We Tried Shake Shack's New Non-Dairy Shake And Custard. Here's How It Went

Shake Shack has launched its very first plant-based chocolate frozen custard and chocolate milkshake, in collaboration with Chilean tech food brand, NotCo. NotCo specializes in plant-based dairy products, developed with the help of a proprietary artificial intelligence, affectionately named "Guiseppe," to create realistic flavors and textures of traditional animal-based products, without the animals.

The collaboration is an interesting one for several reasons. First of all, Shake Shack isn't an inherently vegan, or even vegetarian, restaurant by a long shot. With a business model built on burgers and milkshakes (and incredibly good fries), the addition of plant-based menu items is a sign the company may be looking to appeal to a wider audience. Additionally, Shake Shack's core principles state that they use only antibiotic and hormone-free protein, as well as real cane sugar and non-GMO ingredients in their milkshakes. When branching out to create plant-based foods that replicate animal-based products, it can be hard to stick to those principles, but NotCo seems to be able to live up to the standards Shake Shack has established for itself.

So we headed out to grab a taste of the new plant-based chocolate frozen custard and accompanying shake, that are reportedly "so delicious you can't taste the difference." The limited run is apparently so popular that the first Shake Shack we went to had completely sold out of the new treats in just a couple of days! But we were finally able to taste them at another location, and this is what we found.

What's in it?

As of this writing, neither Shake Shack nor NotCo have released a complete ingredient list for the chocolate frozen custard or shake. What we do know is that they're both dairy-free and egg-free, and the non-dairy frozen custard is a proprietary formula, presumably created specifically for Shake Shack. We also know that the frozen custard is blended with NotCo's own NotMilk to create the shake.

Taking a look at the ingredients used to make NotMilk, we're beginning to guess what ingredients might be included in the treats. NotMilk's ingredient list primarily includes water, sunflower oil, and pea protein. This isn't the first time we've seen these ingredients used to make a dairy-free product in the ice cream world. Coolhaus and Halo Top have also successfully created dairy-free ice creams using sunflower oil and pea protein, among other ingredients. Interestingly, pineapple and cabbage are also part of NotMilk's ingredient list, which NotCo claims were added for a more realistic flavor and smell.

Additionally, we assume that cocoa and sugars of some kind were added to create the chocolate frozen custard. It's also likely that additional ingredients and stabilizers were added to help achieve an aerated frozen custard with an appealing creamy texture. Shake Shack's current shake menu is somewhat cryptic about all of the ingredients that are actually included in the shakes, mainly listing the allergens involved. So even if the plant-based shake finds a permanent spot on the menu, we may never know every ingredient included.

How much do they cost?

We finally found the plant-based chocolate frozen custard and accompanying shake at the Battery Park City Shake Shack location in NYC. There, the shake cost us $6.59 and a single scoop of the frozen custard cost $4.99. Browsing the online ordering menu for a few locations, typical shake prices range from $5.89 for basic shakes, up to $6.29 for more elaborate shakes. We found typical frozen custard scoops priced at $4.49 for a single scoop and $5.69 for a double scoop. None of the menus we found online included the dairy-free chocolate shake or custard, so prices may vary by location — although we imagine they'll be close to the same prices we found in NYC.

Shake Shack's milkshake prices may be a little steeper than shakes at other fast-food chains, but they aren't completely out of line. A medium shake at Dairy Queen can cost $6.45 at some locations before tax, and a medium milkshake from Baskin Robbins costs about $5.69. Of course, there are less expensive milkshakes available, including milkshakes from Chick-fil-a that cost between $2.75 and $3.15, and a medium milkshake from McDonald's that will only cost you about $3.59.

Where are they available, and for how long?

At the moment, the plant-based chocolate shake and frozen custard are only available at ten locations in New York and Florida. In New York City, you can find them at the Astor Place, Midtown East, Harlem, Upper East Side, and Battery Park City restaurant locations. In Florida, you can find them at the Winter Park, Garden Mall, Miami Beach, The Falls, and Coral Gables locations. Given that there are at least 377 Shake Shack locations worldwide, this release is only available at a relatively small number of locations. But New York and Florida have high concentrations of Shake Shacks, with 65 shacks in the New York City metro area, and 19 between the Orlando and Miami areas in Florida, making up a large share of Shake Shack's target market.

