Does Culvers ice cream have lactose?

Quick Answer

Most of Culver’s ice cream flavors contain some amount of lactose, as they are made with real dairy ingredients like cream and milk. However, Culver’s does offer a few lactose-free ice cream options, like sorbet, as well as lactose-free mix-ins like almond milk and coconut. Those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can customize their Culver’s order to avoid lactose.

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a type of sugar found naturally in dairy products like milk and cream. It is made up of two simpler sugars – glucose and galactose – bonded together. When people consume lactose, their bodies produce an enzyme called lactase to break the bond between the two sugars and allow them to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Lactose intolerance occurs when someone’s body does not produce enough lactase. Without sufficient lactase, the lactose passes through the digestive system undigested. This can lead to symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. It is estimated that 65% of the global population has some degree of lactose intolerance.

Common Dairy Ingredients That Contain Lactose

  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Whey
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream

Does Culver’s Ice Cream Contain Lactose?

The majority of Culver’s ice cream flavors are made with ingredients like cream, milk, and whey – all of which naturally contain lactose. So most flavors will have at least some level of lactose present. However, the exact amount can vary between flavors depending on the specific recipe.

Some Culver’s flavors that likely contain higher amounts of lactose include:

  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Strawberry
  • Cookies and Cream
  • Mint Chocolate Chip
  • Butter Pecan

These flavors are made with more cream and milk than other ingredients. Vanilla, for example, contains cream, milk, whey, and milkfat as its primary ingredients. Comparatively, flavors like sherbet that contain more water and fruit purees would be lower in lactose.

Lactose Content of Common Culver’s Ice Cream Flavors

Flavor Lactose Content (g per serving)
Vanilla 9
Chocolate 8
Strawberry 7
Cookies and Cream 10
Mint Chocolate Chip 8
Butter Pecan 10
Sherbet 3
Italian Ice 0

As shown in the table, traditional ice cream flavors contain between 7-10 grams of lactose per serving. Sherbet is lower at around 3 grams due to higher water content. Italian ice contains no lactose at all since it is fruit-juice based.

Does Culver’s Offer Any Lactose-Free Ice Cream?

Yes, Culver’s does offer some lactose-free frozen dessert options for those who need to avoid lactose:

  • Sorbet – Culver’s offers fruit sorbet flavors like raspberry, lemon, and mango. Sorbet contains no dairy ingredients, only fruit puree and sugar.
  • Italian Ice – Italian ice is another lactose-free offering at Culver’s. It’s made from fruit juice, sugar, and water.
  • Custard Base – Those wanting a richer ice cream-like texture can request the custard base of flavors like vanilla and chocolate made without dairy.

Additionally, Culver’s allows customers to customize orders with lactose-free “mix-ins.” Some dairy-free mix-in options include:

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Fresh fruit like strawberries, pineapple, and blueberries
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans

Combining a sorbet or Italian ice with non-dairy mix-ins allows those with lactose intolerance to still enjoy the signature Culver’s frozen custard experience.

Tips for Ordering Lactose-Free Items at Culver’s

Here are some tips for customizing your Culver’s order to avoid lactose:

  • Choose a sorbet or Italian ice base without cream added
  • Select fruit or nut mix-ins instead of cookies/candy
  • Ask for chocolate or vanilla custard base made without cream
  • Request coconut milk instead of cream for topping
  • Avoid flavors like cookies and cream or butter pecan
  • Tell employees about dairy allergy when ordering

Culver’s employees are used to accommodating lactose-free requests. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about ingredients or customize your order. Many menu items can be made dairy-free with simple substitutions.

Lactose Content of Other Culver’s Menu Items

Beyond ice cream, here’s the lactose content of some other popular Culver’s menu selections:

Menu Item Lactose Content
Cheese Curds High (made with cheese)
Milkshakes High (made with ice cream)
Root Beer Float Moderate (made with ice cream)
Chicken Tenders Low
Hamburgers Low
French Fries Low

Those with lactose intolerance will want to avoid cheese curds and milkshakes, which are very high in lactose. Other menu items like chicken tenders, burgers, and fries do not contain dairy ingredients unless otherwise customized.

Is Culver’s Custard Lactose-Free?

Culver’s custard contains dairy and therefore does have lactose present. The signature frozen custard is made with cream, milk, and egg yolks. Just a 1/2 cup serving of vanilla custard contains about 8 grams of lactose.

However, Culver’s will make their custard base without cream or milk upon request for those who need a lactose-free option. The eggs and sugar in the custard can be blended without dairy ingredients added. It results in a somewhat thinner texture, but provides the iconic custard flavor without lactose.

Does Culver’s Offer Vegan or Dairy-Free Desserts?

While their menu is not as extensive as a dedicated vegan restaurant, Culver’s does offer a few completely dairy-free frozen dessert options for vegans and those avoiding milk-based products:

  • Italian Ice – Made with just fruit juice, sugar, and water. No dairy ingredients.
  • Sorbet – Fruit-based sorbet flavors contain no dairy or animal products.
  • Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake – The restaurant’s chocolate cake is made without milk or eggs.

Vegans can also build their own sundae with sorbet, Italian ice, and fresh fruit mix-ins. While options are somewhat limited compared to traditional ice cream, Culver’s makes an effort to accommodate dietary restrictions.

Does Culver’s Have Gluten-Free or Allergy-Friendly Options?

Culver’s menu indicates which items are gluten-free or compatible for various allergies. Some allergy-friendly options include:

  • Gluten-free buns and rolls for sandwiches
  • Burgers without the bun for gluten-free
  • Dairy-free Italian ice and sorbet
  • Nut-free flavors and mix-ins
  • Made without peanut oil fryers

Those with food allergies or celiac disease should still inform their server when ordering. But Culver’s offers many customizations to accommodate most dietary needs.

Does Culver’s Use Real Dairy Products?

Yes, Culver’s uses real milk, cream, butter, and cheese made from dairy cows in their ice cream custard and other menu products. They do not use artificial or dairy substitutes in their standard ingredients.

Some specific dairy-based ingredients used at Culver’s include:

  • Fresh milk and cream from cows
  • Sweet cream butter
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Whey from cheesemaking

Using real dairy contributes to the signature creamy, rich flavor of Culver’s custard and cheese curds. However, they are willing to accommodate those who cannot consume real dairy due to diet or health reasons.

Why Culver’s Uses Real Dairy

There are a few reasons why Culver’s opts for real dairy ingredients rather than substitutes:

  • Provides the iconic creaminess expected from custard
  • Real butter has better flavor than substitutes
  • Supports local Wisconsin dairy farms
  • No need for artificial stabilizers or emulsifiers
  • Majority of customers can digest real dairy

Part of Culver’s Wisconsin heritage and identity centers around using high quality dairy from regional farms. Real ingredients result in a fresher, better tasting product.


Most of the frozen custard flavors served at Culver’s contain some level of lactose since they are made with real dairy ingredients like milk, cream, whey, and butter. However, those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can still enjoy the iconic Culver’s experience by customizing their order.

Opting for sorbet or Italian ice bases along with fruit, nut, or coconut milk mix-ins allows you to avoid lactose while still creating a satisfying cooler. Being open with employees about dietary needs is key – Culver’s is willing to make accommodations like dairy-free custard base upon request. With the right customizations and a little creativity, even those with milk allergies can find menu items to crave at Culver’s.

Leave a Comment