I'm a big fan of green tea ice cream. This summer, I've been looking for matcha-flavored vegan ice cream everywhere. Even in Tokyo, it was nowhere to be found. The dream of a new healthy, non-dairy version continued to churn in my mind. Now, it’s in my freezer waiting for you to try!
What is green tea ice cream?
When you think of Japanese desserts, ice cream might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Japanese ice cream? Is it sushi flavored?
Now if we're talking specifically about ice cream, green tea is probably the flavor that most people would associate with Japan.
Green tea ice cream is flavored with matcha, a high quality green tea that comes in powdered form.
If you can read Japanese, you’ll see that it’s more specifically called matcha (抹茶) ice cream. The name “green tea ice cream” is a simplified translation for the overseas market or tourists in Japan.
In Japan, you’ll find two types of green tea ice cream.
Matcha soft serve
The first is green tea soft serve, referred to as matcha sofuto kurimu (抹茶ソフト クリーム) in Japanese English.
It tastes mildly bitter with very subtle earthiness, not too sweet– similar to a good iced matcha latte.
In popular tourist destinations like Kamakura, you can even order matcha soft serve according to how much matcha is in it, from regular to strong flavor (濃い koi). You choose from a scale: the more matcha that's added, the deeper the green color and stronger the flavor.
Fun fact: Barack Obama visited Kamakura in 2010 to relive his childhood memory of eating green tea ice cream at the “Big Buddha” statue.
Matcha hard ice cream
Just like any other flavor of ice cream, it comes in a cone or a dish with a spoon.
I remember when I went to Gunma prefecture, my okaasan would buy green tea-flavored Häagen-Dazs ice cream cups for after dinner.
Häagen-Dazs is probably the most well-known brand of hard ice cream in Japan nationwide. Green tea is one of their top three most popular flavors.
I also just checked out Baskin Robbins’ Japanese website- matcha green tea is one of their 31 flavors.
Is green tea ice cream good for you?
No, regular green tea ice cream that you might find at the supermarket isn’t good for you.
Just like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, it's made with the same full-fat cream and lots of added sugar.
That's why it tastes so good!
To learn how to make your own matcha-flavored hard ice cream that's actually healthy, find the recipe below!
What is green tea ice cream made of?
Just like any typical flavor of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry), green tea ice cream is made with the same basic ingredients: whole milk, heavy (whipping) cream, lots of sugar, and added flavor.
Green tea ice cream is flavored with matcha powder just like vanilla ice cream is flavored with vanilla bean.
Salt or some form of alcohol (vodka, vanilla extract) are other ingredients that are typically added to ice cream. These change the freezing temperature of the mixture.
Make green tea ice cream healthy!
My mission when creating my vegan version was to make a green tea ice cream that's non-dairy and contains no added refined sugar.
If possible, I wanted to avoid food additives like guar gum or xanthan gum.
I added the least amount of natural sweetener, honey, possible and still have it taste like an indulgent dessert.
You should enjoy eating this and not have to feel even a little bit guilty.
Plus, there are a lot of lactose intolerant people and they shouldn’t be left out!
Alternative ingredients for vegan ice cream
If you're 100% vegan, this recipe needs one slight alteration.
I used honey, which I hadn't realized isn't vegan.
I used coconut cream as my base. If you have an allergy to coconut, there are some other options besides coconut cream.
As a guideline, the higher fat content, the better. Think heavy cream.
I'm not certain that other non-dairy milks are thick enough to work for making ice cream, though it’s worth the try.
The most common alternative I see being used is cashew nut milk, which I tend to avoid because cashews are high in carbs.
Using avocado or banana as a base are two other non-dairy options.
Best ingredients for vegan green tea ice cream
- Walnut milk- I make my own by blending walnuts with water. Soaking the walnuts overnight is optional. I don't.
- Banana- I added banana for some added flavor and sweetness. Banana was the secret ingredient that makes this vegan recipe taste like real ice cream or gelato.
- Coconut Cream- I use full-fat coconut cream. Coconut milk is too thin– it doesn't contain enough fat to get that nice creamy texture. This is the coconut cream brand I used.
- Avocado- adds some natural sweetness and subtle flavor to help balance out the coconut flavor. Avocado’s healthy fats also help to make your ice cream extra creamy and satisfying.
- Coconut Oil- The high fat content with some added coconut oil helps to firm up ice cream. Also, the MCT oil in coconut oil is so good for you!
- Honey- is my sweetener of choice. I use local honey. To make this 100% vegan, try your maple syrup or your favorite sweetener that doesn’t come from bees.
- Matcha- I used good quality matcha but not the most expensive. You can adjust the. amount according to your preference. I also like to mix it with honey to make a matcha syrup to drizzle on top.
After doing some research, I realized that making vegan ice cream the first time isn’t easy.
Even the pros at Ben and Jerry's and Häagen-Dazs say it was challenging to replicate the ice-creamy magic of real dairy with plant-based fats and proteins.
I didn't give up. That little ice cream-loving boy inside of me whispered, 'Keep trying'.
Instead, I rolled up my sleeves and ordered an ice cream maker on Amazon.
What if I don't own an ice cream maker?
I assume you don't own one, but you can still make really good matcha ice cream.
If you don’t own an ice cream maker, this post has some helpful tips.
One tip I read on Minimalist Baker is to remove the chilled mixture from the freezer and stir /whisk to incorporate air every hour. Repeat until mostly firm: 6-8 hours. Continue freezing until completely firm before serving.