Firm dates haven't been given for how long the dairy-free chocolate treats will be available, but the initial press release says they'll be available through the summer. Menu collaborations and limited releases are common in the Shake Shack lineup, but something about this particular partnership seems like the beginning of something bigger. "Non-dairy custard and shakes have been something our guests have wanted and we are looking forward to seeing where this test takes us," said Jeff Amoscato, Shake Shack's Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation. So if this goes well in the test markets, additional locations and possibly more permanent plant-based menu items may be added in the future.

What's the nutrition information?

Just because these treats are plant-based doesn't mean that they're necessarily healthier for you. And the fact that neither Shake Shack nor NotCo have released nutritional information about the new frozen custard and shake has left us mostly in the dark. It's unclear if we'll get hard numbers, so we've taken a look at the nutritional information of NotCo's chocolate milk, as well as Shake Shack's traditional chocolate shake, for some clues.

Generally, a serving of whole chocolate milk is one 8-ounce cup, which has about 210 calories. It's also got 8 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. In comparison, an 8-ounce serving of NotCo's chocolate milk is 130 calories, with 5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of protein. NotCo's chocolate milk also has slightly more vitamin D, calcium, and iron, but less potassium. In addition, NotCo chocolate milk is lactose, gluten, soy, and cholesterol free, although to be fair, traditional chocolate milk is also free of gluten and soy.

A traditional chocolate shake from Shake Shack has 750 calories, which is a significant portion of a 2,000 calorie diet. So it's understandable that someone might want to enjoy a similar shake with fewer calories. Assuming the formula for the plant-based chocolate shake is in line with the general calorie count of NotCo's chocolate dairy substitute, the plant-based chocolate shake has the potential to have about 38% fewer calories than the traditional chocolate shake.

What other kinds of plant-based foods does Shake Shack offer?

The classic burger and milkshake combo is such an established winner that it's no wonder that Shake Shack has found success churning out burgers and shakes for the last 20 years. With the changing dietary landscape, it can be hard for such a niche market to keep up — but Shake Shack has certainly tried. For those with allergies and special dietary concerns, Shake Shack has produced a handy spreadsheet laying out which items have dairy, eggs, peanuts, wheat, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, fish, gluten, sesame, and which are vegetarian.

In addition to traditional meat-based burgers, Shake Shack also offers a dairy- and egg-free veggie burger and a 'Shroom burger, which is also vegetarian but includes dairy. While the buns for the meat-based burgers contain dairy and eggs, the wheat burger buns used for the veggie burgers do not. The menu options for those with dietary restrictions isn't especially large, but they're available, perhaps with a little bit of digging. All of the other shakes and frozen custards currently on the menu contain both dairy and eggs, and unfortunately, the special plant-based chocolate shake and frozen custard aren't listed on the allergen sheet.

Verdict: Satisfying, whether you stick to a plant-based diet or not

When a new product is introduced that meets certain allergen and dietary restrictions while mimicking other beloved products, we've learned to temper our expectations. Luckily, there have been huge strides in the world of dairy- and allergen-free ice creams, so we know a plant-based milkshake can absolutely be done.

Ultimately, we think the plant-based chocolate milkshake hits all the right milkshake notes. It's thick and creamy, without a sticky or slick mouthfeel that some stabilizers leave behind. It's chocolatey and sweet, but not so sweet that you'll be overwhelmed. The chocolate itself is light and milky, without many dark and bitter notes. Interestingly, the frozen custard melted just fine in the mouth, but hardly broke a sweat in the cup, even after sitting out for about 20 minutes.

As for the claim that they're "so delicious you can't taste the difference" — well, that was always going to be a little too good to be true. There's a hint of nuttiness to the chocolate custard, and a grain-like flavor that we assumed was oat at first. NotCo's milk doesn't include oats, although we don't know if they're an ingredient here. But it's pretty clear that this is not an animal-based milk product. With that said, the flavor wasn't offensive to our tasters who also enjoy dairy products, and the chocolate flavor is a good balance to the slightly vegetal flavor. Combined with the potential for a healthier overall shake, we'd gladly order it again.