Coconut ice cream makes an excellent real food dessert. It’s bursting with healthy coconut oil, it’s allergy-friendly, and it can easily accommodate whatever substitutions you might want to make. Plus it’s a really fast dessert to make, which is a huge bonus when you’re already spending a lot of time making all of your meals from scratch.
I don’t remember when I first started making coconut ice cream, but I know that I’ve made hundreds of batches. Coconut ice cream is kind of my specialty. 🙂
One of the things that I really like about homemade ice cream is how forgiving it is. Unlike baked goods, your recipe can be a little bit off and still turn out. I also love how easy it is to experiment, since you can taste the ice cream before putting it in your ice cream maker. It does taste a little bit different than the finished results, but you can get a pretty good sense of whether you’ve created something great or disastrous. (And if it’s disastrous, you have plenty of time to course correct.)
So, instead of giving you a specific recipe for “how to make coconut ice cream,” I thought I’d fill you in on all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned so that you can develop your own recipe, or adapt a recipe that currently includes cow’s milk. (If you prefer to just follow a recipe, I’ll also link a few at the end.)
Basic Ingredients for Making Coconut Ice Cream
Coconut milk (or cream):
Coconut ice cream requires a good coconut milk. You can find coconut milk at health food stores, Asian markets, and some regular grocery stores. Look for a coconut milk that’s creamy and is preferably free of additives. (Don’t buy low-fat coconut milk!)
This brand of coconut milk is my personal favorite. It’s free of preservatives and any added gums/starches, and comes in a carton rather than a can.
In my experience, you’ll find the best prices on this coconut milk at your local Asian market. If that’s not an option, though, you can buy coconut milk online here.
For even creamier ice cream, you can use coconut cream instead of coconut milk. I like this brand of coconut cream. When I lived in Colorado, the coconut cream was the same price as the coconut milk, so I often picked the cream since I was essentially just getting more coconut for less money.
Sweetener of choice:
Next you need a sweetener. I exclusively use honey in my ice cream recipes because that’s the only sweetener that Jesse can tolerate. I like to use this raw honey, which I buy at Costco.
You, however, can choose whatever sweetener you prefer. To keep it healthier, I’d recommend using an unrefined sweetener, such as coconut sugar, maple syrup, or whole cane sugar.
If you want your ice cream to have less sugar, you can also use stevia for part of your sweetener. I recommend using part stevia and part another sweetener, as using 100% stevia tends to leave you with a strong aftertaste. You can read this post on substituting stevia for more info on using stevia in recipes.
Next you need to decide what ingredients you want to use to flavor your ice cream. Extracts are an excellent option here. I like to use extracts like vanilla, peppermint, orange and lemon.
You’ll need cocoa powder to make chocolate ice cream. I like to use raw cacao powder, but any cocoa powder will work. (If you go through a lot of cocoa powder, I highly recommend buying it in bulk–you’ll save a lot of money!)
Nut butters are another great option. I usually use organic peanut butter, but you can also use alternative nut butters like almond butter or cashew butter.
Fruit is also a wonderful flavoring agent. In my experience, you need it to be a fairly strong flavored fruit in order to be successful, as coconut has a pretty strong flavor on its own. I’ve had great success with strawberries, raspberries, and pineapple. Both fresh and frozen fruit will work. Since you’re going to be freezing the fruit anyway, though, I nearly always opt for frozen fruit since it is so much less expensive where I live.
If you’re using fruit, be sure you’re using a blender that’s high-powered enough to blend up your fruit.
Oh, and don’t underestimate the effect that salt can have. Some ice cream flavors, particularly chocolate varieties, really benefit from a pinch or two of salt.
Optional Chunky Add-ins (like chocolate chips, etc.)
Finally, you should decide if you want to add some texture to your ice cream in the form of chocolate chips or any other add-ins. I LOVE adding chopped chocolate to my ice cream recipes. Recently I’ve been using my homemade chocolate chip recipe. If you’re making a mint ice cream, chopping up these homemade mint chocolates is also delicious.
If you prefer your add-in to be a little fudgier, you can chop up and add in one of my healthy fudge recipes, like this coconut oil fudge.
As an alternative to a fruit-based ice cream, you can also instead use chopped fruit as an add-in, as I did in my chocolate chip and raspberry coconut ice cream. This can be a nice way to add a flavor burst without resorting to chocolate.
