Here’s the scoop on dairy-free desserts

Frozen desserts from dairy-free substitutes can taste better than regular dairy ice cream, according to two seniors who sampled seven

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Here’s the scoop on dairy-free desserts

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The $1 billion threshold will be met by the dairy-free frozen desserts industry by 2024. Traditional stereotypes of dairy-free substitutes, like blandness and overall mediocrity, are starting to be dismantled as a result of its popularity.

Seniors Natalie Bakwin and Adria Wilson sat down with Midway reporters to taste test dairy-free desserts from seven companies: So Delicious, Cado, Oatly, Frönen, Ben and Jerry’s, Nada Moo, 365. Each brand used a different dairy-substitute, from cashew milk to bananas and even avocado, but some tasted better than others.

Miriam Bloom
CLINK! Seniors Natalie Bakwin and Adria Wilson clink spoons before sampling their bites. Of the seven, Oatly Strawberry was their favorite.

The brands ranged from $5-7 per pint.

Natalie is vegan by choice, so she has also had dairy ice cream before, whereas Adria nearly always eats dairy ice cream.

“I would not be able to tell that those were not dairy but the rest tasted vegan,” Natalie said pointing at Ben and Jerry’s and Oatly.

While those two brands were at the top of both Adria’s and Natalie’s lists, Frönen was declared worst.

The company was started by two University of Chicago undergraduates who wanted to find the best dairy-free, gluten-free ice cream.

According to Natalie, there are a few telltale signs of vegan desserts.

“A lot of vegan sweets compensate for the fact that there are no eggs or dairy by using a lot of sugar,” she said. “Oatly and Ben and Jerry’s were able to preserve both taste and texture, so there’s definitely no excuses for the rest.”

Oatly – Oat milk -Strawberry

Top Pick

With both Natalie and Adria ranking it number one, Oatly’s strawberry oat-milk ice cream seemed to do exactly what any good dairy substitute should do — taste almost exactly like the real thing. According to Adria, who’s tried oat milk in the past, the milk substitute tastes closer to real dairy products than almost every other substitute on the market.

“I think it tastes like regular ice cream,” Adria said “[It] really does have a milk flavor to it.”

Ben & Jerry’s – Almond milk – PB and cookies

Top Pick

For both tasters, Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter and Cookies was another flavor that managed to transcend the flavorless, watered-down standard that’s come to define so attempts at dairy replication. While, according to Natalie, the brand is generally a favorite among dairy-free consumers, she also cited the flavor choice as a selling point.

“I’m a sucker for peanut butter. Every vegan loves peanut butter,” She said. “I still find that classic Ben & Jerry’s taste in this even though it is vegan. We have been trained to think that vegan must taste dull, this is proof that companies can do better.”

Nadamoo – Coconut milk – Lotta Mint chip

Both tasters agreed that coconut milk is generally hit or miss — whether poured into your morning coffee or served as a frozen treat. Natalie and Adria declared the flavor to be bland, unimpressive and mediocre overall.

“This one’s definitely not the best. It doesn’t really have a lot of flavor. It’s just Beta, whereas Oatly is Alpha” Natalie said.

On the plus side, neither of them detected any coconut milk aftertaste which they both learned to expect from any coconut milk product.

Cado – Avocado fat – Deep Dark Chocolate

Cado’s deep dark chocolate was, in a word, surprising. Given the unorthodoxy of avocado as a dairy substitute, the testers expected the ice cream to taste a lot weirder — a prediction which, aside from an unpleasant aftertaste, did not come true.

“It’s a good consistency. It’s not Oatly-level, but it is creamy,” Natalie said.

So Delicious – Cashew milk – Caramel cluster

So Delicious’ Caramel Cluster was reportedly tasty, yet completely missed the mark in terms of replicating dairy ice cream. It was loaded with sugar, presumably to compensate for the cashew milk’s overwhelmingly nutty flavor. This, Natalie said, didn’t detract from the taste, but made the treat needlessly unhealthy.

“I mean it tastes pretty good, but when I first tasted it, I was like ‘wow that’s a lot of sugar,’” Natalie said.

365 – Almond Milk – Vanilla

Unlike So Delicious, some brands don’t do anything to compensate for the flavor lost through milk substitution — making for a dry and utterly bland tasting experience.

Both tasters said 365’s almond milk Vanilla Bean was downright tasteless. “It tastes like water. … It has a really grainy consistency,” Adria said.

Frönen Banana mush – Strawberry

According to the Chicago-based company’s website, Frönen’s mission is not only to create a strong dairy-free ice cream substitute, but a remarkably healthy one, too.

With only four ingredients, none of which are added sugars, they certainly seem to have met this goal, but for Adria and Natalie, sacrificing taste wasn’t quite worth it.

“It does feel like wet sand… I do like that it’s not too sweet, but other than that it’s really gross,” Adria said.

This was the least liked flavor overall out of the seven.