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I scream, you scream, we're free - from cream

A parev iced dessert no longer means Swedish Glace. There's a whole host of options out there


A whole new world of dairy-free, frozen desserts has opened up for the ice cream lover looking for a sweet treat to end a meaty meal.

The stalwart of the kosher freezer - Swedish Glace (now part of the Unilever stable) - is jostling for freezer space with a raft of parev desserts; but will they ever be as good as the real thing?

Alastair Jessel, founder of Taywell Ice Creams (who has recently launched dairy and sugar-free Sweet Rebellion iced desserts) thinks it can be. In his view, the secret to the right "mouth feel" as he terms it, is fat content.

"It is the fat in the cream that transfers taste to your tongue," he says. "We tried using rice milk as a base, but it has no fat and so you didn't get that background flavour that ice cream gives you. We decided to try coconut milk, and as there is more saturated fat in that than there is in dairy, it does give you that transfer of taste."

Taywell Ice Creams has been making traditional, dairy ices since 2006, as a way of using up surplus fruit from Jessel's farm in Kent. He was already making kosher ice cream, which his company supplies to Sainsbury's and had spent two years working on perfecting a refined sugar-free version. This year he added a dairy-free, refined sugar-free iced dessert to the range.

"I could see the dairy-free trend growing, and Sharon Feldman-Vazan from the KLBD had been trying to persuade me to make a kosher dairy-free version for some time. So I decided to go for it," shares the entrepreneur.

"It's made from a coconut cream base and is free from all 14 of the EU recognised allergens. All except our peanut butter flavour, that is," he smiles.

Another newish brand on the block is COYO - franchised here from Australia by former policewoman turned nutritionist and healthy food entrepreneur Bethany Eaton. The brand is better known for its coconut milk yoghurts and its approach is from a healthfood angle.

COYO's marketing says it's allergen free and "clean" - the latest buzzword beloved of many health and fitness experts - meaning that it contains nothing artificial, no colourings, preservatives or added sugar. It comes in four flavours: natural; raw chocolate; vanilla and nutmeg; and sticky date and tamarind.

Says Eaton: "I don't eat sugar particularly, so we try to keep refined sugar down. We currently use coconut syrup but are about to switch to chicory root, which is naturally sweet and a probiotic."

Such is her confidence in the healthy nature of her product that Eaton even eats it for breakfast. "If I run out of yoghurt I use the ice cream instead but it's also good enough to be a treat - I have it on my Paleo crumble."

Also vying for your spoon is luxury brand, Booja Booja, which also makes dairy-free truffles. It boasts of the limited number of ingredients in its frozen desserts - never more than four or five - always a plus. The creamy base is made from blended cashew nuts and mixed with agave syrup and various flavourings to make vanilla, chocolate, maple pecan, coconut and ginger flavours. The flavours are to be changed in the autumn but the current ones will be in the shops until summer is out.

Old timer Swedish Glace, dressed in smart new packaging, is made from soya - a no-no for some - which is low fat, and according to Taywell, requires a sizeable amount of sugar to give it a flavour kick.

The only product developed specifically for the kosher market is Antonio Russo - which doesn't play on the healthy schtick. "We wanted to be an indulgent option for those not eating dairy," says chief executive David Russell. The company aimed to make its product as creamy as real dairy ice cream. This iced dessert is based on soya plus responsibly sourced palm oil, which does give it a pretty creamy finish and a full flavour, allowing them to keep sugar levels at a lower level. The vanilla, chocolate and coffee flavours they launched with have been joined by apricot and strawberry.

JC Food called in several iced desserts to see which ones are worth serving up after Friday night's roast chicken dinner. (It's a tough job…) Here are the results:

We tasted four vanillas of which the unexpected winner was Swedish Glace - pale yellow with plenty of black vanilla specks. Winning plaudits for its creamy flavour, its high-ish sugar content (24g of its 100g - and 14g per two scoops) is likely to win over any taste bud. Antonio Russo's Vanillato had plenty of vanilla specks and also won praise for creaminess. Unsurprisingly, given their coconut base, the Sweet Rebellion and COYO products were noticeably coconut-ty but refreshing. The latter was far less sweet - which one taster loved. ("It felt like you could treat yourself to this and not feel too bad.") Booja Booja's cashew base gave a powdery mouth-feel - not to everyone's taste. Each would work well on the side of a parev fruit crumble or mixed with crushed, parev biscuits.

Of four chocolate flavours there were two stand-out winners - Booja Booja's Hunky Punky Chocolate (creamy and very chocolate-y) and Antonio Russo's Belgian Dark Chocolate (orangey zing and tiny chocolate chips).

Other flavours tasted were Sweet Rebellion's Peanut Butter - the only peanut butter one out there; Booja Booja's Pompompous Maple (complete with a topping of chopped nuts) and Feisty Rollercoastery Ginger flavours (with real ginger heat) and Coconut Hullaballoo (the coconut really worked in this); Antonio Russo's Caribatto coffee flavour (made with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - and the proud holder of a well-deserved Great Taste Award); and COYO's raw chocolate. There were mixed reactions - ginger and coffee are not to everyone's taste - but each had a supporter.

Other brands worth looking out for are Almond Dream (in flavours like mint chocolate, salted caramel and praline crunch) and the Coconut Collaborative's frozen coconut yoghurts - extremely refreshing.

For me, none replace old-fashioned ice cream, but they held their own and if you need a hot-weather, parev pud there's a whole lot more out there to choose from.

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