Exotic Ice CreamExotic Ice Cream
August 5, 2009
By Jason R. Gronlund, Contributing Editor
Ice cream cools on a hot summer day, takes tears away in times of sorrow, makes children laugh and adults smile. Its the one and only item served with birthday cake. And all this from one basic ingredient: frozen milk.
Although the origins of ice cream go back as far as the 4th century B.C., when the Roman emperor Nero asked for ice topped with fruit, it was in Italy where ice cream, as we know it, finally took shape. After Italian scientists realized that adding salt to ice would decrease its temperature, freezing trials subsequently yielded our beloved ice cream.
As Europeans experimented with this newfound delicacy, they reportedly began introducing flavors like orange blossom, jasmine and rosehigh-end desserts for high-end diners.
But, at some pointparticularly in America, where this creation finally received the name ice creamsuch exotic flavors gave way to vanilla, chocolate and, to a lesser extent, strawberry. However, even though those mainstays still have a firm grip on the ice-cream-eating public, an ever-increasing range of flavors is availableand the list continues to grow, as gourmet, exotic, ethnic and just plain strange ice cream flavors hit the public.
Exotic and ethnic
From garlic ice cream (served annually at the Gilroy Garlic Festival) to black pepper ice cream served with strawberries, there seems to be no stopping the creativity people are applying to this once-simple creation. Some notable unique pairings are blue cheese and caramelized shallot, strawberry candied jalapeño, balsamic caramel, and pistachio bacon.
Depending on where in the world you are, ice cream can be as normal as apple pie and as strange and bizarre as eating bugs. Japanese curry ice cream combines heavy cream, milk, coconut milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, curry powder, a squirt of lemon or lime, and shredded carrots. Or how about a creamy, milky, sugary blend of ground and roasted black sesame seeds? The ebony-colored concoction is one of many similar nutty ice cream flavors commonly featured on restaurant menus around Japan.
Making the scene here in the United States is a tasty frozen treat that combines Japanese mochi (made from sticky rice) and ice cream. Mochi is eaten as a snack and forms the basis of a confection that gets a filling of azuki (red-bean paste), and is sometimes coated in toasted sesame seeds. For mochi ice cream, an outer wrapping of mochiproviding chewy mouthfeelgoes around various flavors of ice cream, traditionally vanilla, matcha (ground green tea) and red bean. Even non-Japanese restaurants are making this unique style of ice cream and adding flavors like crystallized ginger and toasted macadamia nuts, and adding a second filing inside, like chocolate lava. Coating the ice cream with the mochi takes time in a restaurant setting, and time is of the essence in its preparation, as the ice cream will get too soft rather quickly, giving an overall texture that is not desirable. In manufacturing, plant conditions should not permit the ice cream to soften during the coating step.
In the Philippines, ice cream is sometimes consumed on a hamburger bunthats right, a burger bun. The ice cream is made traditionally from ube, the Filipino word for purple yam (Dioscorea alata), which has a mild flavor and distinctly bright-purple color. Ube ice cream sometimes includes shredded coconut.
Hot and cool
A rather interesting combination is ice cream with chiles, contrasting creamy with spicy. In 1999, we started serving ice cream at the National Restaurant Association and Institute of Food Technologists shows as a unique way to use TABASCO®, and the response was amazing. A simple, yet flavorful, vanilla ice cream with a capsicum component drew lines for samples longer than the beer booth.
Over the years, we teamed up with Parker Products, Ft. Worth, TX, a manufacturer of ice-cream flavorings and particulates, to create such flavors such as Grannys Hot Apple Cobbler Sundae, Hot Brownie Sunday, New Orleans Bumpy Street (a spicy take on Rocky Road) and our most-recent and popular flavor, Spiced Carrot Cake. For this last one, the orange ice cream is flavored with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and carrots, topped with TABASCO-spiced maple walnuts and finished with a drizzle of cream-cheese glaze.
