Some Saffron in Your Ice Cream?

rancatore mar13 saffronicecream_Mai Le.jpg

Photo by Mai Le/Flickr CC

Years ago I worried about running out of ideas for new flavors. Now I don't, but I am amazed that new flavors continue to appear, or at least flavors that are new to me.

This weekend a customer suggested Hydrox Cookie with pieces of Cookie Dough. It sounds like a DQ Blizzard but maybe it will work.(Curator's note: I like Hydrox better! But now you've made it, and some people can't get enough of dough pellets and odd-shaped bitty chocolate chips.)

A flavor can work for a few customers or a restaurant or a situation, or the flavor can become popular or broadly popular. Sometimes the flavor just works for me.

Coffee Ice Cream Sandwich came about after a discussion of reduplication in Italian food. I wanted to make ice cream that contained ice cream.

A Harvard professor helped us to begin making Indian ice cream flavors. Over the years as Indian foods have become more popular, ice cream flavors like Saffron, Cardamom, and Khulfee have developed crossover appeal. They are popular with all kinds of people. Mango ice cream and sorbet appeals to so many small groups -- South Americans, South Asians, and East Asians -- that the group ends up being one of our biggest subsets and the flavor one of our biggest sellers. This winter we made a new variation: Mango Coconut Sorbet. The flavor was a little complex, with several kinds of coconut and lime juice.

Black Bottom Pie is from America's Deep South. Usually it has a gingersnap crust, and a chocolate rum filling. Sometimes it contains fruit. We make a chocolate rum ice cream and add gingersnap cookies. Gingersnaps are very New England, but the entire effect is unexpected and appealing.

Some flavors don't stick around. During our first year of business we made Carob ice cream for a single, wonderful and persistent customer. Carob was never a popular flavor, but even Haagen Dazs made a version of it. It was favored by health food eaters. When this customer finished her studies at MIT we stopped making the flavor. It had few other fans and none of the ice cream makers enjoyed making it or eating it

Others become regulars in the Toscanini's rotation. Coffee Ice Cream Sandwich came about after a discussion of reduplication in Italian food. Italians serve starches with starches, so you might have pasta with potatoes or a pizza that is topped with potatoes. I wanted to make ice cream that contained ice cream. Anyone who has gone to an American grade school is familiar with the taste and texture of ice cream sandwiches. We switched from using vanilla ice cream as the background flavor to Strawberry and Coffee ice creams, because we wanted people to be able to see the distinctive chocolate wafers and the very simple vanilla ice cream between them.

(Curator's note: Score another victory for Italian influence. This is a great flavor. The contrast between the lighter, simpler commercial vanilla and the richer, but not too dense Toscanini's ice cream is refreshing, the flavor superlative.)

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Gus Rancatore is the co-founder of Toscanini, the Cambridge-based shop that The New York Times said makes "the best ice cream in the world." Learn more at

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