With a name like “Smucker’s,” it has to be good. And so it follows that, with a last name like “Swallow,” you’re bound to make food (or porn). Luckily, sisters Meg and Ellen Swallow went into the food business, creating Phro*ZEN, their own line of vegan ice cream — or vegan “frozen dessert” to be exact, since there ain’t no cream in their cruelty-free concoctions.
There is, however, a variety of milk substitutes (from soy to coconut), fat in the form of soy bean oil, plant-based thickeners and emulsifiers and a healthy base in Buddhist philosophy (that’s where the “ZEN” part comes in; the “phro” is pretty self-explanatory). Each pint — and uplifting Facebook message from the company — comes with a Buddhist saying.
“(The philosophy) is mostly about feeling at peace with what you’re eating, just a holistic approach to food,” Meg says. “It’s really important to me to feed yourself well and to enjoy what you’re eating. And the Buddhism aspect kind of stemmed from the vegan aspect. Knowing what you’re eating. It pertains to the idea of sharing with each other, whether you’re vegan or not, and enjoying the product, whether you’re vegan or not, and having that understanding and connection with each other.”
Ellen, the younger of the duo at age 18, was a practicing vegan, giving it up after realizing you can’t stay healthy dining out on a diet of french fries.
“(Ellen) visited me at school,” says Meg, now 22, “and she would have to bring a cooler of her own food. You shouldn’t have to make someone feel out place because they have a dietary need or restriction.”
Despite the fact that neither has any culinary training, the sisters have always cooked together with a predilection for creative experimentation in the kitchen. Non-vegan example — Gummy Bear cookies, which came out horribly, Meg says. The experimentation came to a head when Meg came home one day with a vanilla bean.
“I wasn’t satisfied with where my life was and I needed a release,” she says.
“I had this craving to do something really creative and to do something that felt good. I got home from work and I had a vanilla bean … and I looked at it and went, ‘All right. What would be delicious on a July summer day?’ And I thought, ‘Well, we have an ice cream maker,’ a hand-crank ice cream maker and ‘I have this vanilla bean,’ and I thought, ‘OK, ice cream.”
Although she started with ice cream (the real kind, with milk), Meg quickly partnered with her sister to create a dessert everyone could enjoy.
“Vegan ice cream is one of those things,” Ellen says, “you’re ready to sit down with some and you’re like, ‘This is awesome!’ and then you sit down and take a bite and go, ‘This is not awesome.’ ”
The common complaint with non-awesome vegan ice cream is that it tends to crystallize easily, needing to “rest” on the counter before you dig in.
“I did some research and went through vegan cookbooks and looked at vegetarian cookbooks and looked at regular ice cream recipes, just comparing fat percentages,” Meg says. “I worked really, really hard with Ellen on the recipes to get it to the point where vegans would enjoy it — because there’s a different standard when you understand that it’s a substitute — but not only vegans, but the people that love them or who are with them that are not vegans.”
It took the duo about two months to find a vegan recipe they could scoop right out of the freezer that gives you “the same mouth feel” as ice cream, Meg says.
“I think we both danced around the kitchen for 20 minutes because it was just so satisfying knowing it was possible to make something that’s cruelty free and delicious. Not one or the other,” she says.
Now they’re going one step beyond vegan.
“We’re starting our allergen-free line in the next couple of weeks,” Meg says, adding that they’re donating part of their profits to the allergy clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
The inspiration came from a family that asked Meg to create an allergen free ice cream for their young son.
“I couldn’t use anything within the top eight allergens,” she says, “and I thought, ‘How does this mom prepare meals for her family every night?’ and I thought about how the entire family has to be allergen-free because of one member and they were willing to do that. That’s love — to sacrifice to make sure that one family member is safe.
“I brought the allergen-free ice cream over and this was the first time the boy was able to not worry and just have a bowl of ice cream like a normal kid and he licked the bowl!”
“It’s really about love when it comes down to it,” Meg continues. “Loving your body. Loving animals. Loving the food that you’re eating, and loving the people that you’re eating with, whether they’re vegan or not. Everyone can enjoy it and not have to sacrifice anything for it.”
PHRO*ZEN sells for between $5.50 and $5.99 a pint at Park and Vine (1202 Main St., Over-the-Rhine) and soon at Meals To Go (8592 Winton Road, Finneytown), where Meg and Ellen Swallow create their frozen desserts. Learn about seasonal flavors on Facebook or Twitter.