Steven Young
Bill Sipple
Steven Young, Ph.D., is principal, Steven Young Worldwide; Bill Sipple is principal, Wm Sipple Global Services.

In part one of this two-part series (February 2022 issue), we focused on how plant-based frozen desserts differ from standardized and non-standardized dairy-based frozen desserts. We covered plant-based “milks,” their compositions (including recombined “milks,” perhaps with differing sources of proteins, fats/oils, and carbohydrates), sweeteners and bulking agents, emulsifiers, and stabilizers. But we commented only briefly on flavoring and coloring such mixes.

As noted in part one, the flavoring/coloring of nondairy mixes includes flavor/color contribution(s) of every mix ingredient, the flavor/color of “unflavored/uncolored” mix, and, ultimately, the post-pasteurization/homogenization addition of any characterizing flavors and colors. Thus, it is necessary to understand the compatibility of “unflavored/uncolored” mix vis-a-vis vanilla(s), chocolate(s) (i.e., cocoas with/without flavorings), vanilla/chocolate-based, and fruit (sweet-type and acid-type) characterizing flavors. 

Without consideration of any modification(s) to flavors to be added, flavoring/coloring nondairy mixes is as complex as the mix chemistries and physics into which flavors/colors are added. Flavoring/coloring of nondairy mixes can be “the study of a lifetime.” However, there are approaches that can be applied.


Flavor/color of individual mix ingredients, including components of those ingredients (e.g., amount/type of fats/oils, proteins, etc.) will influence the flavor, quality, intensity, and delivery in any given mix. And when that mix is flavored/colored and undergoes freeze concentration via whipping, freezing, hardening, and heat shock, it may be altered again. 

Thus, it makes sense and is always advisable to taste and visually evaluate specific ingredients to be used and at specific use rates. Note that if you do not like the flavor of the ingredient, it's not going to get better in the final frozen dessert. Blame freeze concentration.

Mix composition 

The same influences apply when considering mix flavor/color due to varying compositions (e.g., varying amounts/types of proteins, fats/oils, miscellaneous soluble carbohydrates, relative sweetness, etc.) This includes dairy and nondairy compositions, but the more dramatic influences are in all-plant-based mixes. 

This relates to the simple compatibility of any given flavor to any specific mix composition. For example, vanillas prefer a more neutral pH and sweetness from sucrose (sugar); chocolates prefer 2-3% additional theoretical sweetness (as % sucrose) to overcome inherent bitterness in the cocoa powders used. Chocolate also prefers some slight difference of total fat despite the fact that cocoa butter has no color or flavor of its own. Fruit flavors work well, but only if a sufficient amount/type of acid is applied. 

Use rates for added acids should be compatible with the selected flavor, well below mix stability issues. Following up on chemistries related to the addition of compatible acids, it may also be desirable to add some sort of buffering agent to mixes designed for vanilla and chocolate. However, any acids or buffering agents should be of sufficient influence to affect the delivery of the characterizing flavor.

On the colorant side, plant-based mixes will tend to be less white, or more off-white to tan, depending on ingredient sources and composition of the mix. This, in turn, can influence the desired color of the final food, including any additional colorants that might be considered. The degree of whiteness/lightness can be influenced by size, amount, and type of fat/oil being considered, and the amount (overrun) and size of air bubbles in the final food.


Vanilla, the world’s most popular and most complex flavor, can be nearly 30% of any given product line. Interference with vanilla flavor delivery is a basic dilemma in plant-based mixes. 

Targeting the proper pH and sweetness allows the mix to function as formulated and be compatible with classical nonacid flavors such as vanillas (extracts, extract blends, WONF’s and/or artificial vanilla flavors). A little bit of salt can round off a metallic/watery aftertaste. However, salt can significantly influence (for good/bad) the freezing performance of the mix.

Chocolate is also popular (almost 15% of any given product line), but there are a wide variety of cocoa powders to consider. Actual chocolate flavor is in the nonfat portion of any cocoa powder. However, the more fat in the cocoa, the less bitter/harsh the flavor. Further, it is always a good idea to add some sort of vanilla or quality cream-type flavor as an “enhancer” but below any negative influence on the characterizing flavor. The use of a buffering salt(s) and/or salt might be desirable, too.

Fruit flavors are relatively easy to execute with mixes typically low in protein and fat (e.g., orange, lemon, lime, etc.). The amount/type of any added acid should “match” acids that exist in the original fruit — not to reduce pH, per se, but to be a component of the delivery of the final flavor. A little bit of any given organic acid goes a long way. 

Don't forget the plant-based frozen dessert we have known for years … sorbet (i.e., “upscale” water ice) as potential source of bulky flavors (e.g., orange sorbet swirled into a vanilla plant-based frozen dessert) to add flavor, color, and variety.

Finally, as complex as this sounds, there are ways to mitigate/enhance just about any brand equity being designed.

For more on the chemistry and physics of formulating plant-based and other frozen desserts, join Steven Young and Bill Sipple at the 52nd Edition of “Tharp & Young On Ice Cream — Technical Short Course, Workshops & Clinics,” Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2022, Las Vegas ( Can’t wait? Start now. Get a copy of Tharp &Young on Ice Cream: An Encyclopedic Guide to Ice Cream Science and Technology (400 pages; 2012); call 281-782-4536 or 913-530-8106 or email