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Ice Cream, No Cream

Non-dairy frozen treats are having a moment.

by Micheline Maynard

From the June, 2020 issue

For some of us, it might have been much harder to get through Michigan's stay-at-home order if it were not for ice cream. Luckily, people who can't tolerate dairy or are vegan were also able to partake.

Even though it hasn't been possible to linger inside over a cup or a cone, non-dairy ice creams abound across town.

Their arrival mirrors what's happening in grocery stores like Whole Foods, Plum Market, and Trader Joe's, where nondairy ice cream choices have multiplied in the freezer aisle.

And, they're a hit with customers. "Because it's Ann Arbor, we get a lot of demand," says Nate Nuttle, operations manager at Blank Slate Creamery.

"I have a lot of friends who are vegan," says Rob Hess, owner of Go! Ice Cream in Ypsilanti. "I tried all the vegan ice creams, and I didn't find any that were great and flavorful"--so he developed his own versions.

Just before the pandemic struck, local attorney Margaret Petersen and I did a tour of eight area ice cream shops, finding out where we could get something nondairy by the scoop or in a cone.

We agreed on two clear winners and discovered a few similarities among all of them. Nondairy ice creams tend to be quite sweet, in part because they're covering up the base flavor, which is often derived from coconut milk or cashews. Variations on chocolate seem to be the most popular.

For vegans who miss the taste of ice cream, the current faux versions are a huge leap forward. But ice cream purists may think they aren't close enough yet to eat a whole dish.

Here's a guide to what we found. It's advisable to call first to make sure they are open, check the flavor lineup and sizes available, and learn their ordering and pickup systems.

Blank Slate Creamery, 300 W. Liberty. (734) 922-5383.

Choices: Blank Slate has made a big commitment to nondairy ice cream. It has a separate case with seven flavors

...continued below...

of non-dairy ice creams and sorbets. In March, it introduced "Sunbutter Chip," made from oat milk, sunflower seed butter, and chocolate shavings.

Verdict: Sunbutter Chip is the best of the area's non-dairy ice creams. The oat milk gives it a mouth feel very close to ice cream. Blank Slate's chocolate sorbet is creamy and rich.

Would we eat an entire dish? Definitely.

Price: One scoop, $4.25; two scoops, $5.25. Pints, $8.25, with two cones.

Go! Ice Cream, 10 N. Washington, Ypsilanti. (734) 219-7484.

Choices: Chocolate sorbet, with plans to rotate fruit sorbets through its lineup this summer.

Verdict: The chocolate sorbet ranks with Blank Slate's Sunbutter Chip as the best we tried on our tour. It has a deep flavor that comes from cocoa, chocolate, and espresso powder. It has the mouthfeel of ice cream, rather than the iciness of most sorbets. It's so good that I have eaten two pints during stay-at-home time (not all in one sitting, of course).

Would we eat a whole dish? Yes. It's worth the trip.

Price: $3.97 for one scoop, $5.97 for two. Pints are $9.97.

Zingerman's Creamery, 3723 Plaza Dr. (734) 929-0500.

Choices: Lemon sorbet by the scoop; other sorbet flavors available in prepacked pints.

Verdict: We were surprised Zingerman's didn't have a plant-based ice cream, given that its gelato has a standout reputation. "People do ask" for nondairy options, said Tara, the counter clerk. The lemon sorbet tasted like an ordinary lemon sorbet. It was icy rather than smooth.

Would we eat a whole dish? Probably not.

Price: One scoop, $3; two scoops, $4. Pint prices vary by variety.

Washtenaw Dairy, 602 S. Ashley. (734) 662-3244.

Choices: Chocolate dairy-free ice cream and lemon sorbet. The ice cream is made by Hudsonville Ice Cream in Holland, MI, and the sorbet comes from Savino's Italian Ices, based in Florida. It sometimes offers mango and raspberry sorbet.