Tools You Need
Unless you’re making a fruit-based ice cream, you don’t NEED a blender to make coconut ice cream. However, I love using my blender because it’s so easy. Just dump everything in (except for chocolate chips, or anything else you want to stay solid) and blend until everything’s combined.
I have this high-powered blender, but any competent blender will work.
If you are making an ice cream with blended fruit, you will need a blender or something else capable of pulverizing your fruit.
Ice Cream Maker:
I always use an ice cream maker to make my coconut ice creams. From time to time someone will ask, “What if I don’t have an ice cream maker?” Honestly my first response is: get an ice cream maker! ? Seriously. If you like coconut ice cream and think you’ll make it regularly, an ice cream maker is 100% a worthwhile investment. We got this model for our wedding in 2008, and it probably made a few hundred batches of ice cream before it finally gave out in 2016.
I replaced it with this newer model, which I’ve been very happy with. My family LOVES ice cream, and since Jesse can’t eat any sweeteners other than honey, homemade ice cream is our only option. (Plus, have you seen the cost of coconut ice cream in the store? That stuff is expensive.)
If I haven’t convinced you, though, here’s a post from The Kitchn on how to make ice cream without a machine. Give some of their ideas a try and see what you think. I haven’t tried any of these methods myself, so I can’t comment on how well they’d work for coconut ice cream.
Ratios of Ingredients
Non-fruit Based Ice Creams
For ice creams that aren’t fruit-based, coconut milk will make up the largest volume of your ingredients. About 3 1/2 cups is usually a good amount to use. If you’re adding a lot of extra volume with other ingredients, you could consider starting with more like 3 cups.
Then you can add whatever flavoring agents you’re using. Since ice cream lets you easily taste and then adjust as you’re going along, it’s easy to play around with amounts here. In general, though, I recommend starting with the following amounts and then adjusting depending on what flavor of ice cream you’re going for:
- Cocoa powder: 1/2 cup
- Vanilla extract: 1 teaspoon
- Nut butter: 1/2 cup
- Honey or other sweetener: 1/3 cup
- Salt: a pinch
- Chocolate chips: 1 cup
This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it gives you a good starting point. With some ingredients, a little goes a long way, so make sure you start out small and then add more as necessary.
Fruit-based Ice Creams
For a fruit-based ice cream, I recommend instead using 2 cups of coconut milk and then 1-2 cups of fruit to taste. You will also need less honey, depending on how sweet your fruit is.
You will also want to play around with any other ingredients you choose to add, like cocoa powder or any extracts.
Processing Your Ice Cream
After your ice cream is all mixed and ready to go, turn on your ice cream maker and then pour in your mixture. Do NOT pour in your mixture before starting the ice cream maker; if it happens to start to freeze to the sides very quickly, you will break your mixing paddle.This has happened to me before and it is NO fun.
Process your ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions. How long this will take depends a lot on which ice cream maker you have, the type of ice cream you’re making, and how cold your ingredients were going in.
Continue to process ice cream until it reaches your desired consistency, or until it seems like it’s no longer getting any thicker. Ice cream flavors with a lot of alcohol-based extracts will never become as firm as flavors without much alcohol in them.
Storing Your Coconut Ice Cream
Homemade coconut ice cream tends to freeze very hard in the freezer. This is not a problem, as long as you plan accordingly. To streamline defrosting your ice cream, I recommend storing your ice cream in a wide, shallow container. I usually use these plastic containers, although a similar glass container would probably be preferable if you can find one.
Ice cream doesn’t freeze
Your ice cream maker freezer container may not be getting cold enough. This has happened to me several times. Sometimes your freezer can be cold enough to keep your food frozen, but not cold enough for your ice cream freezer container. Try turning down the temperature in your freezer. If you have a chest freezer, that tends to be colder than the freezer that comes with your refrigerator, so you can try putting it in there instead.
Ice cream is too hard
Homemade coconut ice cream tends to be harder than commercial ice cream. I don’t find this to be an issue; you just have to give it some time on the counter to defrost before serving it.
If this does bother you, though, you can experiment with adding a tablespoon or two of vodka to keep the ice cream from becoming quite as hard. Ice creams that already have a lot of alcohol-based extracts in them tend to not freeze as hard, either.
Coconut Ice Cream Recipes You Can Try
I hope you now feel confident enough to attempt making your own ice cream flavor. If not, though, or, if you just want to experiment with some tried and true recipes, here are some of my favorites:
You can also find even MORE coconut ice cream recipes, plus tons of other coconut-rich recipes, in my coconut e-book Crazy for Coconut.
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