Ice, Ice (Cream) Baby: The Dairy-Free Edition

Last year, during what is now an annual pre-birthday surf trip, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the paradise that is Kandui Villas. A remote spot tucked away in Indonesia's Mentawai Islands, it had taken us two plane rides, a couple of car rides, and a couple of boat rides to get there. But once we were there, it was sheer bliss - our humble abode was an expansive rustic villa built in the traditional Indonesian style, or Uma as they're called there, and I spent my days doing yoga, surfing (within 5-30 minutes on a boat, you had your pick of some of the best and uncrowded surf in the world), excellent food, spending quality time with one of my favourite people in the world, and getting to know the other genuinely amazing guests and staff there. As the days went by, my hair got wavier, our skin got browner, the wrinkles disappeared as the stress melted away, and our smiles got bigger, and more relaxed and easy. "I could easily stay here for months," I said, my eyes full of stars, until my travel buddy pointed out one major problem: "But there's no ice cream on the island." My dreams were shattered. You may scoff, but I take my ice cream addiction seriously, and it's quite possibly one of my greatest weaknesses and absolutely one of my "kryptonite" foods.

So what's a girl to do, then, when you realize that while you aren't seriously lactose intolerant, but that you are lactose sensitive, and do need to keep the dairy in your life to a minimum, particularly when it comes to milk - a key ingredient in many an ice cream? Sure, you can try and make your own at home - as Instagram would have you believe, "nice cream" is meant to be easy to make, right? Yes, there are some recipes that aren't too tough to follow, and they do make a good substitute if you're just looking to hit the spot with something cold and smooth, with a fruity taste that's reminiscent of ice cream. But if you're craving something that has the texture of traditional ice cream, whipping it up yourself is not so easy.

As anyone who has ever tried to make their own ice cream from scratch knows, DIY ice cream is a real pain in the ass to make. Or arm, I should say - during my misguided youth (or my years as a tween, when I looked like Harry Potter - yeah, thanks for that mushroom bowl cut to go with my round plastic glasses, mum) I discovered an old school cookbook that had a recipe for lemon ice cream. I tried my hand at it - literally - and this was the equivalent of a seriously tough arm workout, and not just because I was a skinny kid with minimal upper body strength at the time. If you don't have the equipment to churn it, then let's just say that doing it by hand often enough would make you look like a very lonely and randy man, if you want to put it that way. After 6-10 hours in the freezer, I eagerly pulled out the tub to try it - and it was so sour my face screwed up like, well, I'd just sucked on a lemon. All that work, ruined, just because I hadn't put enough sugar or sweetener in. That was the day I gave up on homemade ice cream.

Thankfully, thanks to the increasing amount of choices when it comes to foods for people with intolerances or dietary preferences, I've come across some awesome dairy-free alternatives that will hit the spot even when I'm trying to stay away from the lactose. These are so good that they taste just like "normal" ice cream to me. And one of the best parts? They're actually pretty affordable and relatively easy to find, too. Dear universe, thank you. And since by now you're probably thinking "Cool story, bro" (pun intended), "Shut up and tell me about the ice cream instead of this ode to frozen treats and reminiscing," behold...

Photograph: Shutterstock

Nobó Ice Cream

This award-winning Irish brand proudly boasts that its products contain no dairy, no gluten, no refined sugar, no sugar, no stabilizers or gums, and general no nasties - their ice cream is just made with avocados and coconuts and whatever delicious flavor they've concocted, and trust me, they have concocted good ones: It comes in Vanilla & Coconut, Fresh Lemon, Passionfruit & Mango, Chocolate and Toasted Almond, Irish Salted Caramel, and Mint Humbug. It's a family business borne out of love and passion (and personal need), and you can feel it. You can find them in Spinneys and Waitrose, with prices accordingly fitting into "regular supermarket" ranges, and they are, simply put, delicious. A deliciously creamy texture, rich flavors, and you don't feel puffy after. As far as non-dairy ice creams that are so damn good they make me question why I'd ever want to eat "regular" ice cream again goes, this is the OG brand for me. I'm a little obsessed.

