Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 7/17/2014.
Once, while we were college students, my old friend Lloyd Young decided to put onion flakes in his ice cream, just to see what it would taste like. He claims it really wasn’t that bad, but the thought of it nearly turned my stomach.
Lloyd is something of an adventurous person when it comes to food (he dreamed of starting a restaurant called Lloyd’s Liver Lair); but I’m not very think-outside-the-box when it comes to food. As my friends and family will attest, my ice cream preferences are like the rest of my food preferences in general…fairly vanilla. I do like chocolate and strawberry, and occasionally will go for a sherbet or some variation of these, but I’d never even think of pouring balsamic vinegar into my frozen treat.
Life has taught me that some things just shouldn’t go together — but do — like Mary Matalin and James Carville, or Beauty and Beast, or frying and Twinkies. And if you try new things often enough, you’re likely to hit on a winner eventually.
Recently, I read a story in a Colorado newspaper about emerging trends in the ice cream industry. The boutique ice-cream industry is exploding around the country, and some intriguing new flavors have emerged. Imagine Tabasco ice cream, or fried chicken and waffle.
“You’re seeing the same kinds of trends in ice cream that you’re seeing in other foods. People are willing to experiment,” said Peggy Armstrong, of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
There are also new types of packaging ideas, such as Ben & Jerry’s Cores, which feature two flavors in one pint, with an irresistible core of chocolate in the middle. An example is Peanut Butter Fudge, with chocolate on one side, peanut butter (with tiny peanut butter cups) on the other and a fudgy center.
So what is driving all this experimentation? You and me. Ever since the invention of ice cream, people have been demanding new sensations, although today’s tastes have hardly changed in decades. (An International Ice Cream Association study found that vanilla is still by far the favorite choice, followed by chocolate and butter pecan; also in the running were coffee, Neapolitan and Rocky Road.) These lists have changed little since World War II.
Maggie Briscoe of Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint notes that flavors are always changing, with 24 flavors in rotation at any time at the Jackson-based eatery. “Local favorites around here are Cookies& Cream and Birthday Cake,” she notes.
But beyond the core of dairy-treat conservatism, the industry appears to be moving towards trying new ways to combine and package their cold confections, noted Laura B. Weiss, author of Ice Cream: A Global History, in a story on the IDFA’s website. “Though we are in an intense period of flavor experimentation, the desire to go beyond chocolate, vanilla and strawberry dates to the post-World War II era,” Weiss noted. “That’s when Howard Johnson, known for his roadside restaurants, tried to persuade Americans to indulge in his famous 28 flavors. Among them: maple walnut, burgundy cherry and fruit salad. “This was really pretty revolutionary,” Weiss said.