Eclipse Foods releases vegan ice cream that tastes just like dairy – San Francisco Chronicle

The new Mexican hot chocolate ice cream flavor from Humphry Slocombe is rich and creamy, with a velvety milk chocolate flavor and hot blast of cayenne. It’s also vegan.

For the new flavor, debuting at all Bay Area locations Friday, the San Francisco creamery sourced the plant-based ice cream base from new Berkeley startup called Eclipse Foods. Founders Thomas Bowman and Aylon Steinhart compare the company to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, but instead of disrupting the meat industry, Eclipse is focused on dairy.

“If every Burger King has an Impossible Burger, they should certainly have a dairy-free option for their shakes and cones,” said Steinhart.

Within the past few years, vegan ice cream has become easy to find in the Bay Area. But creameries rely on coconut milk or nut milks for the base, resulting in ice creams that taste like, well, coconut or nuts.

“It’s always a giveaway as to what it’s made out of,” said Humphry Slocombe owner Jake Godby, adding that nut-based ice creams often carry a chalky texture.

Eclipse’s ice cream base, however, is made out of common, inexpensive ingredients like potato, corn, cassava and canola oil. The founders said they’re proud that it’s also free of common allergens like soy, nuts and gluten as well as gums, stabilizers and genetically modified ingredients.

The result tastes just like dairy — as a Chronicle reporter found when sampling the product — and also behaves the same in the kitchen.

“It works just like normal milk, eggs and cream,” Godby said. Moving forward, Humphry Slocombe plans to always carry one rotating vegan flavor made with Eclipse.

Eclipse comes from two veterans of the relatively young plant-based food industry. Bowman was formerly the director of research and development at Just, while Steinhart worked for the plant-based advocacy nonprofit the Good Food Institute. They formed Eclipse at the start of 2019, joining Y Combinator, the program that helped launch major tech companies like Dropbox and Airbnb.

With financial backing from Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and Daiya Foods’ former chairman Eric Patel, Eclipse landed on ice cream for its first product because it’s usually enjoyed on its own, unlike, say, cream cheese or sour cream.


Bowman, who previously worked in Michelin-starred kitchens, examined the molecular composition of milk and looked for different plants that could replicate certain characteristics. To make something scalable, he searched for a process that didn’t require “expensive biotech,” landing on the same pasteurizers, homogenizers and cooling tanks used in the conventional dairy industry. Eclipse has a patent pending for its process.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel and create new machinery and processes to make this happen,” Bowman said. “It’s more about the understanding of each ingredient, how they go together.”

Since Eclipse’s chosen ingredients are inexpensive, Steinhart said the company’s vegan dairy should cost the same as conventional products once Eclipse scales up. The price for a scoop of the vegan ice cream at Humphry Slocombe will be $4.95, which is 20 cents more than other flavors. Meanwhile, Emeryville startup Perfect Day recently released its first cow-free ice cream — made by fermenting genetically-engineered fungi into dairy proteins — at $20 per pint.

“The whole goal is to create a more sustainable food system,” Steinhart said, citing the environmental impact of dairy cows. “The only way to achieve that is to make this a democratized product.”

In addition to Humphry Slocombe, Eclipse will also be available at East Coast favorite OddFellows Ice Cream Co. on Friday. Last month, the vegan ice cream piloted at Washington, D.C. fine dining restaurant Equinox, where chefs also used the base for a creme anglaise and semifreddo.

Eclipse is taking the same distribution approach as Impossible Foods, first partnering with independent chefs and restaurants — or in this case, ice cream shops — before reaching big chains and then grocery stores. Meanwhile, the founders plan to release other dairy products and potentially move on to other plant-based foods after that.

“We’ve won if every blue box of mac ‘n’ cheese has a little packet of Eclipse cheese,” Bowman said.

Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: janelle.bitker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @janellebitker