A few years ago, our family moved into a neighborhood where our two best friends live. One of the families eats primarily plant-based as a preference and the other has someone with an egg and dairy allergy, so vegan ice creams suddenly came into our lives with regularity.
I sampled a few brands at kids’ birthday parties and on top of pie at one of their houses, but when I got to the freezer aisle I felt overwhelmed—which vegan ice cream actually tastes delicious and is worth keeping in our freezer for our beloved often-visiting friends? I bought every vanilla non-dairy ice cream I could find and invited our friends and their children to taste them all and find the best.
The Vegan Vanilla Ice Creams We Tested
Vanilla ice cream is the most versatile pints you can keep in your freezer. It’s a classic flavor that dresses up warm pie and brownies or can be served as a dessert all its own with some chocolate syrup and chopped salted peanuts. As a dessert lover, vanilla ice cream is one of those grocery products I like to keep on hand for impromptu entertaining and treating the neighborhood kids who often come over to play. That’s why I picked it as the flavor to test.
Our taste test focused on vanilla flavored non-dairy desserts that were widely available at nationwide grocery chains because you shouldn’t have to wait on shipping or drive across the city when you needed brownies with ice cream right now. We included non-dairy ice creams made with cashew milk, coconut milk, and oatmilk bases. There's one brand that uses a blend called Wondermilk and another made creamy with avocado oil. Some brands also rely on starches to mimic the rich texture of traditional ice cream.
Here are the seven brands of non-dairy vanilla ice creams we tested:
- So Delicious Dairy Free Very Vanilla Cashewmilk
- So Delicious Dairy Free Vanilla Bean Coconutmilk
- So Delicious Dairy Free Vanilla Wondermilk
- The Original Oatly Vanilla
- Forager Project, Vanilla Bean
- 365 by Whole Foods Market Vanilla Bean Almondmilk
- Cado, Vanilla Bean
These treats can’t be labeled as ice cream since the FDA defines ice cream as “containing dairy products,” so vegan ice creams are labeled as non-dairy frozen desserts or dairy-free frozen desserts.
Would Recommend, With Some Reservations
Two dairy-free vanilla ice creams ranked well in our taste test with some reservations:
- So Delicious Dairy Free Vanilla Wondermilk was well-liked, but required a solid 15 minutes at room temperature to scoop without snapping a wrist. This isn’t a pint anyone would eat as is but with sundae toppings or atop a warm apple pie, it would pass for vanilla ice cream. The other So Delicious non-dairy desserts have strong non-vanilla flavors—the cashew could pass as butter pecan with some nuts added—and are sadly still uneaten in my freezer.
- Cado Vanilla Bean was appreciated by the adults for its fruity avocado oil and sea salt notes, but was a hard pass for many of the children. The texture was amazingly similar to gelato, super rich with a slow-melting creaminess.
Our Favorite Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
Of the seven pints of non-dairy ice cream we tried, one pint came up empty first—almost every kid came back for a second or third taste: The Original Oatly Vanilla. Oatly uses a combination of oat milk and coconut oil to make a pint of vegan vanilla ice cream that could be mistaken for the traditional ice cream. Oatly leaned a little towards the sweeter side of pints we tasted, thanks to the glucose that gives it a nice scoopable texture. Of all the brands we tested, it was the easiest to scoop into right out of the freezer. Plus, coconut haters won’t notice any fruity flavors, just pure vanilla bliss.
I can’t say The Original Oatly Vanilla will be the only vegan vanilla ice cream I will buy forever—I’m still waiting on Ben and Jerry’s to give us some classic non-dairy ice creams without add-ins—but it is nice to no longer panic in the freezer aisle. I can reliably reach for this one to satisfy my family and my neighbors.