How Does Shake Shack's Non-Dairy Chocolate Shake Stack Up?

The two chocolate shakes on Shake Shack's menu are very different.

Shake Shack is a New York City–founded chain that has built a national following thanks to its fatty angus beef from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, its pillowy Martin's potato buns, and its consistently fresh vegetables. The restaurant also uses cast iron skillets to smash its burgers, and that dedication to quality ingredients and techniques informs every item on the restaurant's beloved menu. But can Shake Shack stick the landing when it comes to a serving up a non-dairy version of its famous chocolate shake? It's a tricky treat to get right.

In the category of vegetarian fast food, Shake Shack is an undeniable industry leader. The Veggie Shack burger is nothing short of phenomenal, and it has rightfully been lauded by various food media outlets. It's a veggie burger patty packed with sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, farro, and quinoa, topped with optional American cheese, crispy onions, pickles, and ShackSauce. It's so flavorful that it obliterates any Impossible or Beyond fast food burger I've had in the past, and it's even a great alternative to Shake Shack's own beef burger.

Given how good the vegan-friendly Veggie Shack burger is, Shake Shack's non-dairy chocolate shake, introduced last year, has high standards to meet. How does it stack up to the original chocolate shake? I tasted both to find out.

Shake Shack’s Chocolate Shake vs. Non-Dairy Chocolate Shake

I'm truly surprised by just how different these two shakes are while each being incredibly tasty in their own right. The chocolate shake at Shake Shack is a stunner, and one of the very best shakes available throughout the fast food landscape. It's chocolatey, yes, but primarily creamy, rich, and delicious. There's a real caramel vibe to the chocolate shake; it's surprisingly decadent, and tastes a lot like egg yolks, butter, and fat. You really get the sense that this is a homemade, full-fat shake made by a local ice cream shop.


That's because all the shakes at Shake Shack are made to order, and the chain uses a house-made custard to achieve that defining richness. Tasting Table spoke with executive chef and vice president of culinary innovation John Karangis about the process:

Combining cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and sugar, Shake Shack creates its signature frozen custard foundation for all of its shakes. "So, that's kind of the secret," says Karangis. "It's fresh ingredients, made fresh, to-order." Shake Shack builds all of their funky flavors from the same frozen custard foundation. "If you have an incredible base," says Karangis, "You have an amazing shake." Starting with that crème anglaise, the restaurant then adds any variety of ingredients, like fresh strawberries and chocolate, to the shake blender. "We have to be really strategic about what other ingredients we add," says Karangis, because each menu item needs to be great.


The texture of the classic Chocolate Shake is ideal: not too thick, not too thin. The chocolate flavor is surprisingly mellow, though, so if you like a lot of cocoa, you actually might prefer the non-dairy iteration.

The Non-Dairy Chocolate Shake isn't made with Shake Shack's powerful custard. Instead, it's made with NotMilk, an animal-free product that aims to capture the taste, texture, and overall feeling of dairy milk with a variety of odd ingredients. Whereas oat milk and almond milk are some of the leading alternatives on the market, NotMilk features pea protein, chicory root fiber, pineapple juice concentrate, coconut oil, and cabbage juice concentrate. None of that sounds like milk, yet somehow when you add all of these ingredients up you get a smooth, creamy concoction. Some tasters have said it's the closest thing to actual milk they've tasted yet.

But because there's no custard, the non-dairy shake is noticeably thinner by comparison, and its appearance skews more toward an iced coffee than a milkshake. The texture is smooth, but lacking in the luscious thickness of its counterpart. Most notably of all, the non-dairy chocolate shake has a much more pronounced chocolate flavor. Conducting several side-by-side comparison sips, I was thrown by how little the full-fat dairy shake actually tastes like chocolate at all. The non-dairy shake, meanwhile, is loaded with cocoa flavor; this is either because it simply uses more chocolate, or because the chocolate notes come through stronger when they're not competing with the richness of all that butterfat. Still, it's quite the treat. NotMilk makes a surprisingly great substitute for dairy; it'll just never achieve the same texture as a custard.


The verdict? Two very different shakes, each made very well. The most noticeable difference with Shake Shack's non-dairy shake is its lack of eggs. Without them, and the special custard upon which the shake is built, it's just hard to create a thick, rich, frozen chocolate dessert. Nearly impossible, in fact. Shake Shack still created something special, though. It's wholly different, and an achievement in its own right.