Today the mainstreaming of vegan eating takes a very cool step forward with Ben & Jerry's unveiling of the ice-cream company's new all-vegan line. What's coolest is that after teasing us for nearly a year with the prospect of one dairy-free flavor, Ben & Jerry's is going all-out with FOUR new varieties.
In a savvy move, two of these are vegan versions of existing flavors - Chunky Monkey and Chocolate Fudge Brownie - and two are all-new vegan-only flavors: Coffee Caramel Fudge and Peanut Butter & Cookies. It's a canny end-run around that portion of the vegan population that's able to find something to complain about in any vegan-friendly development.
B&J spokesperson Sean Greenwood said that last year's petition for a vegan flavor "was a positive thing," but in fact the company had started working on this line back in 2013.
It was a long and involved process, Greenwood said, because "we were kind of jumping into the deep end of the pool" - an already established frozen vegan desserts category - "trying to do what we do best, only do it without milk and cream." The team wanted to make sure it was "over-the-top decadent, with no trade-off like you usually have" when trying to replicate something without key ingredients.
They wound up going with almond milk as the base rather than coconut because "almond seemed to make a better background for multiple flavors." While coconut worked in some cases, and has a richer mouthfeel, they found it a little too loud, flavor-wise. "Making a chocolate/peanut-butter flavor turned out as a chocolate/peanut-butter/coconut flavor."
So yeah, this is a pretty big deal - an iconic brand known for exactly one intrinsically animal-based product now adding multiple items that are animal-free. On the heels of yesterday's news that "Just Mayo" foe Hellmann's is putting out its own vegan mayo, it's a sure sign that times are changing and tastes evolving toward a more plant-based foodscape.
Time will tell if these variations on "ice cream" succeed in replicating (or surpassing?) the appeal of Ben & Jerry's massively successful standard item.
But not that much time: The new flavors are shipping this week. Watch for them on grocers' shelves, and watch for me right in there, stocking up in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

UPDATE 2/4: Samples of the vegan ice creams arrived yesterday, and I had my first bites of Ben & Jerry's in the current century.

It was great to be able to have Chunky Monkey again - even though back when I was eating the dairy version I think I was one of the inspirations for Chubby Hubby - but my favorite of the four was the PB & Cookie variety. Still, with my pro-vegan bias I'm easy to please - what did nonvegans think?

The response was pretty solidly positive. Newsroom staffers trying samples had reactions ranging from "that's good" to "wow, that's really good" and "if you didn't tell me, I would have no idea that was vegan."

That last was from Daily News Editor Michael Days.

A banana-allergic and peanut-allergic Inquirer staffer tried the Chocolate Fudge Brownie Coffee Caramel Fudge and Chocolate Fudge Brownie and reported that for both, "the creaminess and texture were pretty impressive," picking CCF as the better-tasting of the two.

Interestingly, the PB & Cookie, closest to the one Greenwood mentioned, seemed to a few people to include an almond taste, but they still found it a delicious overtone.

These should be in your grocer's freezer soon - let me know what you think!