Creamy, non-dairy matcha mint ice cream made with wholesome ingredients and naturally sweetened with maple syrup.
For about the past decade or so, I’ve spent most of my waking hours in a kitchen, both at work and at home. And when I’m not cooking, baking, or eating what I just cooked or baked, often times I’m reading about food science and technique. Mayyybe I’m a little obsessed, but I’ve always been interested in how things work and dissecting them piece by piece. Also, I have other hobbies, I swear!
Food science is incredibly fascinating, and if you’re like me and do a lot of alternative cooking, having some understanding of it is crucial if you want to increase your success rate and decrease your rage outbursts in the kitchen.
Ice cream is already fairly complex to begin with, but when you remove all dairy, eggs, and white sugar, it can get a little confusing. Technically speaking, I guess it’s not really ice “cream” any more at that point, but we can mimic the real thing and let our taste buds decide.
I’m definitely not a scientist, just a cook who loves food. Here’s a few things I figured out about vegan ice cream so far that has been helpful for recipe development.
Fats are the building blocks of ice cream. They help create the creamy texture you want in a frozen dessert and increase the richness and flavor. The plant based fats that work the best are nuts,(specifically raw cashews), coconut milk, cacao butter, coconut oil, and avocado. When choosing a coconut milk, you’ll want to opt for the premium full fat variety or coconut cream. If you use the light version of coconut milk, ice crystals will end up forming since it consists of mostly water. Same goes for almond milk. Skip the watered down milks all together unless you’re going to eat the entire batch of ice cream right after it finishes churning.
SUGARS & SALT
Not only do sugars add sweetness to ice cream, they help lower the freezing point of water. Since you want your ice cream to have only a small amount of ice crystals, sugar is essential. Personally, I’ve found using a combination of sugars seems to work best, especially when combining liquid and granulated sugars. If you try to make a low-sugar ice cream using just stevia, you won’t have the same texture as when you use, say, 1/2 cup of maple syrup. It will just be icy and rock hard, you need sugar.
Salt is the same idea – it helps lower the freezing point. This also explains why we put salt on icy roads. Bye, bye ice crystals. Now if only the pavement would turn into a delicious dessert. Hmmm. The added salt will also enhance flavor, as in most recipes. Don’t skimp on the salt.
ALCOHOL AND GUMS
You may have noticed when you place most alcohol in the freezer, it doesn’t freeze. Adding it to your ice cream will greatly reduce the freezing point. From my own experience, there are times when I’ve added too much, and resulted in a gooey ice cream that didn’t quite freeze. You want to add a little, not too much. Try to keep it around a couple teaspoons per batch, depending on your other ingredients. I usually don’t even bother adding alcohol any more, but it can be a fun one to experiment with.
Gums such as guar or xanthan gums are something I avoided for a while. They’re derived from plants and are a handy ingredient to have, especially when beginning to experiment with ice cream. They act as a great stabilizer and can make your creation scoop-able straight from the freezer. However, don’t use too much, or you will end up with a chewy, gummy texture. A little goes a long way. Often times 1/8 tsp or 1/4 tsp is suffice.
HEATING & CHILLING
Gently heating your mixture on the stove is a great way to infuse flavor, such as adding mint leaves like in my Lemongrass Mint Ice Cream. This is also a great step when you want to fully incorporate milk and sugar, helping to reduce the grainy texture, but not a necessary step at all. It’s mostly done when preparing traditional ice creams with eggs to kill harmful bacteria.
Chilling your mixture before churning will not only help flavor develop as it sits in the fridge overnight (or an hour or two), but will keep ice crystals smaller. If you heat your ice cream mixture, you’ll definitely want to chill it beforehand. Adding a hot mixture straight to your ice cream maker will cause the canister to thaw out quickly and your ice cream may not finish, resulting in a soupy mess.
It’s also important to freeze your canister for 24 hours before using it (unless you have a more advanced ice cream maker with a built in compressor that doesn’t require freezing the canister at all.) I tried to use a half frozen canister before, and after letting it churn for over 30 minutes, nothing happened – it was soup.
I’ll end things with one of the most important aspects of ice cream making – air. Without air, ice cream would be rock hard. Commercial ice cream makers churn at a higher speed than ones you purchase for home use, which can be a disadvantage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make great ice cream in your kitchen.
While your mixture is churning, it’s chilling and incorporating air at the same time. Since the ice cream needs to be constantly aerated and frozen, it’s important to not overfill the ice cream maker. Even though your precious kitchen appliance means well, it will be difficult for it to incorporate the air necessary for a large batch.
Also, if you didn’t use enough fat, it will be harder to incorporate air. This is typically why sorbets tend to be on the icy side – they just lack protein. And those trendy no churn ice cream recipes may be great if you don’t have an ice cream maker, but don’t expect creamy results.
If you’re going to add any additional ingredients, like chocolate chips or nuts, do so after the churning has completed. It’s also best if those add-ins are chilled too when adding them.
Ice cream making is a lot of fun, and the best way to learn is through experimenting. Wherever your ice cream journey takes you, have fun creating and happy eating!
Make sure you place your ice cream canister in the freezer 24 hours before beginning.
Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
Churn for 25-30 minutes, then transfer to a covered container and freeze.
If using peppermint oil, make sure you use the oil and not peppermint extract instead.
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