Vanilla. Then chocolate. Then butter pecan.
According to a recent survey by the International Dairy Foods Association, those are the three most popular ice cream flavors among Americans—with rocky road, coffee and Neapolitan tied for distant fourth.
And now let’s cast those dull spoons aside and dig into some far wilder flavors being scooped by a movement of premium ice cream re-thinkers and out-of-the-carton trend-setters from coast to coast.
And notice the lines.
For ice cream with balsamic vinegar in it. Beets. Bacon. Blue cheese. Bourbon. Kimchi. Lobster. Something called “tomato water.”
Not all mixed together. But, hey, don’t rule that out either anymore.
“I think people are open to new and less conventional ice cream flavors more than ever these days,” says Sam Kopicko, co-owner of Sweet Action Ice Cream, a Denver-based ice cream shop with garam masala, vegan carrot cake, and biscuits + jam flavors on the menu – in addition to a bestseller featuring local whiskey. “A lot of our customers seem pretty excited about trying flavors they probably won’t find anywhere else.”
So by all means, keep enjoying vanilla bean and mint chip. But on the eve of National Ice Cream Month (July), just know that this is not where your ice cream adventure needs to end this summer.
Here are some palate-broadening flavors around the country to push your future waffle cone way beyond the same old tired chocolate chunks and caramel ribbon.
Golden summer fig (Creole Creamery, New Orleans)
“Beautiful floral notes, a bit of wild honey, and the jammy-goodness of local figs create a melange of perfect summer sweetness,” says chef Bryan Gilmore about Creole Creamery’s popular summer flavor, which features saffron ice cream, orange blossom honey and a swirl of Louisiana fig preserves.
The namesake flavor here is Creole cream cheese made from a local farm-style cheese – “a quintessential old-school New Orleans ice cream flavor that was in everybody’s grandma’s icebox growing up,” adds Gilmore.
Blueberry basil sorbet (Mount Desert Ice Cream, Bar Harbor, Maine)
Yes, the blueberries are hand-deseeded and the basil comes fresh from Downeast Maine.
Like we needed to ask.
“The taste of blueberries is enhanced by the subtle anise taste of the basil,” notes owner Linda Parker. “We often blend it with soda water to make our version of an adult ‘Slurpee.’”
Other only-here favorites: coriander with blackberry jam and streusel and a scrumptious butterscotch miso.
Goat cheese and roasted beets (Glace Artisan Ice Cream, Kansas City)
“We roast fresh beets and puree them into a sweet cream base which we blend with our goat cheese ice cream,” says retail manager Kara McKeever.
The result: “A sweet, earthy ice cream with gorgeous color and taste.”
Come back for a scoop of Farmer Bob’s sweet corn—available later this summer when the corn is ready.
Strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper (Salt & Straw, Portland)
How do you elevate sweet Oregon strawberries to their happiest state – at least in Salt & Straw premium ice cream terms?
Not by heaping on more sweetness, but with a counter intuitive smidge of something else entirely: a splash of honey balsamic vinegar and a dash of rare Micronesian Pohnpei black pepper.
For a good double scoop pairing, go with the Arbequina olive oil flavor. A deceptively simple match.
Stranahan’s whiskey brickle (Sweet Action Ice Cream, Denver)
Made with Colorado whiskey that’s distilled down the street from the ice cream shop, “it tastes exactly like a cold whiskey on the rocks,” says co-owner Sam Kopicko. “We definitely recommend this one as an adult flavor.”
But the kids might enjoy the biscuits + jam flavor.
Back to you – make it a double with a scoop of Colorado margarita.
Sichuan Chocolate (Sweet Republic, Phoenix)
“Sichuan peppercorns give this chocolate ice cream an addictive tingling sensation balanced with notes of orange zest,” says chef/owner Helen Yung.
Keep the tingling going with an extra scoop of habanera bacon avocado.
Peanut butter lavender with mini marshmallow (Black Dog Gelato, Chicago)
A peanut butter base lightly scented with fresh lavender evokes a dual peanuty/mint experience – while the mini marshmallows “provide a little lightness,” notes owner/chef Jessica Oloroso. “A little comic relief to this otherwise serious gelato.”
Honorable mentions at Black Dog Gelato include: goat cheese cashew caramel (“similar in flavor profile to cheesecake”) and cucumber rosewater sorbet.
Maple bacon brittle (Morelli’s Ice Cream, Atlanta)
The most requested flavor at Morelli’s consists of organic maple syrup blended into heavy cream with candied bacon pieces folded throughout.
“After experiencing maple bacon brittle, I would recommend trying our blueberry feta glazed walnuts,” says owner Clarissa Morelli.
Cool as a cucumber (Dominion Ice Cream, Baltimore)
In addition to cucumber ice cream (a light, mildly sweet summer favorite), other favorites at Dominion – which enhances its product with veggies in a “deceptively delicious,” nutrient-rich manner that’s garnered food awards – include sweet potato, red cabbage and spinach.
“We serve cappuccino crunch too for more traditional types,” says owner Donna Calloway, “but the vast majority of our customers end up going for the veggie flavors. We’ve converted many people.”
Rosewater Saffron with Pistachios (Mashti Malone’s, Los Angeles)
“Every herb we use in our ice creams has been used for aromatherapy or herbal therapy, and they all have health benefits,” says Mashti Malone’s co-founder Mehdi Shirvani, who augments ice cream palates with Middle Eastern-influenced flavors like orange blossom, lavender and “herbal snow” (a rosewater-based sorbet laced with five herbal seeds including basil and poppy).
“We make a great cookies ‘n cream too,” says Shirvani. “But most of our customers come here for flavors they will not find anywhere else.”