Food & Drink Meatless in Steer City

Dairy be damned - You scream, I scream, we all scream for Rice, uh, Soy Dream

For many years, vegans and the lactose-intolerant were outcasts relegated to the fringes of dessert society with the sorbet-lovers and the fruit-ice freaks. They watched like voyeurs as their milk-minded friends worked themselves into a lactose lather, licking ice cream cones, slurping chocolate malts, and devouring parfaits. When the ice cream truck puttered by their houses playing "In the Good Old Summertime," they could only sigh and gaze longingly out their living room windows as the neighborhood lined up for ice cream sandwiches and Fudgsicles. At birthday parties, their slices of cake stood alone and desolate on the plate without a goopy scoop of vanilla to lean on. It was a sad life, but the only one they had.

Non-dairy frozen desserts don't taste exactly like ice cream, but eat them too quickly and the headache is the same. (Photo by Melissa Santos)

In the '90s, also known as the Age of Dessert Enlightenment, companies started selling soy- and rice-based frozen desserts commercially. This meant you could buy them at your grocer instead of mail-ordering them from ads in Vegetarian Times, which felt as naughty as purchasing personal-pleasure products from the back of Rolling Stone.

Soy- and rice-based frozen desserts - often with names that rhyme with "cream" like Soy Dream and Rice Dream - have been engineered to taste and feel like ice cream. (Before the Häagen Dazs devotees stop reading, most of these non-dairy confections are low in cholesterol and saturated fat. What? You'd rather eat a pint of macadamia brittle? Hey, it's your heart attack.) A relapsed vegan, I and a lactose-intolerant friend sampled (over several days) Whole Soy's French vanilla, an espresso-flavored and fruit-sweetened dessert by It's Soy Delicious, and Tofutti Cuties, which resemble chocolate ice cream sandwiches. I also wallowed in a Rice Dream Pie. The criteria were taste, consistency, and the goop factor, meaning how the dessert melted in the bowl.

It's Soy Delicious
espresso non-dairy dessert
(1/2c) 130 cal, 3g fat, 0g sat fat,
0g cholesterol, 12g sugar

Whole Soy
organic cultured French vanilla
(1/2c) 120 cal, 1g fat, 0g sat fat,
0g cholesterol, 19g sugar

Tofutti Cuties
single serving, chocolate
130 cal, 5g fat, 1g sat fat,
0g cholesterol, 9g sugar

Rice Dream Pie
single-serving, vanilla
320 cal, 17g fat, 8g sat fat,
0g cholesterol, 12g sugar

Bravo! All exceeded expectations. Adequately sweet, but not cloying, the French vanilla tasted genuine (unlike low-grade ice creams) and the espresso packed the jolt of a cappuccino. While soy desserts carry a beany undertone, in these it didn't override the advertised flavor; nor did the fruit sweeteners - apple, pineapple, pear, and peach - conflict with the coffee. To the tongue, both desserts felt creamy without a hint of mealiness. The goop factor? Par excellance, with the perfect calibration of solid to melted dessert.

The only problem with Tofutti Cuties is the name: I feel like I should wear gingham while eating one. Nonetheless, these mini-sandwiches are a chocolate-lover's dream, with an old-fashioned chocolate sandwich on the outside and nearly imperceptible beaniness in the frozen chocolate filling, which isn't quite as creamy as the dairy version.

Yet, if you're looking for the Holy Grail of non-dairy desserts, look no farther than the Rice Dream Pie. Alone, Rice Dream tastes lighter than soy and has a thinner consistency, which I prefer if I'm not in the mood for a heavy dessert. But in mint, mocha, or vanilla, the Rice Dream Pie is heavy and rich, a single serving of rice dream enveloped in an oatmeal cookie that is encased in carob. Its primary ingredient is partially milled brown rice, but it also contains safflower and coconut oils, the main source of the pie's 17 grams of fat. Nonetheless, it's so good, eat one and then restrict yourself to dry spinach salads for a week.

Now, if only a Rice Dream truck would cruise through my neighborhood.

By Lisa Sorg

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