Please note: this guide was written in 2015 and should be used for reference only. It is scheduled for an update in 2022.
Dairy-free options for ice creams are increasing, along with the ever widening use and experimentation of plant milks. Soya-based iced desserts have been joined by cashew nut, coconut, almond, oat, fruit and even hemp frozen desserts.
We have covered the main dairy-free ice creams. Many more dairy-free options exist, but distribution of products appears limited. If you come across any products not covered in this guide, look for certified organic or Fairtrade options and check the ingredients.
Coconut products are becoming increasingly popular, and in many instances are being used as an alternative to palm oil. Companies that use coconut as a core ingredient in at least one of their dairy-free ice creams include CO YO, Snowconut, Okobay, Zen Zen, Marks and Spencer and Booja Booja.
However, just as with palm oil, for a food product’s environmental and social impacts to be minimised, its raw ingredients should be sustainably sourced and avoid harmful agricultural practices.
The devastating impacts associated with unsustainable palm oil production may be added to your ice cream’s ingredients. Palm oil commonly coats toffee and butterscotch pieces, and is often used as a cheap source of fat and as an emulsifier in budget ice creams – especially those that have had lots of air whipped into them. Emulsifiers help to keep milk fat evenly dispersed during freezing and storage, which helps to stabilise the air incorporated into the ice cream, providing a smooth frozen desert.
A general rule of thumb for avoiding palm oil: avoid poor quality ice creams with long ingredients lists!
Dairy-free ice cream companies that are palm oil-free are Booja Booja, Jollyum, Real Nice, Planet Coconut, The Coconut Collaborative, Zen Zen, It’s Only Natural and Okobay.
Palm Oil Scores
Palm oil rating
|Booja Booja||palm oil free|
|Jollyum||palm oil free|
|Real Nice||palm oil free|
|CO YO||palm oil free|
|Snowconut||palm oil free|
|Zen Zen||palm oil free|
|It's only natural||palm oil free|
|Okobay||palm oil free|
|Rowntree Fruit Pastille||11|
|R Whites, Fruitshoot||5|
Bitter sweet sugar
Sugar-related health issues are predicted to cost the NHS £9.7 billion per year by 2050, “with wider costs to society and business projected to reach £49.9 billion per year.” Sugar production is also associated with numerous environmental issues, poor workers’ rights and land grabs.
Although sugar is considered to be an essential ice cream ingredient, some companies are experimenting with alternatives. Booja Booja sweetens its iced desserts with agave syrup for example, and It's Only Natural only uses frozen fruit to make its ice lollies.
Exploiting the taste buds
Along with cocoa, vanilla has been linked to forced child labour, specifically in Madagascar. As always, buying certified products is the simplest method of ensuring you vote for improving workers’ rights standards, with Fairtrade certification generally considered the best standard currently available.
In relation to the UK ice cream market, the Soil Association’s organic certification is the most commonly used standard, which includes a clause on workers’ rights and child labour.
Of the companies making chocolate ice cream, Booja Booja, CO YO, Oatly, Jollyum and the Co-op achieve best ratings for cocoa sourcing.
Although we haven’t rated companies specifically on their vanilla sourcing practices, Fairtrade and organic certified vanilla ice creams are the recommended Ethical Consumer choice.