When it comes to food, what is a staple in one country may be considered bizarre in another. One country’s classic is another country’s exotic novelty treat. One’s hot trend is another’s time-honored tradition.For example, American classics like peanut butter and root beer are considered odd and even disgusting outside the US. On the other hand, ice cream is one food that seems to enjoy worldwide popularity. Yet, so endless are its variations that there is always some new ingredient or flavor to discover.Internet lists abound featuring weird, attention-grabbing, and faddish ice cream flavors like lobster, squid ink, or horseradish. In contrast, this list presents weird and unique ice cream flavors that are decidedly not strange in their countries of origin. Here are the most popular ice cream flavors you’ve probably never heard of.
Lucuma is a subtropical fruit which originated in the Andes and is now grown primarily in Peru and Chile. Depictions of lucuma on pottery date back to pre-Inca times. Lucuma has thin, brownish-green or yellowish-green skin and bright yellow flesh with one to five large, brown seeds that resemble the pit of an avocado.It is sometimes called eggfruit because the flesh has the color of a raw egg yolk and the texture of a hard-boiled egg yolk. Rather than tasting fruity, its flavor is likened to maple or butterscotch.While lucuma can be used in a number of ways, it is commonly found as an ice cream flavor in Peru. Though actual figures don’t exist, some claim that it is the most popular ice cream flavor of all in Peru, surpassing standbys like chocolate and vanilla.It can also be found Neapolitan style, joined with vanilla and chocolate or vanilla and strawberry. Due to its soft flesh and tendency to lose water quickly, it is generally considered unfit for export.
Kinako means “yellow flour” in Japanese, but this unassuming name belies a uniquely delicious ingredient. Kinako is a fine, sand-colored powder made from roasted soybeans and used primarily in Japan to give a toasty, nutty flavor to pastries and sweets.Sometimes, it is used throughout a confection. Other times, it is simply dusted on top as a finishing touch, as is often the case with ice cream and sometimes shaved ice. Kinako pairs well with vanilla, banana, brown sugar, and nuts.Kinako isn’t the least bit strange in Japan, where it is said to have preceded sugar. Anyone who knows of Japan’s love of Kit Kats and their insane array of flavors won’t be surprised to learn that kinako has been featured in numerous varieties of the candy as well.If you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, here’s the gist: The name “Kit Kat” sounds very similar to the Japanese phrase kitto katsu which translates to “you will surely win.” This coincidence has contributed to Kit Kat’s popularity in Japan, especially as a gift to schoolchildren during exam time.
Floral flavors are not very popular in the US these days, where flowers generally conjure thoughts of perfume rather than delicious treats. It hasn’t always been that way, though.
In the very first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery (1796), rosewater appears in recipes for pound cake, gingerbread, and apple pie. It was a popular flavoring before vanilla was king.
Rosewater is exactly what it sounds like—a liquid made by distilling rose petals with steam. Abroad, it is an exceedingly common flavoring to this day and can be found in countless international sweets, from Turkish baklava to Indian lassi to Persian ice cream.
Bastani sonnati, meaning “classical ice cream,” is a Persian (or Iranian) ice cream flavored with rosewater and often saffron, vanilla, and/or pistachios. Most remarkable about this ice cream is its chewiness and stretchiness, which is the result of the addition of salaab, a thickening agent extracted from a wild orchid.
Another interesting feature of Persian ice cream is the addition of frozen chunks of cream. Perhaps most unusual of all, sometimes bastani sonnati is served scooped into a glass of fresh carrot juice.
Ube is a root vegetable (aka yam or sweet potato) that is vibrant purple in color and sweet in flavor. In the Philippines, ube is used in all manner of desserts, including cakes, cookies, and ice cream. Like lucuma, it imparts both flavor and color as an ingredient.Ube also makes frequent appearances in another frozen treat, the traditional Filipino shaved ice dessert known as halo-halo. Halo-halo is a mixture of ice, evaporated milk, and a rainbow of toppings.Though ube ice cream is becoming more popular—and even, unfortunately, “hipster”—due to its eye-catching and Instagrammable appearance, it’s nothing new in the Philippines. Its unique flavor has been described as an “earthy” white chocolateor a combination of vanilla and pistachio. Fresh ube is difficult to find in the US, but it can be bought as a powder, an extract, or a paste.
Black sesame ice cream is to Asia what vanilla ice cream is to the United States. When ground, the sesame seeds become creamy. They add a charcoal color and a rich, nutty flavor to ice cream and other dishes. The depth and complexity of black sesame seeds can also be compared to dark chocolate or coffee, flavors which are enlivened by toasting the seeds before using them.In Japan, black sesame seeds are ground and combined with honey to make a paste called nuri goma. This paste can be found in some international markets or specialty stores.The appearance it gives to ice cream is less like the trendy “goth” ice cream made of charcoal and squid ink and more like cookies and cream. Despite its appeal, black sesame ice cream doesn’t seem to have caught on in the US yet, at least not as well as other Asian ice cream flavors like green tea, red bean, and ginger.