Paleo Ice Cream, how we love it! Creamy and smooth, richly flavored or with subtle notes, with fruit or cocoa, flecked with dark chocolate or streaked with syrup. Fresh from the ice cream machine or chilled in popsicle moulds for later. Whatever your preference, Paleo ice cream is too decadent not to explore. It’s not difficult to make – all you need are three or four ingredients – but there is one big secret that you need to know.
Problems, and the Secret to Making Perfect Paleo Ice Cream
This is our second summer of exploring dairy free Paleo ice cream made with coconut milk. The Ice Cream Machine is, without doubt, one of the best kitchen appliances we’ve ever bought. We’ve made some beauties, but it’s been the less-than-satisfying batches which have sent us reeling around Google to find out what went wrong. The problems we’ve come across are:
- The ice cream doesn’t set, but remains liquid like a granita, or
- It forms a thick wall of ice on the sides and bottom of the cannister, forcing the blade to jump, or
- Both of these, at the same time.
At first, we thought it was either the water content or the viscosity of our mix. We use Aroy D cans of coconut milk and they’re not terribly consistent. Some have a lot of water, with just a little cream resting on the top, whilst others have so much cream that it sets like butter in the fridge. Some kinds of fruit, like strawberries, add a lot of water to the mix, whilst cocoa adds a lot of starch. Sometimes our base was so thick we’d sort of have to push it into the ice cream machine, and other times it would readily flow. But after a while we realised that neither the viscosity nor the water content was the problem. Rather, it was an issue of emulsion. On those occasions of less than satisfying homemade icecream it seems we hadn’t accounted for
- the ingredients that help the emulsification process, and/or
- the time in the blender necessary for the emulsification to occur
What’s an Emulsion?
An emulsion occurs when two substances which don’t naturally dissolve into each other, such as fat and water, are blended together through the intervention of an action and/or an agent. The classic example in the kitchen is that of a vinaigrette salad dressing. Oil (fat) and vinegar (water) don’t naturally combine. If you put these two ingredients into a jar, the oil floats to the top. But if you pop the lid on the jar and give it a good long shake, the liquids will break down into evenly distributed droplets. The vigorous movement has emulsified them – but only temporarily. If you leave the dressing undisturbed, the droplets will eventually separate back out into their original forms: oil and vinegar.
The separation occurs because there’s no added emulsifying agent to keep the separated droplets in suspension. An emulsifying agent is like a glue which coats the walls of the molecules and makes them stick to each other. If the yolk of an egg is added to the oil and vinegar then it’s a whole different story because the lecithin found in the egg yolk makes the oil and vinegar stick together. Mayonnaise is a great example of an emulsion. So is butter. And ice cream. All of these foods are essentially fat and water which have been blended together such that they’ve become one homogenous substance.
Common emulsifying agents in cooking are egg yolks, xanthum gum, agar agar and lecithin.
If you read the labels on your grocery items, you’ll find lecithin – usually soy lecithin – is everywhere. Yes, even in chocolate. The stabilising action of the emulsifiers give the products a long shelf life, so it’s a common ingredient in all manufacutured foods.
Egg Is the Perfect Ice Cream Emulsifier
A quick research around ice cream recipes reveals that many use egg as the emulsifyer. They start with an egg custard, then cool the custard in an ice bath before pouring it into the ice cream machine. You can see the process in this Caramel Ice Cream Recipe from Bon Appetit. It uses dairy milk and cream, but I’ve made egg custard using coconut milk, so I’m sure you could do the same for Paleo Ice Cream.
Thing is, we don’t want to explore the egg custard method because we’re too lazy and impatient. When we want gelato, we want it now. We want the whole process to be easy and fast, and we also want our gelato to be AIP. There are good reasons for avoiding the other common emulsifiers such as xanthum gum and agar agar – so what can we use instead?
