ganic cane sugar.”

Van Leeuwen’s ve­gan flavours come in clas­sic and ex­otic va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing a bright blue Planet Earth, made with al­mond, spir­ulina and matcha tea cake.

In up­state New York, C.A. Lane re­calls darker days of ve­gan ice cream. She blogs as the Duchess of Ve­gan af­ter tran­si­tion­ing 15 years ago from veg­e­tar­ian to ve­gan.

“It’s changed so much,” she said. “When I started, most of the ice cream op­tions were mostly soy based and I’ve al­ways had a lit­tle bit of a stom­ach is­sue with soy. That was al­ways a bit of a stum­bling block, but I ate a lot of To­futti Cu­ties,” the ice cream sand­wiches that helped launch ve­gan ice cream treats.

Within the last decade, Lane said, “we’ve started to see more com­pa­nies emerg­ing, more star­tups, and a lot of com­pa­nies that al­ready ex­isted start­ing to of­fer al­ter­na­tives to soy. Now we have ev­ery­thing from co­conut-based to al­mond to cashew, and even big com­pa­nies like Ben & Jerry’s are of­fer­ing an al­mond ice cream. To me that’s so pow­er­ful, to see large com­pa­nies em­brac­ing ve­gan and lac­tose-in­tol­er­ant cus­tomers. It re­ally shows how far we’ve come.”

Dena Wil­mette, se­nior in­no­va­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for Ben & Jerry’s in Burling­ton, Ver­mont, said the com­pany had al­ready be­gun to re­search ve­gan op­tions when protests de­mand­ing them, fu­eled by a pe­ti­tion drive, broke out at Ben & Jerry stores around the coun­try on free cone day three years ago.

“This is no longer just about a small group of peo­ple,” she said. “More and more peo­ple are adding th­ese types of prod­ucts into their life­style.”

Carver Au­dain, 36, a veg­e­tar­ian for 24 years, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth but en­joys Van Leeuwen’s un­usual flavours.

“I don’t know that I nec­es­sar­ily stay away from dairy but if I have an op­tion of try­ing some­thing other­wise or avoid­ing it I will,” he said at a Van Leeuwen shop in Brook­lyn while eat­ing turmeric and matcha green tea ve­gan ice cream.

Ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine in gen­eral is en­joy­ing a higher profile with chefs and restau­rant own­ers.

“There are a lot more op­tions and it makes it more fea­si­ble for many peo­ple to con­sider an al­ter­na­tive diet,” Au­dain said.

Ro­nen Seri, co-founder of two ve­gan restau­rants in Man­hat­tan named Blos­som, has been ve­gan since the mid-1990s and re­cently pub­lished “The Blos­som Cook­book” with busi­ness part­ner Pamela El­iz­a­beth.

Their restau­rants’ desserts in­clude a ve­gan gelato, Cashew­topia, from a com­pany called Or­ganic Nec­tars. It’s free of dairy, soy, re­fined sugar, gluten and trans fat in a raw cashew base.

Ve­gan “used to be like a for­eign word,” Seri said. “Peo­ple used to think you were eat­ing let­tuce. We get so many peo­ple com­ing here who are not ve­g­ans at all and when they taste the food they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it could taste that good.”’

AP PHOTO

Three fla­vors of ve­gan ice cream (from left) Planet Earth, Matcha Green Tea, and Toasted Co­conut Brownie Sun­dae - are on dis­play at a Van Leeuwen shop in the Brook­lyn bor­ough of New York.

AP PHOTO

A cup of straw­berry ve­gan soft serve is pre­pared at Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co., in New York.

AP PHOTO

Work­ers in a Van Leeuwen kitchen pre­pare top­pings for Van Leeuwen Ar­ti­san Ice Cream in the Brook­lyn bor­ough of New York.

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