Plant-Based Ice Cream Taste Test: What Comes Closest to the Real Thing?

The plant-based food revolution is in full swing. There are now plant-based chicken nuggets, plant-based eggs, and countless meat and dairy-free alternatives, and many of them taste really good. And after we tested out Trader Joe’s plant-based burgers, a new vegan ice cream from a company called Eclipse caught our eye, so it felt like the right time to conduct a taste test for the best plant-based ice cream on the market. Let the debate begin.

Before we began the actual taste test, we had to narrow down the contenders. Eclipse claims its plant-based ice cream is “cowlessly creamy” and “indistinguishable” from traditional diary ice cream. Across the market, there are a variety of methods for making non-dairy ice cream. However, non-dairy bases like coconut and almond typically produce a distinct aftertaste, which pretty much immediately knocks brands like Coconut Bliss and SoDelicious out of the running.

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The contenders.
The contenders.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Then there what I call amusement park ice creams, which include options like the non-dairy ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s. Those are focused more on the toppings and flavor swirls mixed into the ice cream than any kind of attempt to make fake ice cream taste real. Heck, Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t even sell a plain non-dairy vanilla, so it’s out, too.

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So in the end, we ended up pitting Eclipse’s plant-based vanilla and chocolate ice cream against vanilla Oatly non-dairy ice cream, and our current favorite plant-based alternative: Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream, in both chocolate and vanilla bean.

Now I admit, we did go in with a bit bias, and asking a newcomer to top Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream is a pretty tall ask. But since both my colleague Victoria and my wife are lactose intolerant (which pretty much makes me lactose intolerant, too), the search for a good non-dairy ice cream has basically turned into a hobby every time we go grocery shopping. And up until now, Van Leeuwen is simply the closest thing to authentic ice cream we’ve tried yet.

Unlike Oatly or Coconut Bliss alternatives that rely heavily on a single ingredient to form their ice cream base, Van Leeuwen combines cashew milk with coconut cream and cocoa butter to make a plant-based ice cream that’s super creamy and rich without feeling excessively dense. Also, by going with a blend of ingredients for its base, Van Leeuwen is also able to avoid the strong aftertaste you often experience from plant-based ice cream bases made from a single source.

Oatly falls a bit short in the flavor department, but it is significantly cheaper and has a very light fluffy texture, if that’s your kind of thing.
Oatly falls a bit short in the flavor department, but it is significantly cheaper and has a very light fluffy texture, if that’s your kind of thing.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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Eclipse takes a similar approach but with a different twist. Instead of cashew milk and coconut, Eclipse’s base is made from oats, ancient corn, potatoes, cassava, and sugar cane, which the company says was formulated to more closely mimic the kind of diet cows would have in the wild.

OK, but how does it stack up? You can see our first reactions in the video above, but in short, even though it doesn’t quite overtake Van Leeuwen, Eclipse is a solid, though somewhat pricey take on plant-based ice cream, with some potential bonuses for people with additional dietary restrictions.

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For me, I appreciate that Eclipse’s ice cream is the densest of the three, having the least amount of air (or overrun in food scientist speak), even though that means Eclipse’s final texture doesn’t have the same light fluffiness that you get from Van Leeuwen or Oatly. That said, Victoria and I agreed that Oatly was the least tasty and least “realistic” due to a general lack of flavor, sweetness, and pretty much anything else that makes ice cream good. Fine, fine, Oatly is cold, and kind of creamy and relatively cheap, but it’s not winning any prizes for taste.

While it wasn’t our favorite, Eclipse does make a solid chocolate plant-based iced cream.
While it wasn’t our favorite, Eclipse does make a solid chocolate plant-based iced cream.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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Victoria was a bit harsher with her criticism.

“It’s not that the vanilla was inedible, but the aftertaste was just so strong and the texture so dense,” she said. “The chocolate was much better, probably because it’s a stronger flavor so I didn’t get that weird potato-y mouth feel.”

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And when it comes to Eclipse’s Chef Collection, Victoria has a simple word of warning: “Don’t try the Thai Ice Tea flavor. It tastes like doo doo and disappointment.”

Where Eclipse misses a tiny bit is that by using potatoes and cassava, you end up with a starchy aftertaste, which can be off-putting at first (though my wife maintains that it fades quickly after a few spoonfuls). On the bright side, by not using any nuts or coconut products, Eclipse is a better choice for vegans or meat-free people with those allergies.

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On top of having a richer, better tasting base, the higher amount of black vanilla bean flecks gives Van Leeuwen’s ice cream a much stronger flavor.
On top of having a richer, better tasting base, the higher amount of black vanilla bean flecks gives Van Leeuwen’s ice cream a much stronger flavor.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Also, while Van Leeuwen’s plant-based vanilla bean is superior, Eclipse’s chocolate ice cream is nearly as good as Van Leeuwen’s chocolate option. Thanks to its denser texture and heavy cocoa flavor, Eclipse’s chocolate actually tastes a bit richer, possibly even more luxurious than Van Leeuwen’s, with the extra cocoa even doing a better job of covering up its tuber-like aftertaste.

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The other important thing to consider is price. While Oatly is pretty cheap at just $5 a pint, both Van Leeuwen and Eclipse are significantly more expensive and harder to come by, especially if you don’t live in places like NYC, LA, or San Francisco. Victoria and I are lucky that we can buy Van Leeuwen locally for between $7 and $8 a pint, but if you want to order some online, Van Leeuwen and Eclipse pints both cost about $12 per pint.

So is Eclipse’s new plant-based ice cream the most realistic non-dairy alternative? Not quite, but depending on your taste buds and if you prefer chocolate over vanilla, Eclipse could be a decent alternative to many of the almond, coconut, and cashew-based non-dairy ice creams on the market.

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And in case you’re looking for the absolute best plant-based ice cream on the market, the answer is hands down Van Leeuwen’s vegan honeycomb. Don’t @ us.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

Not sure why you just outright eliminated SoDelicious. Although they have some that are made from coconut and almond, they have others that are made from soy, oat, or cashew.

In fact, right now, I’m kind of addicted to their Caramel Apple Crumble oatmilk ice cream.

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