The fun part about using ice cream and chiles is the way they combine and react in a frozen state. The capsaicin binds to the fat molecule, masking its heat until the warmth of the mouth breaks the bond somewhere in the back of the throat, releasing a heat sensation that, not trying to use a pun, is a cool sensation.
Just recently, I spoke at a military R&D conference in Maryland. The purpose of this session was to make the rotational menu for the soldiers more appealing. One of the concepts I made was soft-serve cinnamon ice cream with a dash of TABASCO Brand Pepper Sauce to enhance the flavor of the cinnamon. When the suggestion was made to the group, they looked at me like I was from another planet then asked, Well, chef, what will we do with that? My answer: Breakfast. Again, the same befuddled look.
I created a dish called crunchy fire and ice oatmeal. Cream and sugar are natural with a bowl of warm oatmeal, so why not the contrasts of cold with the hot, then topped with granola for crunch? The faces on the attendees when tasted showed me how eager they were to get back to the garrison and share the creation! And, as usual, I like to have multiple uses for a product, so we also made ice cream sandwiches with oatmeal cookies and the cinnamon ice cream, which got the same response.
Remember: Texture and temperature changes in a dish add creative and subtle touches. Think about ice cream as that carrier next time. What about a wasabi ice cream with seared tuna, or even sour cilantro ice cream on a chilled chile-seared scallop?
With heat in ice cream, I always say it should be for enjoyment, not a dare. The heat should be subtle and addictive, not at the abyss of purgatory where Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern himself would not want to try what you are serving. As a rule of thumb, I use 1 oz. of TABASCO Habanero Sauce to 1 gallon liquid base. The fruity notes in that sauce pair well with mango, banana, papaya and tamarind, providing a sweet sensation and giving a tickle of heat as desired.
Molecular gastronomy is a long-debated practice that has amazed many and led others to question its place in cooking. Fad or trend, the truth of the matter is molecular gastronomists have worked actively in the realm of ice cream. The process of pouring liquid nitrogen straight into an ice cream blend as it is being mixed basically gives you instant ice cream.
In foodservice, liquid nitrogen allows chefs to make customers ice cream fresh to order. The practice has become pursued by so many there is actual group called TILNICES (The Institute for Liquid Nitrogen Ice Creams Experimental Studies).
Taking this process full force is an ice-cream shop called iCream, located in Chicagos trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. With employees dressed in lab coats and the store looking like a lab, the uniqueness is a major part of the draw, but so is the capability for instant flavor customization. How about a pistachio and white truffle in a matter of moments! Instead of requiring gallons of one particular flavor, the concept allows customers to choose flavors and particulates on the spot, as well as the basethick and rich with a high fat percentage, or lower-fat and even yogurt bases.
The only drawback is that the process can sometimes yield an icy, grainy texture. And, I am not sure how OSHA will feel when one of the shops ice cream techs bathes their hand in a healthy dose of liquid nitrogen (on a similar newfound regulatory level as when New York City restaurants early experiments in sous vide cooking raised the Health Departments hackles). Only time and consumer demand will see if this is truly a fad or a trend that will be seen for years to come.
As with everything, there has to be balanceboth with ingredient selection and during processing. We need to make sure that any acidic ingredients do not break the cream. Also, freezing over a period of time can change flavor composition and intensity.
Consumers are more open to trying new flavors, but know your audience and how they react to what you have normally produced and what they see as your limitations.
At Avery Island, we serve TABASCO ice cream to visitors at our country store. It is one of the biggest conversation points while they are there.
When it comes to ice-cream treats, do not get a case of brain freeze. Let your imagination run wild. Who knows? You may create the next cool flavor the nation will love!
Jason R. Gronlund is the executive chef and director of culinary services, ingredient sales, for McIlhenny Company and TABASCO® brand Products, which is headquartered in Avery Island, LA, and is a member of the Research Chefs Association.
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