Once upon a time I was asked to write about Vegan Halo Top’s release for Spoon University. Although I have a history of disliking Halo Top’s marketing for a variety of reasons, my curiosity was instantly peaked. I had to know what the hype was about.
So for those who, like me, find themselves curious about the new non-dairy Halo Top flavors but are a bit hesitant to spend $5-8 on a pint of heavily-marketed frozen dessert, I thought I’d share my review to help you decide if it’s worthy of your time.
What Is Vegan Halo Top?
Halo Top has built a brand on a highly-effective marketing campaign of being the ultimate ‘guilt-free’ ice cream. It was one of the first well-received ‘low-calorie’ ice creams on the market (sorry Arctic Zero..), and has embedded itself into pop food culture alongside avocado toast and matcha lattes.
Halo Top advertises the calorie count of the entire pint right smack dab front and center of the packaging, and flaunts a high-protein content.
Non-dairy Halo Top is a coconut-milk based version of the original (280-360 calories per pint), with similar calorie counts and slightly lower protein contents (12 grams per pint versus 20 grams per pint).
Vegan Halo Top currently comes in 7 flavors: Caramel Macchiato, Chocolate, Chocolate Covered Banana, Peanut Butter Cup, Oatmeal Cookie, Sea Salt Caramel, and Cinnamon Roll.
The base appears to be a mix of coconut cream and water, and the dessert also contains prebiotic fiber (a thickener), organic cane sugar, erythritol (a calorie-free sugar alcohol), rice protein, pea protein, carob gum and guar gum (for thickness, I presume), stevia, and other ingredients that vary by flavor.
My Previous Distaste Of the Brand, Explained:
I have history of expressing irritation at the Halo Top marketing strategy. I don’t like the thought of demonizing or glorifying any foods, let alone my beloved ice cream. I don’t think we should feel guilty for eating regular ice cream, and I don’t think it’s wise, even if a food happens to be low-calorie, to disengage from internal hunger and fullness cues and give yourself permission to eat a whole pint.
Because the reality is, you should always give yourself permission to eat whatever sounds good to you in whatever amount satisfies your tastebuds and your tummy, whether it be a large salad as a snack, a piece of pie for breakfast, or a large scoop of your favorite ice cream whenever a craving hits.
And you should also give yourself permission to stop if you’re full or things start not tasting so good. I can eat sweet potatoes until next Thursday and not tire of them, but often when I’m eating very rich foods, like ice cream or doughnuts, my taste buds will get over them and my stomach will tell me to stop. And I think it’s best I listen to my body.
This is what I’ve disliked for so long about Halo Top’s marketing: it presents itself as the angel among a devil-like group of foods, when really ‘real’ ice cream is just that: real ice cream. Delicious, rich, and satisfying.
Despite all of this, I still wanted to give Halo Top a try. I had always been curious: Okay, just how good can this stuff be? What could it possibly even taste like?
I had to know.
I pitched the idea of a review to my editors at Spoon, who approved the idea,* I went out into the world that very next weekend, only to find some pints of vegan Halo Top scattered among the original versions at my local Whole Foods. I picked up a single pint, put it in my cart, and went on my way.
*the review never ended up happening because apparently another Spoon writer reached out to HT to do a review and was sent a bunch of samples, but i decided to do my own on my blog
General First Impression
Let me preface this by saying I love ice cream. Ice cream is probably my favorite dessert, and holds a special sentimental place in my heart as it’s a dessert I cherish many fond memories over enjoying with my dad growing up.
When it comes to ice cream preference, I go two ways: either I want rich, thick, dense hard-packed ice cream, loaded with texture (nuts, chocolate, cookies, candy, etc) or an airy soft serve that begins to melt the second it makes contact with the tongue.
So when I peeled back the golden foil from my Halo Top, I was pretty ready to be disappointment. After all, how could they manage such a low calorie count without making something completely fake-tasting, icy, or overly-artificially-flavored? It seemed like a near mathematical impossibility to me.
