When it comes to ice cream, the trend of the last few years is to push weird flavor pairings hard—ones that theoretically shouldn’t compliment each other, but kinda do. Thanks to artisanal ice cream shops like Salt and Straw, Jeni’s and McConnell’s, flavors like Goat Cheese with Cherries or Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecans aren’t even the most adventurous pairings currently being offered. In other words, the messaging seems to be, it’s 2018 and if you’re still just eating mint chocolate chip, your tongue is super basic.
Strange flavor pairings are nothing new to the human tongue, of course—the pig-meets-pineapple Hawaiian pizza has long been a pizza chain staple, and despite all the anti-Hawaiian pizza memes (and songs), science says that such a pairing just makes sense. “Really fatty foods, like ham and other meats, tend to leave your mouth feeling fatty, which is an undesirable state,” Paul Breslin, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and a professor of nutrition at Rutgers University, told Bon Appetit. “Enter the pineapple. The fruit, which is naturally acidic, cuts through that greasy mouthfeel, creating a balanced (and tasty) result.”
To that end, Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, told The Guardian that over the past few decades there’s been a trend of mixing salty and sweet, especially in the U.S. “The driving force in food consumption is economics and demographics,” Hirsch explained to The Guardian. “In America, the two flavor trends are firstly the increased inclusion of vanilla, and secondly the increase in salt. Both of these trends are reflective of a changing population.”
It goes without saying that when it comes to ice cream, we’re well beyond “vanilla”: We’ve entered an era in which squid ink with wasabi sprinkles is an acceptable, even sought after ice cream flavor. To better explain this latest iteration in seemingly gross ice cream pairings that weirdly kinda work, we asked Lorraine Elliott, a food pairing expert and founder of the blog Not Quite Nigella, to explain why flavors like goat cheese, marionberry and habañero go so well together as ice cream.
1. Avocado & Oaxacan Chocolate Fudge: “Avocado is a relatively mild flavor in comparison to a rich chocolate fudge, but avocado as an ingredient would add a creaminess and wonderful buttery mouthfeel to the ice cream,” says Elliott. “Plus, you get the healthy fat benefit of avocados!”
2. Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper: “Strawberries and black pepper are a classic combination—it works because a small amount of black pepper neutralizes the natural tartness of strawberries and brings out the flavor of them,” Elliott explains. “But since ice cream needs to be sweeter because it’s frozen, adding balsamic and honey creates a natural syrup.”
3. Goat Cheese Marionberry Habañero: “Creamy, tart and spicy—so many flavors popping!” says Elliott. “This is also a good combination as a spicy chilli like habañero is somewhat tempered by being in a creamy base, plus you get that cold/hot sensation.”
4. Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese: “There’s always someone who doesn’t love overly sweet desserts, and this works for those people who prefer a cheese platter to a dessert,” explains Elliott. “Adding a crunchy item like brittle gives a creamy goat cheese base a good textural counterpoint.”
5. Yazoo Sue With Rosemary Bar Nuts: “Beer and nuts work on a sensory level, as it brings back good memories of drinking at a bar with friends and being relaxed,” says Elliott. “Yazoo Sue is a malty, smoky beer that can stand up to a bold herb like rosemary, and nuts again add a nice crunch and texture.”
So what’s next? Shellfish ice cream? Oh never mind, that’s already been done too.