Ice Cream With an International Flavor Twist

Jasmine ice cream with salted seaweed? That one's not here yet, but Americans' desire for adventurous flavors extends into one of the most traditional categories.

Foreign-inspired flavors and other treatments meant to appeal to ethnic groups have long been affecting various food categories. It was only a matter of time before the impact was felt in ice cream.

Breyers Tiramasu GelatoHaagen-Dazs entertained TV viewers this summer with a passionate Italian couple that argued over everything except gelato. Long a treat enjoyed by overseas travelers and more recently a mainstay of many scoop shops, gelato finally made its way into packaged ice creams.

Häägen-Dazs' gelato line featured traditional Italian flavors Pistachio and Limoncello, Italian-inspired ones like Black Cherry Amaretto and Tiramisu and all-American treatments Caramelized Banana Chip, Pomegranate Swirl and Sea Salt Caramel.

Talenti and Ciao Bella have been making the stuff for a while, but Breyers brought Gelato Indulgences on the scene this past summer. The other major brands have not followed suit, although Target carries an Archer Farms brand of gelato.

As top manufacturers know, the consumer’s taste palate has expanded in recent years, resulting in demand for profiles that strike more than one note.

“The sky is the limit for complex flavors,” says Ed McIntosh, marketing manager for Downers Grove, Ill.-based Flavorchem Corp. “Consumers at novelty ice cream shops take traditional ice cream flavors and customize the toppings just like at a sandwich places. We get request for flavored syrups and sauces and inclusions to variegate ice cream.

“Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. and have increasing purchasing power,” says McIntosh, whose company is getting requests for traditional Hispanic flavors such as horchata, mamey and flan in ice cream. Flavorchem offers a variety of mints, coffee, teas and Hispanic-inspired flavors that work well in ice cream and frozen dessert, in addition to its wide variety of vanillas, he notes.

Consumers at novelty ice cream shops take traditional ice cream flavors and customize the toppings just like at a sandwich places. We get request for flavored syrups and sauces and inclusions to variegate ice cream.

– Ed McIntosh, Flavorchem Corp.

Smaller-batch purveyors, scoop shops and restaurants are producing salty-sweet combos with ethnic undertones, such as Thai Basil, Sesame Oil & Milk Chocolate, Goat Cheese & Fig and Lemon Marscapone.

Even crazier flavorings are in the mix at Salt & Straw, a Portland, Ore., creamery that Oprah put on the map when she featured it in her magazine. Salt & Straw’s original flavors include Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero and Strawberry with Cilantro Lime Cheesecake (as well as Summer Cucumber & Raspberry Sorbet and Black Raspberries & Smoked Ham).

Häägen-Dazs recently made headlines when it announced it was launching in Japan a line of Spoon Vege ice creams, available in tomato cherry and carrot orange flavors. Trend forecasters are looking to the East for the next wave of influence on the U.S. — after all, the Asian market is known for its innovative new product development.

In addition, sweet spices such as ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are making their way into the frozen dairy case. Just ask Chris Rivard, Ben & Jerry’s principal food scientist and global product developer, who has been inspired by flavors in cities around the world, including Japan. “Jasmine ice cream with salted seaweed in the heart of Tokyo really gets the creativity flowing,” he tells www.benjerry.com.

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