Van Leeuwen's Vegan Ice Cream

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Isabella Wu
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My absolute favorite dessert is ice cream– which is really, really unfortunate because I’m very lactose intolerant. I’m always trying to find good dairy-free alternatives so that I don’t go into ice cream withdrawal. Many vegan ice creams are fruit sorbets, or frozen custards made of just banana and sugar. But luckily, a brand called Van Leeuwen is one of the best-tasting vegan ice creams I’ve ever had. They do sell dairy products, but their vegan line uses plant-based ingredients and still achieves a smooth, creamy dessert that tastes and feels just like regular dairy ice cream. They began in New York, and have expanded across the United States since 2008. Though they’re a little pricey, I think their flavors are amazing and a great option for those who can’t stomach dairy. They may also be a great brand when you’re keeping sustainability in mind! They source from reliable, sustainable vendors, and try to minimize plastic use. Next time you're looking for a good dairy-free ice cream to splurge on, Van Leeuwen's might be the one to try!

What it's made of:


Depending on the flavor, Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream can be made from oat milk, cashews, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and various flavorings and mix-ins, which are housemade and vegan as well. They pride themselves on only using natural ingredients whose names you can pronounce, instead of including chemical preservatives and food stabilizers. On their company website, each ingredient list is different depending on the flavor. Under each flavor of ice cream (vegan and dairy) is a tab that shows where they source each ingredient, and how sustainable the source is. For example, the vegan strawberry flavor that’s pictured contains strawberries that come from an environmentally-friendly farm dedicated to sustainable agriculture. Their dairy chocolate ice cream includes chocolate that’s sourced from Ecuador’s Republica del Cacao, who support traceability, preservation of traditions, and sustainable techniques, so this shows that Van Leeuwen really makes the effort to source sustainably and responsibly. All of their mix-ins, like cornbread, churros, and cookie dough, are made in the facility. As for the base ingredients, the website outlines that cashew milk, coconut cream, cocoa butter, and coconut oil are the must–haves for achieving smooth, scoopable, delicious vegan ice cream. But where do these base ingredients come from? Their founder, Ben Van Leeuwen, is committed to working with small suppliers whose goals of transparency and sustainability align with his company’s. The cashews for their housemade cashew milk are sourced from Africa, coconut cream from Indonesia, coconut oil from the Philippines, and cocoa butter from Ecuador. There is not much information about the farms, workers, or transportation systems for these internationally-sourced ingredients, but at least they are making the effort to rely on sustainably-harvesting suppliers to support their own standards for sustainability.

How it's made:


Perfecting their vegan ice cream took years of trial and error, so their ice cream making process is probably a trade secret. They recently released a cookbook on their story, but I wasn’t able to get a copy on such short notice– and I’m sure any ice cream I try to make will pale in comparison to their Earl Grey pint. On YouTube, the popular food network channel Tasty tried making their own version of vegan ice cream, and spoke with co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen to ask him about Van Leeuwen’s methods for ice cream production. The specific process was not detailed, but Tasty’s version was pretty close to the original. First, they made a simple sugar syrup, and melted equal amounts of cocoa butter and coconut oil over the stove. They then emulsified this mixture of fat and sugar into a blender with homemade cashew milk and coconut cream, then cooled it in the fridge and churned it, finally freezing it in a container. This is likely similar to the process that makes Van Leeuwen’s ice cream, but because the secret is still kind of in the dark we can’t know for sure how it’s made, what energy sources are used, and if there are any special processes to take note of. However, Van Leeuwen’s facility in Brooklyn, New York, is always looking for ways to be “greener.” The plant and shops across the country use LED lighting, and use bio compostable ice cream cups, napkins, utensils, and straws. The ice cream shops across the States use stainless steel cups for customers who decide to enjoy their ice cream right there in the store, and their to-go containers and spoons are made of cane sugar fiber and corn, respectively. They’re aware that using Styrofoam isn’t the best for our planet, so they’ve begun working on a system that allows customers to have free shipping to mail the Styrofoam back to the company for reuse. They package their ice cream in paper pints, but no transportation methods are detailed, and no indication of the carbon emissions from this or their carbon footprint.

Who makes it:


Van Leeuwen’s began as a small ice cream truck driving through the city of New York. They have since expanded quite largely and rapidly, operating stores from the West to the East Coast. Van Leeuwen’s is dedicated to quality ice cream, and never skimp on ingredients and flavors. Though their ice cream is a little on the pricier side, many customers come back to enjoy the luxurious, unique flavors. All three of the co-founders still work at New York and Los Angeles shops, and always sample and test the factory’s flavors as they’re being made. In an interview with DairyFoods, Ben Van Leeuwen admitted that most of their profits go directly back to the company, to continue to uphold their promise of quality. As Van Leeuwen’s continues to grow, their “unwavering dedication to quality” and promises of natural and transparently sourced ingredients are surely reasons to indulge in their amazing flavors.