Whole Foods Market has launched a new line of nondairy ice creams under its 365 Everyday Value brand.
The ice creams began appearing in stores in mid- to late-May. There are seven flavors: vanilla, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, mocha java fudge, chocolate chip peanut butter swirl, coconut almond bliss, and berry chantilly cake.
The grocery chain joins a movement that is blowing up. Market research company Technavio calls vegan ice cream "a major trend;" trend-watching Nielsen notes that it's the biggest-growing segment of the entire ice cream market.
Five years ago, the only vegan ice creams you could buy at the grocery came from vegan brands such as So Delicious, Nada Moo, and Dream, maker of the best soy milk, Soy Dream.
But in 2016, Ben & Jerry's blazed a trail of newcomers by debuting a nondairy line of ice creams made with almond milk. They've since been followed by Haagen Dazs, who launched their not-as-good nondairy line in January 2017; and Breyers, who introduced their almond milk ice cream in May 2017 with two flavors, Oreo and vanilla peanut butter.
Like Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foods' offering is made with almond milk, and contains two ingredients popular in vegan dairy items: pea protein (dubbed "the new 'It' ingredient") and a thickener called gellan gum.
Whole Foods' line is less creamy than Ben & Jerry's, especially on the flavors that have mix-ins such as chips and nuts. On those, the mix-in ingredients are shredded small and widespread, so it's impossible to get a segment of ice cream without Stuff in it. Lots to chew, which makes it less about the ice cream itself.
Here are our ratings on the Whole Foods' vegan ice creams, in reverse order of appeal:
Vanilla and chocolate. As overwhelming as the mix-ins can be, these two options seemed almost dull without. But they do afford the opportunity to fully observe the texture: mildly ice-milky, IE a tiny bit thin with some ice crystals, but still ice creamy. They're not using great chocolate or vanilla, so their flavor is generic.
Coconut almond bliss. This was the chunkiest, with the most stuff in it — too much stuff. Way. It had finely chopped almonds and tons of coconut, which was toasted, for a seriously coconutty experience.
Mint chocolate chip. A prototypical ice cream flavor, this had a pretty pale-green color, with small chocolate chip shreds in slightly over-generous quantity. It would have been preferable to get a little more ice cream and just a few less chips. The mint flavor was penetrating, like a sharp dart, and in its favor, not too sweet, with a thinnish ice-milk consistency that was not entirely unpleasant.
Mocha java fudge. Pioneered back in the day by Baskin-Robbins, this classic flavor consists of coffee ice cream swirled with chocolate syrup. It had great creaminess, but was marred by what tasted like a hint of cinnamon in the coffee flavor, which made it taste cheap.
Chocolate chip peanut butter swirl. A vanilla ice cream base with a fair amount of chocolate chips and a thick peanut-butter swirl. The peanut-butter swirl is the best part: not too sweet, and it stays in firm shards. When you take a bite, the vanilla ice cream melts away, leaving the residual peanut butter which is almost chewy.
Berry chantilly cake. This is a clever riff on Whole Foods' signature cake with vanilla cake, berries, and whipped cream, and it does a good job of approximating that cake's almost perfumey combination of flavors.
It has a vanilla-esque ice cream base, swirled with a ribbon of mixed berry syrup, made of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries — no seeds, just a reddish-purple glaze. It tastes like vanilla cake, with an appealing cakey fakeness, almost like the flavor of Cool Whip, and the texture is excellent: super creamy, bordering on fluffy.
Strangely, it had no cake. This seemed not only out of step with the rest of the line but also a lost opportunity.
One interesting aspect about the Whole Foods line is portion size. It's two-thirds of a cup, rather than the unrealistic quarter-cup that most manufacturers list.
While not the best vegan ice cream, Whole Foods has good options and is now available in all stores.