The Year in Cones: 2010's Biggest Ice Cream Trends

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It is December and everyone makes up a list of the year's best movies, or types out a year-in-review thumbsucker about one thing or another. We were asked by Adrian Cole of www.flavor-online.com to think about the consequential ice cream events of 2010. It was an interesting exercise.

Happy to do so.

Salt is becoming common. This moved from high-end chocolate makers like Pierre Hermé of Paris to pastry people at high-end restaurants and is now common in independent ice cream stores. Everyone loves salt. In moderation, we hope. Pepper is also worth mentioning, including white pepper with fruit sorbets, red pepper flakes for heat, and pink peppercorns for ... frisson? A tingle. Pink peppercorns as I understand it are not really peppers, and I first encountered them at Sofra Cafe in western Cambridge. Customers often want something familiar but a little different, and all these spices enable people to have just that. We have made wonderful smoked salty chocolate, salty caramel, and strawberry pink peppercorn sorbet.

Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco is the most transgressive of the flavor innovators, seeming to concoct new flavors because of their shock value.

South Asian flavors are increasingly popular as Indians and Indians foods disperse throughout the country. Cardamom is wonderful and accessible, and while I once predicted that Americans would never like saffron for desserts, this year we have had success with several saffron flavors.

Mexican palleta (basically popsicle) flavors are also to be found in many places and they affect sorbets and fruit ice creams. People's Pops in NYC and Locopops from North Carolina did well with this idea.

Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco is the most transgressive of the flavor innovators, seeming to concoct new flavors because of their shock value. Having said that, bacon candy or maple bacon bits can actually work for a store with moderately adventurous customers.

Milks and creams infused with cereals have had success at Humphry Slocombe and in NYC at David Chang's restaurants. We're working on a flavor with crunchy rice from Persia.

One food anthropologist I know thought that American food tastes are affected by military misadventures. Think of Vietnamese food. And she predicted that Iraqi food and flavors would make inroads. Another food anthropologist thinks that Japanese fruits and herbs work for American ice cream eaters.

This year I didn't see anything memorable in the broad mainstream. I'm thinking of flavors like cookie dough and moose tracks and bear paws. They are probably flavors that are most popular with families and kids.

We make new flavors all the time, and this year we made many batches of Black Bottom Pie, based on a pie recipe from the Deep South, and Meyer lemon ice cream, as well as coffee ice cream sandwich, which played with the concept of redundancy (ice cream with ice cream in it).

The best ice cream I had this year was Roasted Hazelnut at Boston's Coppa. It was like barbecued nocciola ice cream, and Italians would do well to copy this fabulous flavor. I also had kaffir lime sorbet at a new restaurant in Cambridge, Bondir. The texture was beautiful and the flavor was very self-assured. I'm not sure how popular it will become. Finally, Rialto, at the other end of Cambridge, served a spoonful of black garlic ice cream which was extraordinary and perfectly illustrated the benefits of "going where no man has gone before."

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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 www.tosci.com.

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