Earlier this summer, my Instagram feed started blowing up with early morning shots of food bloggers eating chocolate ice cream in bed, and beautiful purple scoops topped with granola alongside coffee. After skimming over captions highlighting some combination of "vegan," "paleo," "superfoods," and "breakfast ice cream," my low-key lusting quickly morphed into nutritional skepticism.
All the 'grams were of the same brand: A frozen, dairy-free superfood fuel called Snow Monkey that, it turns out, is actually intended to be eaten for breakfast.
Now, I'm a lactose-intolerant chocoholic. So if someone says "dairy-free" and "ice cream," my brain is already trying to calculate how quickly I can get to the closest Whole Foods to pick up a pint. But I was also doubtful: Most healthy ice creams or nice creams are packed with unhealthy additives and don't even taste good enough to warrant the indulgence.
So where does Snow Monkey fall on the spectrum of both health and taste? We tapped a few nutritionists and a few taste testers to answer both.
How does it taste?
For starters, despite what the marketing says, I wouldn't classify Snow Monkey as an ice cream. (The packaging refers to it as a "superfood ice treat.") Our squad of taste testers (most of whom weren't health editors, so therefore have much more judgmental taste buds about sugar-free, dairy-free, general excitement-free foods) all agreed that if you're craving Ben & Jerry's, Snow Monkey isn't going to cut it as an alternative to actual ice cream.
But they also agreed that both the Cacao and Goji Berry are pretty tasty when you think of them like a smoothie bowl—which, in fairness, for a lot of health nuts totally passes as ice cream. The Cacao tastes quite like a healthy chocolate banana smoothie, while the Goji Berry is well-balanced on the sweet-and-tart berry flavor. (The company only has these two flavors.)
And that's really the majority of Snow Monkey's angle anyway: They market themselves as a nutrient-packed, low-guilt sweet treat that can be scooped onto a cone or blended up like a smoothie bowl and topped with fruit, granola, and countless other Instagrammable toppings.
How healthy is it?
Hit the Snow Monkey site or pick up a pint and you'll see their main selling points are that this healthy ice cream is free of major allergens, packed with 20 grams of protein and a ton of fiber, and loaded with superfoods.
Shockingly, most of this actually holds up: "This is one of the first 'ice creams' in the vegan category that I've seen that doesn't have a ton of iffy ingredients in it. In fact, the ingredients aren't really anything you wouldn't or couldn't put into a smoothie at home," says Alix Turoff, R.D., nutritionist at Top Balance Nutrition in New York.
Most of the ingredients are recognizable—bananas, apple purée, protein powder, sunflower butter. And the only two questionable-sounding ones, acacia tree gum and guar bean gum, are totally fine, Turoff says. "Guar bean gum is a natural emulsifier that basically helps the ice cream to stay together, but it's perfectly healthy and I actually use it in my smoothies at home to prevent them from separating," she adds.
Another win for the treat: Both flavors have under 14 grams of sugar, most of which are from natural sources, points out New York–based nutritionist Tracy Lockwood, R.D. Compare that to Chobani fruit on the bottom yogurt, which has roughly 16 grams of sugar, or SO Delicious dairy-free ice cream, which boasts a similar sugar count but from cane syrup, and Snow Monkey actually fares better, Lockwood says.
One red flag: "I do find the marketing a bit misleading—they say '20 grams of protein' all over, but it's really 5 grams per serving," Turoff points out. She adds there are healthier ways to score 20 grams at a lower calorie and carb cost: One cup of lentils, for example, has as much protein as a pint, but at half the calories and two-third the carbs. (However, lentils aren't nearly as fun to eat or satisfying to a sweet tooth!)
Turoff adds that she loves that the protein comes from hemp seeds instead of soy, as vegans' diets tend to be pretty soy-heavy already. Plus, 5 grams of protein is a decent base for breakfast, as long as you add more protein-rich toppings, she says.
And the final word...
Overall, both nutritionists approve. "Ice cream for breakfast seems like it could get into the danger zone, but this brand has found a way to actually make this okay," Lockwood reassures.
Both nutritionists agree, though, that you need to add healthy fats (like nut butters, flaxseed, or chia seeds) and fiber to make this a complete meal or snack. And conveniently, our taste testers also agree Goji Berry should always and forever be eaten with almond butter (no but really, your taste buds will thank us).
While bloggers are creating some drool-worthy Snow Monkey food porn pics, Lockwood and Turoff say there are a few toppings you should steer clear of: granola and loads of fruit, since both add an unnecessary amount of sugar, as well as anything processed, as always (sorry, ice cream sandwich!).
Try it: Lockwood recommends crafting a PB&J bowl by topping one serving of Snow Monkey (that's half a cup) with 2 tablespoons of nut butter and 1/2 cup of blueberries. Or take two servings (1 cup) of either flavor and top it with 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 tablespoon spirulina, and 1 tablespoon nut butter, Turoff suggests.