We All Scream
Monday, June 25, 2001
By Michael Y. Park
They sound like things you’d plant
in your backyard and not in your mouth, but this summer
you may find exotic ice creams filling your freezer.
Red hibiscus, cardamom kulfi, garlic,
tomato and vegetable, lavender honey, rose-hip extract,
saffron pistachio – wrap your taste buds around these
ice-cream and sorbet flavors and you may never go back
to plain-Jane vanilla again.
"Chocolate and vanilla just
isn’t enough for them anymore," said Rohini Joshi,
owner of Nuts About Ice Cream in Bethlehem, Pa. "People
are more open-minded now. They want to experiment with
different flavors. So if you can think of a flavor and
the ingredients are available, we will make it for you.
"There are some people who eat
nothing but rose hip!" she added.
Joshi treats customers as far away
as Los Angeles with flavors like Hawaiian ginger, which
one taster described as "creamy, crisp … surprising
tiny bits of real ginger are in it to chew on and add
zest"; tamarind, which another person called "soapy,
shallow, disappointing"; and saffron pistachio,
which an amateur testing group nearly universally approved.
"Intriguing," one woman
raved of the mustard-colored confection. "Rich
flavors, well blended."
"An unexpected contrast to the
smoothness of the ice cream," another woman said
of the saffron spice. "Very refreshing!"
"It’s a winner!" one man
So are exotic ice-cream flavors in
general, which are starting to dot America’s ice-cream
parlors like sprinkles on a double-scoop cone of Rocky
Road. At Bedford, N.Y.’s Crème Cremaillere, the
crème brulee ice cream outstrips even vanilla,
selling all 1,000 pints they make a day, owner Bobbie
In Madison, Wisc., adults who visit
Chocolate Shop Ice Cream are dipping into the kid’s
menu to scoop up neon-blue Blue Moon ice cream, which
owner Dave Deadman described as tasting "like the
milk after you eat a bowl of Froot Loops."
"You can tell the immediate
reaction to the exotic concoctions by looking at their
faces," Deadman said. "The reaction is either,
‘That’s unique, it’s amazing,’ or ‘It’s disgusting.’"
No one would know ice-cream trends
better than Edy’s Grand Ice Cream’s professional taster
John Harrison, a fourth-generation ice-cream man and
the man who in 1983 developed the flavor Cookies &
Cream, now the country’s fifth favorite. His taste buds,
insured for $1 million, have sampled ice cream from
every ice-cream plant in North and South America.
"I think people are eating out
more, going to more boutique restaurants where they
like to have something unique," he said by telephone
during a research trip to St. Louis. "Also, your
mom-and-pop stores cannot compete with Haagen Dazs,
or Edy’s or Breyer’s or Dreamery, so more of them are
going through concepts like rose hip to survive."
Actually, it’s more American’s blossoming
interest in the sophisticated interplay of different
flavors, according to Michel Platz, owner of Out of
a Flower, a Dallas company that specializes in bloom-based
"I think they’re just very,
very intrigued by the combinations," he said. "While
ginger, lime and parsley is one of the more exotic flavors
out there, it’s also very popular, and I think people
are looking for things like that. It brings a nice touch
to their parties, and it’s very refreshing, the consistency
is good and it’s natural and fresh."
To keep his frozen delights that
way, Platz uses market-fresh fruits and greenhouse-fresh
flowers to create popular items like rosemary ice cream
and seasonal sorbets including yellow watermelon, snapdragons,
pansies, pink grapefruit and tarragon and his favorite,
But not everyone’s buying it the
idea of mixing flavors you’d normally associate with
countries on different continents.
"I have to say some of the flavor
pairings make me think they’re trying a bit too hard,"
one New Yorker said. "My brain gets confused tasting
the rich chocolate in one selection, for instance, while
at the same time thinking back to ginger chicken dish
I had at a Chinese place the other night."
And though Harrison doubts the novelty
of unusual ice creams will ever fade away, he said heavyweight
flavors like chocolate, vanilla and butter pecan have
nothing to break into a cold sweat over.
"Seldom do people buy a half
gallon of rose-hip ice cream," he said. "When
do you have exotic? When you’re at a restaurant. But
you would not have that as something you’d bring home."
As for ice-cream maestro Joshi, even
though she’s surrounded by eggnog ice cream during the
Christmas season and red-white-and-blue mint-vanilla-and-cotton-candy
ice cream on the Fourth of July, she confesses that
her favorite is still as mundane as you can get.
"When it’s just coming out of
the machine and it’s nice, fluffy and creamy, vanilla’s
my favorite," she said. "With peanut-butter
sauce on it."