Throughout my trial and error with Halo Top, however, I settled upon something: it’s not ice cream. It will never be ice cream. It’s something else. It’s flavored fluff. And it’s delicious. Read on for details…
Right off the bat it was obvious that the texture of Halo Top is far different from that of a full-fat ice cream. This frozen dessert (I’m still not calling it ice cream) was almost fluffy when pulled from the carton with a spoon. I can best compare the mouthfeel of vegan Halo Top to that of marshmallow fluff or barely-thawed frozen Cool Whip. It’s aerated, light, and melts in the mouth.
The texture allows the flavor hits your palate in layers; first you just taste sticky cold and a hint of sweet. As it quickly melts on your tongue, you’re hit with a flood of de-fattened peanut butter, or cinnamon, it whatever flavor it is you happen to be eating. It’s almost soft-serve like, but with a quicker dissemination on the tongue.
Halo Top is a sweet treat but not overly so. I was quite worried the stuff would reek of nauseating over-artificial sweetness or leave your mouth feeling glowy as artificial sugar alcohols so often do.
The actual level of sweetness, however, is decently balanced. It’s certainly sweet, but not so sweet it’s inedible (as I find the non-dairy flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to be…sorry Ben & Jerry I so badly wanted to like you…).
As you swallow, you get a subtle lingering taste of artificial sugar alcohols, just slightly drying yet peaking your palate for more. The artificial taste is oddly not off-putting, but rather comforting and reminiscent of something semi-artificial you ate at sleepovers during childhood.
As a texture junky, particularly when it comes to ice cream, this was the element of Halo Top I found most disappointing.
To me, when you a flavor has the word cookie in the title, I anticipate there will be chunks of cookie in the tub. This is not really the case with Halo Top. At first I was upset, but realized perhaps I misunderstood their concept. Maybe, after all, it was cookie-flavored-fluff, not ice-cream-filled-with-cookies. More on this is the flavor-by-flavor review below.
Slight misbranding aside, once I accepted this was not what Halo Top brought to the table, I was able to go back to enjoying it, reasoning I had the power (albeit less convenient) to add my own cookie pieces, chocolate chunks, candies, and whole nuts, especially since I am not concerned with keeping the calorie count of my desserts low as I’m not trying to lose weight or micromanage my body size.
By the Flavor:
Since their launch, I’ve tried 4 flavors of non-dairy Halo Top. Below you can find my take on each I’ve had so far. I’d like to try more, but haven’t been able to find several of them. I’m also hoping they develop some of their other flavors (like cake batter or candy pieces) into non-dairy versions.
This was my first Halo Top experience, and my first dance with disappoint. Allow me to explain: I love oatmela cookies. the chewiness and moistness and soft crumb are what I dream of in a cookie, and I envisioned how wonderfully chunks of such a thing would taste dropped into ice cream.
To my sadness, there were no chunks in this flavor. Not a one. Rather, there were seemingly random oats floating within the fluff; oats which were dry and distracting rather than plush, scrumptious and experience-enhancing cookie chunks I had envisioned. Sigh.
The cloud-like texture and light sweet cinnamon flavor, however, brought my Spoon back into the point, digging for chunks, then cycling from anger, denial (no, there HAS to be chunks in here), to eventual acceptance of Halo Top as it was.
This flavor was just okay. It tasted nice on top of a German chocolate cake I made. I used it in place of whipped topping and for that, it served it’s purpose. Probably wouldn’t buy this flavor again.
Peanut Butter Cup
Peanut Butter Cup was the second flavor I tried; I was hoping for redemption after my original cookie-less-Oatmeal Cookie letdown. Peanut Butter Cup had promises of two things I adore: peanut butter and chocolate. It certainly had to be good, right?
When I opened my second tub, I feel as if my expectations were more realistic. While I had a glimmer of hope that perhaps there were, in fact, real pieces of crushed candy in the frozen fluff, I knew there was a decent chance that would not be the case.
It was not the case. After emitting a sigh over the matter, I dug in with my spoon, ready to explore exactly what this had to offer instead.
