In my Portland, Oregon household, we spend way more time thinking about and eating vegan ice cream than we probably should. And come January, we get very interested in what our local ice cream shop gone national is doing. Because since 2018, Salt & Straw has celebrated Veganuary by featuring five carefully crafted vegan flavors. Readers, act now. Because after January, your choices will shrink back down to just a couple of flavors.
A little background on Salt & Straw
Cousins Kim and Tyler Malek founded Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon in 2011. The cousins were big ice cream lovers who had never made ice cream before. Tyler spent $16 on four used ice cream makers and began experimenting in Kim’s basement. Kim financed their first cart. They asked Portland foodpreneurs — from farmers to brewers to chocolatiers — for advice.
They obviously had an innate skill for ice cream making, because almost immediately Salt & Straw became a big thing in Portland. It could be 43 degrees and raining, and Portlanders would still line up for ice cream. And when the sun came out — well, you’d better get to the scoop shop at an unconventional time for ice cream eating if you weren’t prepared to wait in a hellacious line.
Over the next decade, they added scoop shops in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Burlingame, Palo Alto, Seattle and Miami. Salt & Straw has even stormed the walls of the magical kingdom to sell cones at the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim and Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. Don’t be sad if you don’t live in any of these places. Because you can also order ice cream online.
Long lines, strange flavors
Why do people line up in front of this particular ice cream shop? The most important thing is their attention to sourcing the very best ingredients, especially when it involves partnering with another local business. For example, a Portland chocolate maker, brewer or, God forbid, butcher. Which brings us to the other reason, the hype of really strange flavors. I can’t tell you much about these, because I’m not going to eat bone marrow and smoked cherries, duck crackling with cherry preserves or fish sauce caramel with palm sugar. Even a vegan flavor like dill pickle sorbet I will quickly bypass on the way to something edible, such as chocolate.
This year’s Veganuary flavors
Fortunately, the ice cream making cousins realize that not everybody wants duck or fish sauce in their desserts. In fact, many of us don’t even want dairy. So the shops always have at least a couple of flavors for vegans. The freckled mint chocolate chip is usually available and is always a solid choice.
But ah, January. Let’s meet this year’s flavors.
As Salt & Straw explains Bananas Foster, “Our twist on an extravagant old school tableside dessert. We cook banana purée, rum, molasses and warm spices down to a luscious caramel.” This gets mixed into a banana-infused ice cream. I was a little afraid to try this one after experiencing Ben & Jerry’s too-sweet take on the flavor — that was a rare pint that sat unfinished in our freezer until we finally threw it out. So Delicious does a better job than Ben & Jerry’s with Banana Foster, but Salt & Straw does better still. The huge dollops of caramel in the pint are flavorful and sweet, but not so sweet they hurt your teeth.
Peanut Butter Brittle Fudge features one of my favorite combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. Yes, I know, I’ve managed to hold onto the same level of taste sophistication since I was a toddler. Which is why a lot of peanut butter ice cream gets consumed in my household. S&S uses a base of coconut vanilla ice cream, adding semi-sweet caramel fudge swirl and shards of peanut brittle. This is quite good. I like the texture of the peanut brittle. If I was making it, I’d add even more crispy shards.
Sorbet usually makes me angry. I mean, do I really need to eat a bowl of fruit juice concentrate? Plus it’s usually missing an essential ingredient: chocolate. S&S’s Chocolate Sorbet kicks the ass of all other sorbets. Instead of fruit, it’s made with vegan chocolate ganache, plus a little salt.
Our household is also well-acquainted with many takes on vegan milk and cookies ice creams. But the S&S version, Toasted Oat Milk & Cookies, is better than any you buy in the grocery store. It might be the cinnamon in the vanilla oat milk ice cream. Or it might be the hunks of chocolate ganache that are added in along with the chunks of chocolate chip cookies. This is my favorite of the flavors. It’s rich. Eat it slowly.
Just when the ice cream-obsessed vegan thinks she’s eaten every flavor invented, S&S comes up with something new. This year it’s Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Here’s how the makers explain it: “We created the ultimate red velvet trifecta by tossing bits of spongy home baked red velvet cake into a subtly sweet coconut ice cream infused with red velvet batter. Then we top it with hunks of red velvet cake slathered in tangy cream cheese frosting to add an extra layer of decadence and complexity.” If you’re a fan of traditional Southern red velvet cakes, get online and order now, before Veganuary ends.
Images via Salt & Straw