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Better taste and texture have made non-dairy ice cream more popular


Today, of course, is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, which makes it the perfect time to try ice cream, maybe even a plant-based ice cream. They're more popular than ever. And if you don't believe me, just peek in the freezer section of your store. Try to count all the ice cream options that do not use cows' milk. The results might surprise you.

BRITTANY MARTIN: There's been an amazing explosion in availability of vegan ice cream. I think the market reports say that there's been something like a 300% increase just since 2018.

KELLY: That's Brittany Martin, editor of the web-based publication Vegetarian Times. Martin says there are a few factors behind the boom. More people are vegans and vegetarians. There are also more folks who try nondairy options because of health or environmental concerns. And it doesn't hurt that the industry is making a tastier product these days.

MARTIN: I think people used to think that vegan ice cream is some kind of lesser than or, like, not as delicious, not as creamy, any of those kind of things. But between people just being more creative in the products they're making and some of the technology innovations, the quality is really there.

KELLY: Innovations that yield new flavors, textures and, ultimately, a product that seems much more familiar. Alicia Kennedy is a food writer in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She says that years ago, there were only a few little-known brands of vegan ice cream. Now brands people have been eating their entire lives have entered the game.

ALICIA KENNEDY: You're going to see Ben & Jerry's nondairy on the aisles of, like, a Walgreens or, you know, any old supermarket. So it's been a real shift from, like, there's this aisle at the natural grocer that has these options that all kind of taste like coconut, to now it's just a super variety from the artisanal level to the mass-produced level.

KELLY: These days, ice creams are made with a bunch of different plant milks, including cashew, oat, hemp and others. And if you need help figuring out which direction to go, our guests have got you covered. Here's Brittany Martin again.

MARTIN: If you want a super great pint of ice cream in your grocery store freezer section, I would seek out the Craig's Vegan Ice Cream. They have a melrose mint chip that is my very favorite. It is also, I believe, Lizzo's favorite brand of vegan ice cream, so little bit of an endorsement for that brand there.

KELLY: Indeed. And for Kennedy...

KENNEDY: I have to admit to a real weakness going back decades for Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. And so now that there's nondairy Cherry Garcia, I do reach for it quite a bit.

KELLY: Both Kennedy and Martin recognize it is unlikely that plant-based ice cream will replace the real thing any time soon. But Martin says it's more about having options available for everybody.

MARTIN: And saying, this is not weird. You're not missing out on anything. It's just as great, and it's going to fill all of those same cravings you have.

KELLY: So we challenge you with a very difficult task this summer. Try as many kinds of ice cream as you possibly can.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Kathryn Fox
Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.