It won’t yield as creamy results, but it should still work.
Taking something out of the freezer and mixing it on the hour may not be feasible, especially if you have kids!
I never imagined that I’d ever invest in an ice cream maker, but I’m glad I did.
The best ice cream maker to buy
This is the ice cream maker I bought in Japan. It was only about $20.
If you're ok with spending a bit more more, Just One Cookbook used this ice cream maker for years. It's currently "Amazon's Choice".
A step up from the Cuisinart, is this more convenient ice cream maker. It's an investment but doesn't require overnight pre-freezing like mine does.
Once you try making ice cream without an ice cream maker, you'll understand why it's so nice to have one.
But don't let not owning one stop you. You gotta try this recipe!
Vegan Matcha Ice Cream
- ice cream maker
- ⅜ cup chopped walnuts*
- ⅜ cup water
- ½ avocado
- ⅓ banana
- ¾ cup coconut cream
- ½ tbsp coconut oil
- 3 tsp matcha
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp matcha
- Put ice cream maker tub in freezer one day ahead (12 hours +)
Blending the Mixture
- Add chopped walnuts and water to blender.
- Blend walnuts and water until the mixture becomes milky.
- Add coconut cream and coconut oil to blender.
- Slice avocado and banana– add to blender.
- Add honey and matcha powder to blender.
- Blend mixture until smooth.
Churning Ice Cream
- Remove ice cream maker tub from the freezer.
- Pour ice cream mixture into the tub.
- Follow the directions for your ice cream maker.
- After churning ice cream, spoon into a freezer safe pan.
- Gently smooth the top surface of the ice cream with a spoon or knife.
- Cover with air-tight lid and place in the freezer.
- Freeze until the consistency of ice cream. (Check every ½ hour - hour.)
- Mix matcha and honey in a small dish with a spoon.
- Drizzle on top of ice cream.
Tips for making vegan matcha ice cream
#1 - Plan ahead. While you can keep vegan ice cream in the freezer for about a week, it's tastes best when it’s freshly made. I make it for dessert, same day, and then use whatever is left over to add to my green smoothies for breakfast during the week.
#2 - Rock solid. The large amount of sugar added to regular ice cream helps keep ice cream soft. Because I don't want to add all that sugar, my healthy, low sugar version freezes solid like a brick! That's another reason why I recommend eating it fresh. Still, you can thaw it out until it's soft enough to scoop.
#3 - Good quality ingredients. For this recipe to turn out, it's important that you find the right coconut cream (not coconut milk). The next most important ingredient is the matcha- it's key that you find some decent quality matcha powder. You can read my recommendations for brands of matcha below.
What kind of matcha should I use?
Outside of Japan, I've noticed that there are three categories of matcha.
The lowest grade is cooking/culninary matcha for making desserts. There's premium grade matcha for drinking it straight or making matcha lattes. Then, there's "ceremonial" grade matcha to use for tea ceremonies or special occasions.
Ceremonial grade matcha that you see on supermarket shelves outside Japan may be better quality or it may be just marketing to justify a higher price.
When I choose matcha, I look for organic and make my judgement based on taste.
For this recipe, I recommend buying decent quality matcha or what you can afford.
Where can I buy matcha?
These are the two matcha companies that I order from:
Suisouen Organic Matcha can be purchased at www.suisouen.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
Suisouen matcha is now also available on Rakuten.(English and Japanese)
Rakuten prices are slightly more expensive than ordering directly.
In the United States—
I tried Rishi brand, which was surprisingly pretty good.
I found Rishi matcha at the local co-op (natural foods store) and at Whole Foods.
In our globalized world, you may be able to find good quality Japanese matcha at your local supermarket.
I’m sure there are other good brands as well. Let me know if you need help!
Shopping Tip: By the smallest size you can find. Once you open the package, matcha will only last a few weeks max. Exposure to air causes it to oxidize. The bright green color will fade and it’s taste will go bad.
THE LESSON I LEARNED...
I’ve found that every recipe for my blog teaches me a new lesson.
Every creation is the result of a process of trial and error, a string of successes and flops.
Have you ever listened to that Steve Jobs Stanford graduation speech?
This is the part that stuck with me:
"Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
Now that I'm done with this recipe, I'm looking back at all the dots.
I started making "healthy ice cream" because I had a leftover can of coconut milk and a half of an avocado from when I was working on my brain food smoothie recipe back in July.
My mom has a Vitamix blender, which I loved being able to use while I was home in the US. Because I was flying back to Japan, I didn't want the coconut milk to go waste.
As a quick solution, I blended together the two ingredients together and added a little bit of honey. I threw it in the freezer and ate it straight from the container for dessert that night.
I thought, 'Hey, that's actually not bad!'
It's now mid September. I finally finished perfecting this recipe, now that's it's practically autumn.
My mom owning a Vitamix and me having leftover ingredients were just the first two dots connecting.
What you're seeing in this post is the final product.
What you're not seeing is all the little coincidences, the influence from others, inspiration, and "mistakes" that led up to this recipe turning out so amazingly well.
It's getting harder and harder for me to take credit for these recipes.
More and more, it feels like the universe is magically connecting one dot to the next for me.
All I have to do is be open, keep moving forward, and not give up when it feels like this damn recipe is never going to turn out right.
Because at one point, it felt like it was never going to turn to be more than a sloppy, light-green-colored disaster!
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You have to trust that dots will somehow connect.
From my experience, they will. Just keep moving forward.