It was at this point that I came to terms with the fact that Halo Top is not the texture-ridden, chocolate-and-nut-candy-packed ice cream I typically enjoy. It’s different. It’s fluff. That said, it’s weirdly enjoyable flavored fluff with miscellaneous swirly streaks and mysterious flecks of goo, and the occasional chunk if you picked up the right variety.
And that’s okay. It was halfway deep through the Peanut Butter Cup exploration that I mentally classified Halo Top as a separate food. It’s not ice cream, that was for certain. It’s not really even froyo or soft serve. It’s frozen flavored fluff. And oddly, I dig it.
Now. I’m not entirely sure what the base flavor was trying to taste like in this pint. There was a clearly defined peanut butter swirl which tasted like someone thinned out the insides of a Reece’s cup and rolled it into a thin strip that they decided would taste great in frozen fluff. But the fluff, itself, was confusing to me. Was it chocolate flavored? Was it peanut butter flavored? Was it somewhere in the middle?
I never reached a conclusion. I did, however, draw 3 conclusions during the consumption of Peanut Butter Cup: 1) I really liked the hard sweet peanut butter frozen-frosting-like swirl, 2)The flavored fluff in this pint is meh, and 3) I would maybe buy this flavor again and 4) This tastes way better with actual chopped up peanut butter cups added to it (obviously).
Chocolate Covered Banana
I was wary about this one. While I an bonkers for bananas, I vehemently oppose artificial banana-flavored things.
Originally, I wasn’t even going to try it, but when Halo Top went on sale for $2.88 per pint at my local grocery store, this was the only vegan flavor I find in the bin besides Caramel Machiato. I went with Chocolate Covered Banana because for a fleeting moment I forgot it was likely banana-flavored and envisioned chocolate-dipped banana pieces in ice cream (back to my rookie-Halo Top-misunderstanding-ways) and I tend to dislike coffee ice-cream.
The verdict: it does have that artificial banana taste, reminiscent of banana-flavored Laffy Taffy. If you’re into that kind of thing, this flavor is for you. If you’re like me and a banana purist, I’d pick another flavor.
One clear strength of this point was the chocolate fudge swirl. This swirl Halo Top did not skimp upon, at least in my pint. There was ample chocolate fudge, albeit it syrupy, throughout the fluff.
I ended up hating the artificial flavor less than I normally do, perhaps as means to justify the money spent, adding chocolate chips and coconut whipped cream to temper the strong fake banana flavor.
This variety I wouldn’t buy again. Texture still on point, but not a flavor my tastebuds care for.
This is by far my favorite of the four flavors I have tried. Unlike oatmeal cookie and peanut butter cups, Cinnamon Roll actually contains little chunks of….something. No, it’s not quite cinnamon roll pieces; rather, tiny balls of chewy cinnamon sweetness with a doughy texture float throughout the pint alongside a cinnamon sugary swirl.
It’s just enough textural contrast to keep you committed. I don’t need to add anything to this flavor (though it does taste good with crushed vanilla Joe Joe’s/Oreo’s). The base flavor itself, a sweet vanilla cinnamon, is superior in taste to Oatmeal Cookie, Peanut Butter Cups, and Chocolate Covered Banana in terms of palatability. Of the flavors, it also has the least ‘fake’ aftertaste.
I would buy this one again and again. Fluffy, cloudy, dreamy cinnamon sweet goodness. Excellent topper for pie or ice cream or on top of an iced coffee (yes, I went there).
I went into this experiment curious but cautious, with my guard up high. I desperately wanted to write off Halo Top as a literal and figurative nasty marketing scam, but I emerge with a nuanced understanding of the obsession, and would like to make a public profession: I am a fan.
I want to try them all, especially the salted caramel if I ever come across it. I am even going so far to say I have stalked their flavors site and am hoping and praying they veganize other flavors, especially vanilla bean, lemon cake, birthday cake, pistachio, chocolate almond crunch, candy bar, and particularly pancakes and waffles.
And here I stand, a changed woman, humbled by Halo Top. I shouldn’t have judged you by your cover. And while I still dislike your anti-intuitive eating, diet-culture-contributing marketing style, I want to eat all the fluff I can get my sticky little paws on. Spoons up.