Wait, What Is Nice Cream?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

My first experience with “nice” ice cream was 10 years ago on a family vacation in Hawaii. The hotel served some type of magical dairy-free pineapple soft-serve, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they made it. So I ate as much of it as I could before the trip was over, then promptly resumed my nightly Graeter’s habit upon our return home to Cincinnati. I figured the magical stuff could only be created in the tropical oasis that is Maui.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I tried out a Yonanas machine, that I was reminded of the dreamy soft-serve. In went a frozen banana and chopped frozen pineapple, and out came shockingly creamy soft-serve — immediately transporting me back to the beaches of Hawaii. I was hooked, and I wasn’t alone. In recent years, fruit-based ice cream has taken the health food world by storm. The most popular iteration has a base of frozen banana, which makes for the creamiest treat.

Nice Cream’s Banana Beginnings

Although “nice cream,” as the fruit-based ice cream has been coined, only became a mainstream term earlier this year, the concept itself is far from new. Faith, Kitchn’s editor-in-chief, first shared a recipe for it back in 2014, after her sister introduced her to the one-ingredient delight. And it’s not hard to see why it’s been gaining steam every since. Unlike most ice cream recipes, this one doesn’t require an ice cream maker. The trusty food processor can transform sliced frozen bananas into a whipped, custard-like dessert in mere minutes. Of course, there are endless ways to adapt the classic recipe. (Here are five of our favorites.)

Okay, But What Exactly Is Nice Cream?

Banana-based ice cream may be the original nice cream, but the term has come to represent any fruit-based, vegan, dairy-free treat free from artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and added sugar. Take our new three-ingredient mango and strawberry nice creams, for example. A banana is added to each to ensure a creamy texture, but the other fruits are the stars of the show.

The technique is so popular that there are entire cookbooks and even brick-and-mortar ice cream stores dedicated to the stuff. In her book Guilt-Free Nice Cream, author Margie Broadhead describes nice cream as a “healthy, banana-based alternative to ice cream, which happens to also be delicious and super easy and quick to make.” In Nice Cream: 30 Guilt Free Banana Ice Cream Desserts, author Dani Spies defines nice cream as “a low-calorie, low-fat, plant-based alternative to traditional ice cream that also happens to be delicious and packed with nutrients.”

What About All These New “Light” Ice Creams? Are They Nice Creams?

Freezer aisles are now filled with pints advertising their ice cream as “light,” “high-protein,” “low-calorie,” “good-for-you” alternatives to ice cream. But, by our definition, not all are nice creams. That’s right — the Halo Tops and coconut-based vegan ice creams (often filled with added sugar or sugar substitutes) of the world are not nice creams. The only commercial products that comes to mind as nice creams are Daily Harvest’s Nice Cream Sundaes, made primarily with banana, cauliflower, and a variety of nuts, and sweetened with dates.

Looking to jump on the nice cream train? The best way to get on board is to make it yourself. Check out all our recipes below.