Wanna Banana Snack

Much like its name implies, this stuff is made entirely from frozen bananas. I know a lot of people who have said, "But why would I pay the prices they charge for what's basically just frozen bananas blended up, when I could do that at home?" Well firstly, because you can't easily blend them up quite like this (trust me, I've tried - the texture is never the same, and my attempts always leave me stressing that my neighbors will loathe me for the hacking and sawing noises coming from the machine), they've got awesome flavours available (including date, raw cocao, cinnamon, blueberry, strawberry, and peanut butter), and frankly they've already got something good going on here which is so much more convenient than doing it yourself, especially if you're a busy person who is short on time. They've got ice pops and smoothies too, but we're talking about ice cream here. Once again, this brand was created out of a personal need - the founder had been craving ice cream one night with nothing else available save for two bananas in her freezer, and in her cravings-fuelled desperation, she decided to try one of the single-ingredient ice cream recipes she'd heard so much about. And bingo. Sadly, my attempts to do the same have never resulted in that same magical ending, but I'm glad hers did. It's not as creamy as some of the other options, but for a single-ingredient ice cream it's pretty epic, especially when drizzled in one of their homemade sauces and flaked almonds. They have outlets all over the city (the one on Kite Beach is a favourite), and they also do catering via Deliveroo.

Coco Yogo

I first heard about this brand when I was the launch Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East edition of Women's Health magazine four years ago. We were on the lookout for everything that would be a great fit for the magazine, and my Ad Sales Manager at the time was so motivated by our brainstorming sessions that she rushed into work one morning saying that she'd discovered an amazing new dairy-free ice cream at a stall at Dubai's Ripe Market. I emailed the co-creator, Turner, at the address on the card my colleague had given me, and a fan was born. Homemade and locally made, as with all good stories from these brands, it was once again created out of a personal need. Their products - which include yoghurts, nut butters, cream cheeses, and ice-cream sandwiches - are all free from dairy, soy, gluten, corn, preservatives, eggs, and refined sugar, and they are raw and vegan. And they taste frikkin good. They are expensive, I won't lie - but if you need a product that's free from all of those items, and you can afford it, and want to support a great locally-owned business created by an incredibly friendly and genuine small business owner, then give it a try and you won't regret it. Their items are available from their website, or at Single Fin (the in-house cafe at Surf House Dubai), as well as the Biorganic Store. They used to be available at the One Cafe at Life n' One, but last I checked they were out of stock and I wasn't sure if it was a temporary or permanent situation. TBD. Flavours include Chocolate Dream, Vanilla, Mango Bango, Strawberry, Banana Bonanza, and Matcha Mint Chip.

Naturally Coconuts

Organic, dairy free, vegan, and made with coconuts (seriously, what would we ever do without coconuts and avocado?!), this stuff is a revelation. This one is also a multiple award-winner (but hails from Cornwall in the UK), it's sweetened with unrefined coconut sugar, and they're not stingy with the good stuff in terms of ingredients (they are not keen on cheap fillers, apparently). It's available at the Organic Foods & Cafe in Dubai, in both miniature single-serving sizes (that come complete with a spoon-in-lid) as well as a full tub size, it's a little on the pricier side but still not outrageous when you consider that it's a high-quality speciality food (it costs AED34.50 for a full tub and AED14.75 for a mini size), and comes in a variety of awesome flavors including raw chocolate (this stuff is spoon-licking good), mint chocolate chip (the answer to my dairy-free ice cream prayers, I could eat an entire tub of this in one sitting if it didn't defy any pretense of attempted healthiness), rum and raisin, sumptuous strawberry (this doesn't possess the chalky quality that some other strawberry nice creams seem to have - it seems to be a real struggle area for any non-traditional ice creams, especially with protein ice creams), coconut caramel, and creamy coconut. And boy, is it creamy - once again, it's the sort of product that tastes so good you'll want to double-check the packet to make sure that it's not "normal" ice cream just in case.

I've not tried Walls' Swedish Glace Dairy-Free Ice Cream yet, so the verdict is still out on that one (if you've tried it, please tell me what you think in the Comments or via a message through our Contact Us page, and thanks in advance!) but it's on my list. I mean, voluntarily testing ice creams... it's a tough life.

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