Emulsifying Agents for Paleo Ice Cream
We’ve discovered that the two ingredients which create a perfectly emulsified, creamy, smooth, luscious, homogenised coconut milk icecream are exactly those same two ingredients which add natural sweetness:
- banana, and
With homemade Paleo ice cream, you’re not looking for long shelf life. You’re probably going to eat the whole lot in one or two sittings. What you need is something that is sticky enough to hold the fat and water molecules together long enough for them to be churned and chilled in the ice cream machine. Banana and honey provide the stickiness.
The only times our gelato hasn’t worked is when we’ve omitted these two ingredients, and when, at the same time, we haven’t let the blender run long enough to really break down the fat and water droplets into tiny particles.
The beauty of using banana and honey is that you get the sweetness at the same time as the emulsification, which means your ingredient list is minimal. Bear in mind that the level of sweetness is reduced when chilled. We’ve found that the perfect balance for our taste buds is 1 banana + 3 tablespoons of honey.
Won’t All My Ice Cream Taste of Banana?
We don’t find that the banana is overpowering. With a strong flavour, such as liquorice or cocoa, it’s not noticeable and with a delicate flavour, like strawberry or peach, the banana might be there as an undercurrent but it’s not overpowering. The gelato in the photos was made with the addition of a 1/4 teaspoon bourbon vanilla, and it was gorgeous – the vanilla shone through, not the banana. If your tastebuds are so refined as to be bothered by an undertone of banana, then I’d suggest embracing the concept of Banana Vanilla Ice Cream, and possibly streaking it with chocolate splinters by trickling teaspoonfuls of melted dark chocolate into the machine when the ice cream is close to setting. Yum. Ultimately, what’s important is that our treats are delicious and consist of real, uncomplicated, healthy food.
So What’s the Perfect Paleo Ice Cream Recipe?
The base of any gelato we make now is this:
- 1 can Aroy D Coconut Milk (chilled overnight)
- 1 Banana (frozen is best)
- 3 tablespoons of Honey
Put these three ingredients in the blender, add optional flavorings of choice, and blend on high for a good long while. Then pour it into your chilled ice cream machine and let it do the work. Once it has taken on that wonderful, creamy texture and you can see that it’s stopped churning, serve it immedietely. (Sometimes the paddle might do a little jump to let you know it’s ready.) Place the remaining ice cream into popsicle moulds so you have ready-made treats for later.
We’ve used this base for making Chocolate, Banana, Choc-Banana, Strawberry, Peach, Stracciatella, Coffee, Mint, and Licorice Ice Cream, all with excellent results.
Looking forward to hearing what flavors you come up with!
On the Side
Soy Lecithin: Harmful or Harmless: all you need to know, by Chris Kresser
Emulsifying Technique: the molecular science of emulsification in cooking.
Is it Paleo? Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum and Lecithin, Oh My!: the Paleo low down on emulsifiers by Sarah Ballantyne.
I hope you find this post useful! Tag me on Instagram if you follow the base recipe here @paleomantic, and let me know how you go in the comments.
Thanks for hanging out here – don’t forget to sign up for the News and grab your Free Printables at the same time.
Big thanks for all your Shares on Social and for your Pins – every share helps spread the message about our Paleo Diet and Lifestyle.
And thanks for purchasing through the Affiliate Links here, whereby you, of course, never pay more, and the small commissions help keep the blog sustainable, and keeps the information freely circulating for all.
Best Wishes, Good Health and Happiness.
- 1 can chilled coconut milk
- 1 banana
- 3 tablespoons honey
- water for thinning if necessary
- Make sure your ice cream machine has chilled in the freezer for 48 hours.
- Place all ingredients into a blender and process on high for at least 1½ minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is too thick for pouring, and then process thoroughly again.
- Pour into the ice cream machine and churn until set, about 20 minutes.
- Serve immedietely. Place any remaining ice cream into popsicle moulds and freeze immedietely.
- Note: Use this as your base recipe, and simply add other flavourings to the blender as desired eg ¼ cup cocoa or carob, 300 grams strawberries.