In a country with a prevalent meat-based diet, veganism is taking longer to become a popular lifestyle. But sorbets and vegan ice cream are a common option in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava.
Slovakia is a small country of tradition proud of their hearty meat and dairy-based cuisine. With veganism booming worldwide, it is slowly trying to catch up. While the offer of vegan foods is on a small scale increase every year, vegan ice cream has been served on every corner of the capital’s old town for a few years now.
Though there are only a few vegan restaurants located in the capital, and a limited selection of products available at supermarkets, Slovakia is gradually becoming more vegan-friendly every year. Activist organisations like Extinction Rebellion and Sloboda zvierat (Freedom of Animals) lobbying for change are also making people more conscious of their lifestyles.
Vegan ice cream is the exception
Sorbets have been around for years in Bratislava, but proper ‘milky’ vegan ice cream was introduced a few years ago when veganism in Slovakia was mostly frowned upon and plant-based options were rare.
Katarina Cacikova, a 21-year-old vegan from Slovakia, has experienced this for herself.
When she turned vegan in 2015, “people thought it was odd and unusual’’, and tried to warn her against her choice. “They thought it was dangerous and unhealthy, and that my diet was not balanced,” she says.
“Eating out in Slovakia used to be quite an uncomfortable experience for me. People always wanted to discuss what I could and couldn’t eat, and most of the time I couldn’t find vegan options on the menu.’’
Dairy-free alternatives paving the way for veganism
Plant-based milks are a popular option among people who don’t follow the vegan lifestyle. According to The Vegan Society, in countries like the US, alt-milk consumption has increased by 61% while that of cow’s milk has decreased by 22%.
Market experts predict that by 2027, the total value of the ice cream industry will be worth $2.45 billion.
So what makes vegan ice cream so popular in countries like Slovakia, where veganism isn’t so popular just yet?
Three ice cream parlours with a range of vegan ice creams on their menu in Bratislava offer the inside scoop on this question.
Koun is a small family business experiencing big success with its offer of artisan gelato in Bratislava’s historical old town. TripAdvisor listed Koun as one of the best ice cream places in the capital, while Ryanair considers it one of the best in Europe.
The menu features up to six plant-based options; two sorbets and four creamy gelatos. It uses water and various plant-based milks to create an authentic experience for everyone who prefers the vegan options.
Barbara Szalai, the owner of Koun, studied ice cream making in the home of gelato, Italy. She decided to start selling plant-based ice cream because she was a vegan herself. She later turned vegetarian but Koun’s ice cream menu became increasingly vegan.
“Sometimes I think about changing every flavour to vegan. But the ‘real’ gelato is still with whole milk,” says Szalai. She thinks that veganism is beginning to grow more common in Slovakia as the vegan ice cream at Koun is very popular amongst its customers.
Szalai adds: “It’s a good movement, not just to eat healthy, non-GMO, fresh, and local, but also to support our one and only planet. To spread awareness through food is necessary.”
i Nonni Cremeria
i Nonni Cremeria, an artisan Italian gelateria, opened in 2017 with one of the biggest vegan ice cream selections in the old town.
“There are 12 vegan flavours, and on weekends, we offer up to 20 flavours,’’ says Besmir Abdi, chef patissier at i Nonni. “In general, we have more than 200 vegan recipes.’’
The business decided to offer a variety of vegan flavours because the owners enjoy plant-based ice cream themselves. “We started with sorbets because there are more and more lactose-intolerant people, as well as people who prefer the vegan lifestyle, so why not make us both happy?” says Abdi.
i Nonni uses coconut, almond, or rice milk and coconut water, depending on the recipe. The vegan flavours include classics as well as new fusions, like celery & fennel, dates with almond milk and dark chocolate, avocado with dark chocolate, coconut, salted caramel, and pistachio.
Abdi says: “We sell about 60% dairy ice cream and 40% vegan, so maybe in a few years, the percentage may change in favour of vegan ice cream.”
i Nonni has also noticed that vegan ice cream is not only chosen by vegans and people with allergies. “People like to combine one scoop of dairy ice cream with a vegan one because they like the taste of it,’’ Abdi explains.
He thinks the reason there isn’t a big variety of other vegan options in Slovakia is that there hasn’t been enough market research and people are afraid to invest in that branch of business.
Luculus Ice Saloon
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Luculus has been open since 1954. Its traditional ice cream recipes are a family secret, making the produce mysteriously tasty.
The business’s ever-growing menu currently consists of 30 types of vegan flavours. On a daily basis, you can find about 15 options in its display case. Luculus has noticed vegan ice cream becoming ever more popular, even amongst non-vegan customers.
“Classic dairy ice cream is still in the lead, but our Nero chocolate flavour is one of our favourites and sells faster than the classic dairy chocolate,” says Samil Celik, the manager of Luculus.
“People have already been convinced that the fact that ice cream is vegan does not reduce its quality or taste.”
Celik thinks that veganism is becoming more known but some places in Slovakia might be reluctant to introduce more vegan dishes because of the preparation process. He says: “The production of vegan ice cream is more demanding. Vegan ice cream has to be prepared separately. It is also necessary to ensure that all the ingredients used are cruelty-free, as every single aspect of this process has to be vegan.”
Slovakia’s vegan ice cream popularity proves that cruelty-free doesn’t mean taste-free. It also shows that veganism might be able to slowly pave its way into countries that are more conservative and traditional.