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The first taste of a sweet, sticky ice cream cone on a boiling hot day ushers in an unrivaled feeling of relief, joy, and satisfaction all at once. Everyone has their go-to flavor — vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate are some of the American classics — but in other parts of the world, ice cream is infused with local flavors and tastes to make some truly scrumptious delights. Here are nine ice cream styles and flavors you need to try on your next trip abroad.
Italy has perfected the art of gelato, so it’s no surprise that the Mediterranean country has literally hundreds of flavors to choose from. Some you can only get in specific gelaterias, but others can be sampled up and down the country.
One of the more common flavors in Italy that might seem strange to American tastebuds is basil gelato. Basil is typically seen as a savory herb, but its fresh aroma, vibrant green color, and mild taste work equally well in sweet products. If you like mint ice cream, you might like this, too. Basil gelato can be enjoyed as a standalone flavor or combined with lemon, strawberry, and even olive oil for a refreshing dessert.
Ube (Purple Yam)
Japan’s enthusiasm for regional delicacies knows no bounds — just take a look at their huge range of Kit Kat varieties, many of them showing off a province’s signature delicacy, such as Hokkaido’s succulent melon. Unsurprisingly, the same rule applies to ice cream in Japan.
The 150 islands that make up the subtropical Okinawa prefecture, which stretches towards Taiwan in the very south of the country, are renowned for their purple yams (known in Japanese as beni-imo). Capitalizing on how popular beni-imo was among Okinawans, local manufacturer Blue Seal started producing a purple yam ice cream. Its bright lilac color instantly catches the eye, but don’t be fooled, as the taste is surprisingly subtle and without a hint of potato. Sweet and quirky, this ice cream is perfect for a hot day on the beach. Purple yam ice cream is also sold in the Philippines, as well as Hawaii.
Brown bread is a staple of the Irish diet. The main event of any sandwich, it’s often eaten with slabs of butter, jam, and cheese — all on the same slice. If it goes stale, it doesn’t need to go to waste, as the dry crumbs can be caramelized with muscovado sugar and used for Ireland’s favorite ice cream.
Brown bread ice cream is ubiquitous in restaurants and cafes across the country, best licked while strolling along the harbor of a picturesque seaside village. Gelato connoisseurs from all over the world flock to Murphy’s in Dingle, which produces a host of unusual flavors made with local dairy and produce. The crunchy breadcrumbs add a pleasant texture to the vanilla ice cream base, while Irish whiskey can be added as an optional ingredient to stop the ice cream from freezing too hard. (And, of course, for the taste.)
This infamous fruit is so pungent that it’s banned on the Singapore subway and so spiky that it’s painful to pick up. But for durian fans, the fruit bears ripe reward — best served cold. Durian ice pops and ice creams are widely available in Southeast Asia and are much-loved by many locals. But to foreigners, durian is certainly an acquired taste.
The smell has been compared to rotting meat, turpentine, and gas. The taste, however, is quite different— the creamy texture melts in the mouth, and the smell gives way to a unique sweetness. In addition to street vendors and ice cream parlors, you can also pick up a tub of durian ice cream from the supermarket — it’ll be hiding next to the Haagen-Dazs.
Akutuq (Alaskan Ice Cream)
With a texture more like sorbet than ice cream, akutaq is a delicacy created by the Indigenous peoples of Alaska. Popular throughout the state, akutaq is often made from dried fish, caribou meat, seal oil, and a variety of berries. The word “akutaq” means “to stir,” and the ice cream is traditionally made by hand mixing the ingredients together in ice. (A whisk can also be used.)
Sugar was introduced to akutaq recipes in the 19th century, transforming it from a hunter’s staple meal into a hearty dessert. Said to taste like berries mixed into buttercream, akutaq is served all over Alaska, with hundreds of different variations, each one personal to the chef and their family. Nowadays, vegetable shortening can be used in the place of animal fats.
Common in Greece and Turkey but relatively unknown outside the Eastern Mediterranean, mastic ice cream gets its unique flavor from mastiha, or mastic gum resin, which comes from trees native to the Greek island of Chios. It tastes subtly of pine and fennel and is used to flavor gelato as well as a Turkish style of ice cream known as dondurma.
Dondurma is made with cream, sugar, mastic gum, and salep, which comes from the tubers of orchids. The latter two ingredients act as thickeners, giving dondurma a texture so elastic that it can be stretched thin or chopped with a knife. In Istanbul, the art of serving dondurma is as elaborate as the ice cream itself. It’s something of a game for the ice-cream maker — to taunt the purchaser in front of a crowd, the dondurma is frequently given to them then snatched from their hands like a magic trick, before being graciously handed back to the hungry customer.
Earthy, sweet, and nutty red bean (adzuki) paste can be found in many traditional East Asian desserts, from mochi to dumplings. Blend it into ice cream, and you’ve got a winning fusion of classic Eastern and Western flavors.
Adzuki ice cream, popular in China, Japan, and many Pacific islands, tends to be a little less melt-in-your-mouth than American-style soft serve, but it’s just as refreshing for hot and humid days and can even be shaped into a popsicle bar. It’s also (sort of) good for you — adzuki beans are packed with fiber, protein, and vitamins. Just be careful not to get brain freeze.
High up in the Andes grows a fruit that looks like a cross between a mango, a turnip, and an avocado: the lucuma. Its plain appearance is deceiving, though, for lucuma is known as “gold of the Incas”. It’s little wonder why, as the fruit has a heavenly taste resembling candied yam. The prized fruit is also responsible for Peru’s favorite ice cream flavor, sold to sweaty tourists along the Inca Trail and late-night revelers in the streets of Lima alike. Lucuma ice cream is best served with pecans, a wafer straw, and chocolate sauce made with Peruvian cocoa, naturally) or dulce de leche.
Outside of Canada, it’s hard to find this wild flavor — spotting it is almost as rare as seeing an actual tiger. Named for its fiery hue and trademark black stripes, so-called "Tiger Tail" ice cream does not, in fact, contain tiger: It’s an orange-flavored gelato with black licorice swirled in.
Originating in the 1970s, a scoop of Tiger Tail atop a sturdy cone is a nostalgic treat for many Canadians, and is sold seasonally in Baskin Robbins. It hasn’t exactly taken the world of international ice-cream aficionados by storm, though. Any American wishing to taste Tiger Tail for themselves must embark on a cross-border adventure to try it.