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Is it Dairy-Free Ice Cream? Is it Vegan? What does it all mean?

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

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You might be surprised to learn that sorbet, Italian ice, sherbet, dairy-free ice cream and vegan ice cream are all different kinds of delectable, frozen treats.

Understanding ice cream, it seems, should not be rocket science. It is, however, food science!

Luckily, Scoops owner Mark Wavinak’s daughter, Julie, is a food scientist who has worked with some of the most reputable food producers in the nation (General Mills, to name one) and can talk about it in a way that doesn’t send any of us running.

We sat down with her to get the final ruling on what it all means.

What is sorbet (“sohr-bay”)?

“Sorbet is made from water and pureed fruit,” says Julie, “Often times, it is sweetened with either sugar or honey.”

You may have also enjoyed Italian Ice. The difference between the two? How the fruit is prepared: sorbet is made of pureed fruit while Italian ice is made strictly from fruit juice. Be careful of the potential misnomer, though. Italian Ice is also different from gelato, but that is for another time.

The verdict: sorbet and Italian Ice are both dairy-free and vegan, since neither contain dairy or other animal products like egg or butter.

What is sherbet, then?

Sherbet is a variety of ice cream that contains a significantly smaller amount of dairy than your standard ice cream. According to the FDA, sherbet must contain less than 2 percent milkfat. Sherbet is primarily fruit-based but contains either milk or buttermilk, which gives it a creamier, smoother texture than sorbet.

The verdict: sherbet contains dairy and is therefore not dairy-free or vegan. The pronunciation, however, is still up for debate.

So what about vegan ice cream?

“‘Vegan’ simply means that whatever product it is, it is plant-based and made free of any animal products,” says Julie.

Most vegan ice creams are made with coconut milk, almond milk or soy milk. All of those bases come from plants, and none include anything that comes from an animal. If, however, an ice cream is made with coconut milk but contains egg, it is dairy-free but not vegan, since it has egg.

The verdict: Vegan ice cream is made from a plant-based material and contains no product that comes from an animal.

Is dairy-free ice cream different from vegan ice cream then?

“Technically, yes,” Julie clarifies, “Since dairy-free means that the product is only free of dairy, but not necessarily other animal products.”

Uff da. Technicalities.

The verdict: All vegan ice creams are dairy-free, but not all dairy-free ice creams are necessarily vegan. Be sure to check the label of whatever it is that you are buying or consuming to be sure that it is truly vegan.

At Scoops, we prioritize food safety and dietary needs. We clearly label and identify all of our hand scooped flavors to denote if they are dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, peanut-free and tree-nut free. As always, though, if you have a question, please ask! We almost always have flavors in stock that fit the above qualities, including gluten-free cones.

Let our servers know, too, if you have a specific dietary restriction and are concerned about cross contamination. It is our procedure to sanitize the scoop and open a fresh tub of ice cream for those who wish to indulge in a frozen treat but need dietary accommodations.

Oh, by the way, Vegan chocolate from Sebastian Joe’s is here! It’s called “Nuclear Pudding.” And, yes, it is that good.


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