In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle finds herself dabbling in non-dairy options (for once!).
It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with dairy, and Irish dairy in particular. This isn’t just some temporary, casual crush, but rather a lifelong love affair that has only deepened over time as I’ve discovered the (largely inferior, to my mind) dairy products of other countries. I begin every day with a glass of kefir, rich in beneficial bacteria. I drink gallons of tea, every cup of which must include a splash of milk. Cheese is my favourite food and conversation topic. I spread butter as thick as my bread. I don’t remember my last dairy-less day.
Taking all of this into consideration, you’ll realise how genuinely surprised I am to find myself writing a column about dairy-free ice cream and chocolate. Nobó is a family-run Irish brand, its name a play on the Irish word for cow, bó. Rachel and Brian Nolan became interested in healthy eating alternatives when living in New York in 2009, when they noticed that neither of them felt particularly well after eating ice cream. They loved the idea of using “nutrient-rich, whole food ingredients like avocados and coconut milk,” to replace the animal fats in ice cream. When the couple came home to Ireland, they began experimenting in their own kitchen with a borrowed ice cream machine, trying to create an alternative made from just a few pure ingredients. After two years of testing the ice cream around Dublin farmers’ markets, Nobó was finally launched into retail outlets at the start of 2014.
The Nobó range is made from a unique blend of whole food ingredients including coconut milk and avocado, and sweetened with either honey or coconut sugar, depending on the flavour. It includes no gums or stabilisers, which is unusual in ice cream. As Rachel tells me, “Nobó is made from ingredients that everyone knows, with nothing strange hidden in it. We really liked the idea of creating creaminess with avocado as it’s such a nutritious way to do that; because it’s plant-based, it’s made of monounsaturated fats, which are much better for you. Our ice cream also doesn’t contain any refined sugar or dairy. A lot of our customers have mentioned that dairy doesn’t agree with them, or triggers sinus problems, so this is an alternative that many people can enjoy.”
Brian and Rachel aren’t always dairy-free themselves but — having noticed that they feel better with more variety and less dairy in their diet — they focus on eating lots of vegetables, fruit and wholesome plant-based foods, without adhering to strict rules. This is a fitting match with Nobó’s main customer, who isn’t necessarily one who needs to cut out dairy due to allergies, but is instead that very modern consumer who actively chooses healthier alternatives and appreciates foods with high-quality, natural ingredients.
“We are seeing huge interest from this health-conscious consumer who is simply looking for a treat made from real whole foods, not processed ingredients that they have never heard of. Because Nobó tastes just as good (and we’re often told better!) than dairy ice cream, many customers are buying it simply because they love how it tastes. In fact, our Fresh Lemon flavour was judged to be one of the top 50 foods in the UK and Ireland at the Great Taste Awards, with our Irish Salted Caramel flavour also collecting three stars.” As a shopper who pays a lot of attention to ingredient lists myself, I know that a short ingredient list comprised of whole foods is infinitely more appealing than other non-dairy ice cream brands, which can list over 20 ingredients including several different types of sugars, gums and stabilisers.
So — for a self-confessed dairy addict — what’s the verdict? I’ll admit I was skeptical as to whether this “frozen goodness” could stand up to real, good-quality ice creams. Luckily, that skepticism turned out to be wholly unnecessary. Nobó’s creamy mouthfeel is — honestly — so close to that of dairy ice cream that I’m doubtful whether I could tell the difference in a blind taste test. All of the flavours are delectable but, when it comes to choosing my favourite, I’m torn between the Salted Caramel — rich and luxurious — and the zingy Fresh Lemon. While it’s safe to say I won’t be tackling my dairy addiction any time soon, I can definitely see Nobó being my secret weapon in the future when entertaining those friends of mine who are vegan, lactose intolerant or gluten-free. My recipe for Nobó salted caramel affogato is the ideal guilt-free dessert for the bleak month of January: low in fat and calories, made from whole foods, and wonderfully adult after the child-focused run-up to Christmas!
This year, Brian and Rachel have added Nobó chocolates to their range, closely following the same ethos: creamy and indulgent, but lower in sugar than regular milk chocolate and made from just five ingredients: cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, coconut sugar, cashew nut butter and coconut. The chocolate is currently available in single-serving discs, but in 2018 the range will grow to include bars of different sizes.