Verdict: We discovered that Washtenaw Dairy had a dairy-free choice by looking at its Instagram account. Manager Tyler Hendrickson said he waited to roll it out until Blank Slate opened for the season in March, since the two places are within blocks of each other downtown.

The ice cream has a strong overtone of coconut. The sorbet tastes like a traditional lemon sorbet but creamier than the Zingerman's version.

Would we eat a whole dish? No, but the mango is excellent when they have it.

Price: Single scoop $3.50, double scoop $4.50. Pint price $5.25.

Baskin Robbins, 1952 W. Stadium. (734) 332-3493.

Choices: We figured the ice cream giant would be on the dairy-free bandwagon, and we were right. At the time, it had two dairy-free ice creams--coffee caramel crunch and chocolate chip cookie dough--plus daiquiri ice.

Verdict: Both dairy-free flavors were sweet, but if you like ice cream with add-in ingredients, you'll enjoy the texture. The daiquiri ice is sweet and tangy, with a smooth texture.

Would we eat a whole dish? Yes, of the daiquiri ice.

Price: Single $2.79; double $4.59. Pint prices vary.

Dairy Queen, 1805 Packard (734-665-5588) and 2430 W. Stadium (734-663-7361).

Choices: We wanted to see if DQ had joined the dairy-free ice cream craze. Not yet. But it offers the Misty slush, made from flavoring and water.

Verdict: It's icy and sweet.

Would we drink a whole one? If it's hot outside.

Price: Small $1.70; medium $1.99.

Michigan Creamery, 302 S. State. (734) 662-1700. We sampled a couple of Hudsonville non-dairy offerings and a sorbet here, but at press time, the Creamery was closed and calls were not returned. Its website invites customers to support it by purchasing gift cards.

Ben & Jerry's, 304 S. State. (734) 665-4440.

Choices: Coconut almond fudge and chocolate chip cookie dough dairy-free ice creams; Berry Berry and lemonade sorbets.

Verdict: It's no surprise that Ben & Jerry's gives over half a case to its dairy-free flavors and offers tastes via environmentally friendly wooden sticks instead of plastic spoons. The dairy-free ice creams are sweet, but are close to Ben & Jerry's traditional ice creams in mouthfeel and flavor. The sorbets taste smooth and fruity.

Would we eat a whole dish? Yes, of the lemonade sorbet.

Price: $4.99 for a small cup, $5.99 for a large. The dairy-free flavors are $6.89 in prepackaged pints.


Calls & letters, July 2020

Sorbetto at Kilwin's

Kilwin's owner Chera Tramontin emailed to express her "extreme disappointment" that our taste test of non-dairy frozen confections ("Ice Cream, No Cream," June) overlooked her Liberty St. shop. Along with more than 100 varieties of milk and dark chocolates and a rotating selection of twenty-six ice creams, Kilwin's regularly carries both lemon and raspberry sorbetto. We're sorry that we missed them.     (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2020.]


On June 4, 2020, Valerie Mates wrote:
It is also very easy to make vegan ice cream at home:

Freeze three freckly bananas, then blend them in a food processor with three tablespoons of baking cocoa powder. That makes a simple vegan ice cream that I like a lot.

It is custardy, like soft serve ice cream, when you first blend it, and it is delicious that way. You can also put it in the freezer to firm it up, which gives it a texture that is more similar to ice cream.

To freeze bananas, choose freckled ones, peel them, break into chunks, put into a ziplock bag, and squeeze out as much of the air as you easily can. Then put them in the freezer until they are solid.

You can make endless variations by replacing the cocoa powder with other ingredients, such as frozen cherries or mangoes, or by adding mix-ins.

For a fancier homemade ice cream that is easy to make, I like this vegan version of Bear Claw ice cream, called Banana Claw. It has chocolate ice cream that is made from bananas, mixed with a vegan caramel sauce and chocolate covered cashews. A batch takes fifteen minutes to make. The recipe is here:

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