As someone who is lactose intolerant I try to limit my dairy intake, but the absolute hardest thing for me to say “no” to is real ice cream. Especially since most plant-based options out there aren’t great.
But this week I was able to give a new milk-free ‘scream a try when Oatly sent me a shipment of its new plant-based ice cream made from its signature oat milk.
For those who aren’t familiar with Oatly, check your hippest neighborhood coffee shop — odds are they’ll have a pint of the stuff next to the espresso machine. Swedish company Oatly helped to catalyze America’s oat milk obsession when it came stateside in 2016.
Now, oat milk is one of the most popular alternative milks out there, attracting droves of fans with its creamy texture and neutral flavor. In fact, Oatly is so popular in the U.S. that recently it has been hard to keep in stock. To combat production issues the company just opened a new production facility in New Jersey and already has plans for another one to open next year in Utah.
In the U.K. and Europe, Oatly is already capitalizing off its popularity to create new products — such as savory spreads, yogurt, and ice cream — featuring its oat milk. Now it’s slowly releasing those products in the U.S., starting with ice cream.
Oatly gave American consumers a first taste of its dairy-free ‘scream earlier this summer with a roaming ice cream truck in Southern California. According to an email from Oatly, their ice cream is now available at small bodegas, Wegmans stores, and through FreshDirect in NYC. It will start rolling out to Whole Foods nationwide this fall. A pint will put you back $5.99, which isn’t especially cheap but is certainly in line with other non-dairy options from Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, and more (though more expensive than most regular ice cream).
So how did Oatly ice cream taste? Creamy, smooth and rich — though it wouldn’t fool me into thinking it’s real ice cream. The texture is thick and scoopable, and significantly better than other alternative milk ice creams I’ve tried, even other oat-based ones. But the flavor is a bit off.
First of all, it was a lot less sweet than most ice creams I’m used to, which might be a pro for some people but didn’t quite hit the mark for me (I added chocolate sauce to hit my sugar high). In fact, Oatly ice cream has 18 grams of sugar per 2/3 cup serving, which is significantly below the sugar in an equivalent amount of Haagen Dazs (29 grams) or Ben & Jerry’s (31 grams), my typical ice cream picks. It’s also significantly lower in calories and protein.
Unsurprisingly, Oatly’s ice cream also carries the distinct taste of oat. That’s probably why my favorite flavor of the bunch was the Oat one, which leaned into that oatiness instead of trying to cover it up like the mint or strawberry flavors do, with varied success.
My other qualm was a slightly off-putting thickness to the ice cream that left my tongue feeling coated after I ate it. That’s likely due to the coconut oil and rapeseed oil added to the oat milk to give the ice cream a creamy texture. Oatly also uses several types of gum to stabilize and thicken the product — which actually make the product scoop and melt very similarly to real ice cream. Bonus: One time I accidentally left a pint of Oatly out on my counter for a few hours and stuck it back in the freezer, after which the texture was largely unaffected.
It’s an opportune time for Oatly to expand the footprint of its plant-based ice cream. People are screaming for dairy-free ice cream: According to Future Market Insights, the alternative ice cream market is projected to reach more than $620 million by 2027. And while it seems like there are new plant-based pints every time I walk by the freezer aisle, the brand recognition Oatly has built up through milk sales will help it stand out from the competition.
Overall, I would definitely buy Oatly ice cream at the grocery store, especially if I was planning to dress it up with toppings or use it to melt on top of a pie or fruit crisp.
However, once Perfect Day brings its flora-based ice cream (lactose-free!) to market, all bets are off. I know it’s not really fair: Perfect Day’s ice cream is made with real dairy proteins so it tastes exactly like the real thing, whereas Oatly has the heavy lift of transforming oats into a totally new product. Perfect Day’s ‘scream is also significantly more expensive than Oatly right now — almost four times as much — so that could deter curious consumers until it gets its cost down.
But when it comes to ice cream, the heart — er, stomach — wants what it wants. And mine isn’t quite satisfied by Oatly. But that won’t stop me from gladly polishing off the pints in my freezer.