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Here's the scoop on vegan ice cream — and why it's everywhere now

This ice cream cone is made from plastic. That's non-dairy, right?
Peter Macdiarmid
/
Getty Images
This ice cream cone is made from plastic. That's non-dairy, right?

Updated July 17, 2022 at 11:46 AM ET

As temperatures heat up and hordes of Americans begin spending their days at the beach or pool, they'll be thinking of that quintessential summer treat to help them keep cool: ice cream.

While you may have your go-to order etched into your brain in the chance that an ice cream truck rolls down your street, you might be surprised to find a whole new world of options at your local grocery store or ice cream shop.

Thanks to the popularization of plant-based diets, non-dairy ice cream has become a huge industry, catering to people with all types of palates, dietary needs, and curiosities for where the world of ice cream may be going.

Brittany Martin is an editor of Vegetarian Times, which focuses on plant-based food and the lifestyle that comes along with it.

"There's been an amazing explosion in the availability of vegan ice cream, and also the quality of it as well," Martin said. "Market reports say that there's been something like a 300% increase just since 2018."

What flavor are you choosing?
Mat Hayward / Getty Images for WeWork
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Getty Images for WeWork
What flavor are you choosing?

She theorizes that there are a few factors behind this boom.

Firstly, there's been a surge in people who have adopted vegan or vegetarian diet in the past few years. Second, people have become more open-minded about trying these alternatives, whether it be for their health, environmental reasons, or just because it tastes good.

"People used to think that vegan ice cream is lesser-than, or not as delicious, not as creamy," she said. "But between people just being more creative ... and some of the technology innovations, the quality is really there."

These innovations can span from intriguing new flavor combinations, to better textures than vegan options that came before. And ultimately, to a product that feels much more familiar to the average consumer.

Alicia Kennedy, a vegetarian food writer, said that until recently there were just a handful of little-known brands selling vegan ice cream. Now, big companies have entered the game.

"You're gonna see Ben & Jerry's non-dairy in the aisles of a Walgreens or any old supermarket," she said. "It's been a real shift from an aisle at the natural grocer."

These days, you also can find ice cream made from all types of milk — cashew, oat, hemp, and more, each offering a distinct flavor and texture.

While Kennedy and Martin both say plant-based ice cream probably won't replace the dairy option anytime soon, Martin said it wasn't about competing — it's just about having more options available for everybody.

"This is not weird, you're not missing out on anything," she said. "It's just as great and it's gonna fill all of those same cravings you have"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.