Taste Test: Ben and Jerry’s New Non-Dairy FlavorsPhotos courtesy of Ben and Jerry's Food Features Ice Cream
Last year, Ben and Jerry’s came out for the first time with non-dairy ice creams. Let’s talk about revolutionary moves. A brand that literally makes nothing other than a dairy product rolls out non-dairy products. Four flavors hit the shelves. I ran to try them, as I am desperately trying to alleviate my dependence on dairy. I hated them all.
I kept pondering why they had chosen the flavors they had, and then I stopped pondering and started sending emails. My emails looked like this.
“Thank you for introducing non-dairy products. The cows in the world will be so happy to share the burden non-sentient almonds. Please please please make Cherry Garcia into a non-dairy flavor. Thank you.”
I sent the same email repeatedly.
This year, they announced that three more flavors were coming. I waited while biting my nails, overly emotional and expectant.
Then, the flavors were unveiled. Lo and behold, Cherry Garcia was one of the three.
There is a god. And his name is Ben. Or Jerry.
The other two were Coconut Seven Layer Bar and Caramel Almond Brittle.
I ran to the store and bought them all, feeling little to no guilt. (I mean, they are not calorie free. The heartbreaking truth? They are just as high in fat and calories as their traditional dairy counterparts. So if you’re looking to avoid dairy and a high percentage of fat in your food? Go sorbet. Sorbet is not to be confused with sherbet, which does have a small percentage of dairy.)
I skimmed the tops of all of them with a spoon as I was putting them into my freezer. I figured it would be smart to get an overall idea of how enjoyable the task of eating them was going to be. Preliminary report: holy almond! Just opening the lid on the ice creams fills the air with the scent of sweet almond flower! (Did you know almond trees flower? Because they do! Isn’t that a beautiful thing to think!?) Seriously – the smell of almonds was very present. I really like almond paste, so it didn’t bother me, but anyone who does not like ground almonds would most likely detest all of these.
The ingredients in all three are surprisingly similar. If you read down the back, you will find the same ingredients listed in almost the same order of appearance, with only a few differences. Almond milk is listed first, which makes me feel good. Yes – sugar is next – but duh; it’s ice cream. At least there is more almond milk than the liquid sweet.
Let’s get down to the details.
The Cherry Garcia is, overall, delicious. As I intimated, the flavor of the ice cream is, while cherry, highly almond-y as well. A cherry/almond hybrid then, for the base of the ice cream. Inside this fruity hybrid flavor you will find the sweet dark cherries Ben and Jerry’s is known for and dark chocolate chunks. They call the chunks “fudge flakes” on the front of the pint – and while the dairy version of this ice cream does have what I would call a flake, what we find here has no flake-like qualities. They are chunks, in every sense of the word. They are thick and shaped like tiny gold nuggets but made with chocolate instead. They are absolutely delicious – but they are not flakes. Flakes melt on your tongue. These things require teeth.
Moving on to the middle child – the one that no one pays attention to. This time, that is for good reason. The Coconut Seven Layer Bar is … hm … how do I say…? Not. Good. Yeah – there. That’s it. The Coconut Seven Layer Bar is Not Good. In any way. There is just nothing good about this flavor. It’s like … crushing up a bunch of sidewalk chalk with the neighbor kids and then pouring some sweet milk on top of the pile and sticking a spoon into it. It is like straight sweet chalk. I kept trying to figure out what the grit was in my spoon, and even though the container states there is a “swirl of graham cracker and caramel” – it does not explicitly state that the graham cracker is crushed. And when I tell you the graham cracker is crushed, beware that it is only like half-crushed, as in, it is still filled with gritty-sized pieces. Pieces that just stud the caramel river like tiny pebbles that you don’t trust your teeth with and that you don’t understand. It’s uncomfortable to eat. So I didn’t eat it, past my initial exploration stage. I melted it down the drain, like I do all sub-par frozen treats. I’m not accidentally ingesting one thousand calories in a fatigue-induced freezer raid later in the night. I’m liquefying that shit before it gets into my stomach.
We are going to end this tattletale session with the shining star of the group, Caramel Almond Brittle. Caramel Almond Brittle is really good. For starters, the ice cream base is the same as the ice cream flavor here – so there are no fighting flavors. Almond milk base, almond flavored ice cream. Easy. Simple. Nice. Add to that a salty caramel swirl and some almond brittle and you have yourself a solid contender, a non-dairy ice cream that can run with the big guns – the dairy boys. I was super impressed with the caramel swirl. Caramels are delicious because they are sugar mixed with butter. They are salty and sweet and buttery – they are some of my best friends in the food world. Finding vegan caramel that is buttery, however, is hard. I can’t tell you how many vegan caramels I’ve had that I’ve spit out into the garbage can. (Again, I don’t waste calories on sweets that don’t live up to my standards.) The almond brittle is awesome. It is crunchy and salty – it is just as buttery as the caramel swirl. The swirl and brittle were so good I started to navigate the pint like I was hunting for gold. I would dig for those golden brown items, gobble them up, and then push the ice cream aside to keep digging for more.
All in all, I think Ben and Jerry’s hit it out of the park this time around. They gave people more non-dairy options – solid ones, at that. (Well, two of the three.) I’m so glad that they are exploring this territory, and I’m sure it’s only adding to their sales, not detracting. People who would not have bought their product before are now buying it, finding their dietary needs met. A non-vegan myself, I’m not going to lie, it will be hard for me to continue to buy these over the dairy flavors. Even though the almond ice creams are good, they aren’t as smooth as dairy is. They’re a little more gelatinous, and all more naturally intense in flavor. That said, I will be buying them. I’ll be buying them because reducing our dependence on animals in food consumption is important environmentally and ethically. This company has now given us the option to have our vegan cake, and eat our non-dairy ice cream, too.