Forget about clearing away the savory seasonings from your dinner table before dessert is served. Olive oil, sea salt and even black pepper are part of a popular ingredients trend in ice cream. The decadent combination of olive oil and ice cream emerged in retail brand offerings in 2015, gaining ground in foodservice and among bloggers for several years. Including olive oil in the recipe is said to provide texture benefits to ice cream, in that it adds an indulgently creamy – yet not oily – texture, while the flavour is said to add subtle grassy and nutty notes. While you’re most likely to find olive oil ice creams in restaurants and gelaterias in Italy, it has become a destination dessert at Otto’s Pizzeria in New York City and is also found in other restaurants across the US. Advocates of the combination even point to how olive oil is rich in naturally occurring antioxidants and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E – although this is unlikely to bestow ice cream with a health halo.

Olive oil has been all but absent in the global retail ice cream market. But over the past year, two artisan, small-batch producers have introduced their olive oil ice creams to supermarkets – each sharing a commitment to using local suppliers. In summer 2015, Texas-based Lick introduced Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil & Sea Salt Ice Creams into stores around Austin, TX. The recipe uses locally sourced ingredients, such as extra virgin olive oil from the Texas Olive Ranch and dairy and dark chocolate from Austin–based Great Bean. The flavour is said to have “buttery notes,” while the small batch appeal is amplified by a hand-written writing style on the lid.

Meanwhile in Western Australia, another olive oil ice cream is available in supermarkets courtesy of local supplier Two Fat Cows. Similar to Lick’s recipe, Two Fat Cows is made with extra virgin olive oil which is sourced locally, as well as dairy from the company’s own herd of Friesian cattle.

Is black pepper the next seasoning to excite ice cream?

The number of global ice cream launches containing sea salt has tripled between 2013 and 2015.

The idea of using olive oil to add an interesting, complementary flavour and texture quality follows in the footsteps of sea salt’s rise in popularity in gelato and ice cream. Between July 2013 and July 2015, the number of global ice cream launches featuring sea salt as a flavour or ingredient tripled, largely reflecting the rise of sea salt and caramel flavours. Yet other savoury seasonings can work well in ice cream, such as ground black pepper, offsetting the sweet flavour.

In the global retail channel, ice cream products with black pepper among the ingredients are all but absent. But among the small parlours, boutiques and food trucks that tend to inspire new retail ice creams, and the blogs that report on them, black pepper’s profile is growing. After all, compared with the stringent demands of retail, the out-of-home ice cream channel can afford to be more experimental, and launch more unconventional flavours. For example, Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream Parlor in New York City currently sells a Szechuan Peppercorn Chocolate flavour, as well as a Salt & Pepper Pinenut option.

Ice creams featuring a measured amount of ground black pepper as a flavour component could be well received by consumers in a number of global markets. For example, 48% of British adults are interested in trying ice cream made with ethnic ingredients, and 39% are interested in hot flavoured ice cream, according to Mintel’s Ice Cream and Desserts UK 2015 report.

51% of Chinese ice cream users who have not tried sweet and savoury mixed ice cream are keen to do so.

Using savoury spices is also a means for ice cream brands in Asia to deliver the exciting flavours more associated with the out-of-home channel. For example, in Northern India, guava is sold by street vendors who slit the fruit and insert black rock salt and chaat masala – a combination of savoury spices and Himalayan pink salt. This has evolved from guava fruit to guava ice cream being topped with the spicy mixture. Adding ground black pepper and other spices to retail ice cream in India could help Western brands appeal to local tastes.

Meanwhile in China, a sizeable 51% of ice cream users have not tried sweet and savoury mixed ice cream, but would be keen to do so, according to Mintel’s research. Chinese consumers are continuously seeking ice cream products that offer greater variety in texture, flavours and sensations, thanks to rising incomes and a growing appreciation of gourmet recipes and unique flavours. So when you next serve up a bowl of vanilla ice cream, sprinkle a few crystals of sea salt or ground black pepper on top and wait for the flavor explosion.

Alex was promoted to Global Food and Drink Analyst at the end of 2013, having spent nearly three years writing UK-based consumer reports on a wide variety of food and drink categories. Prior to joining Mintel, Alex was Food and Drink Editor of highly-regarded food industry magazine, The Grocer.

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