Nice cream

BETTER VEGAN SOFT SERVES FIND NEW FANS

NEW YORK — Nice cream: It’s what they call vegan ice cream. But with creamier bases and more interesting flavors, it’s not just for vegans anymore.

Dairy-free ice cream options have come a long way thanks in part to meat-eating folk looking to avoid dairy or just make healthier choices without defaulting to sorbet, the usual substitute.

Though banana is a popular base for vegan ice cream, so are nut butters, rice, soy and even hemp milk. Whatever the base, the texture and quality of ingredients are giving the products a higher profile, both in scoop shops and on grocery shelves.

“I love, love, love ice cream but I can’t eat it every day, you know,” said meat-eater Alexis Druyan, 24, on a recent stop at Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co., a scoop shop in Manhattan’s bustling Union Square. “If I want to be healthy, I definitely come here for dessert.”

The Instagram-worthy neon light banana on Chloe’s wall says it all: Started by a fro-yo addict looking for a healthier choice, the shop uses only fruit, water and a touch of organic cane sugar to blend up creamy frozen treats like dark chocolate and pumpkin. Chloe’s opened its first shop in 2010, and now sells frozen pops in supermarkets and to hospitals, schools and hotels.

“The vegan thought process and connotation has changed over the last seven years,” said Michael Sloan, CEO and co-founder of Chloe’s. “When we first opened and something was vegan, it couldn’t be good, and now I think we’ve helped explain that food can be delicious and oh, by the way, it’s vegan. We used to hide that we were vegan or say it just for the vegans who wanted to see it was for vegans. Now we promote that it’s vegan.”

While all Chloe’s offerings are vegan, Ben Van Leeuwen serves up dairy and non-dairy ice cream at five shops in New York and three in Los Angeles — and business is booming.

“Our customers asked for it. From day one we didn’t want the vegan ice cream to be an afterthought or a supplement to our regular menu,” he said of his Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. “We applied the same commitment to using the best quality ingredients and using little or no stabilizers. We make the vegan ice cream with house-made raw cashew and almond, organic coconut cream, raw cocoa butter from Ecuador, raw extra virgin coconut oil and organic cane sugar.”

Van Leeuwen’s vegan flavors come in classic and exotic varieties, including a bright blue Planet Earth, made with almond, spirulina and matcha tea cake.

In upstate New York, C.A. Lane recalls darker days of vegan ice cream. She blogs as the Duchess of Vegan after transitioning 15 years ago from vegetarian to vegan.

“It’s changed so much,” she said. “When I started, most of the ice cream options were mostly soy based and I’ve always had a little bit of a stomach issue with soy. That was always a bit of a stumbling block, but I ate a lot of Tofutti Cuties,” the ice cream sandwiches that helped launch vegan ice cream treats.

Within the last decade, Lane said, “we’ve started to see more companies emerging, more startups, and a lot of companies that already existed starting to offer alternatives to soy. Now we have everything from coconut-based to almond to cashew, and even big companies like Ben & Jerry’s are offering an almond ice cream. To me that’s so powerful, to see large companies embracing vegan and lactose-intolerant customers. It really shows how far we’ve come.”

Dena Wilmette, senior innovation and communications manager for Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington,

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