Unusual Ice Cream Flavors
January means summer in the southern hemisphere, and as a break from the heat, Chileans eat quite a bit of ice cream. On any given bus ride an ice cream vendors will board, shouting “helado helado” (ice cream, ice cream). In minimarkets, they do brisk business selling popsicles and ice cream on a stick, and fast food restaurants (local and international) sell soft-serve out of store windows.
But the real Chilean ice cream experience is had at a sit-down ice cream shop. There are a few local chains in Santiago, some of which also show up in other parts of Chile. And then there is the helado artesenal, or small-batch ice cream. It is at these smaller ice cream shops, that you tend to find some of the most unusual flavors. Below are five you might want to give a try.
Lúcuma, or eggfruit in English is a brown fruit a bit smaller than a baseball with starchy orange flesh. It is not eaten out of hand, but sweetened and cooked down, it makes an excellent base for ice cream. The taste is in the sweet potato/maple/brown sugar family, depending on who you ask. It is commonly combined with manjar, Chile’s version of dulce de leche, itself another good ice cream flavor option.
The cherimoya (spelled chirimoya in Spanish) is a large, soft fruit easily the size of a small canteloupe, with creamy white flesh and many large, black seeds. It’s called a custard apple in English, and the flavor is somewhere between a soursop and pear. This flavor often comes as “cherimoya alegre,” which means it is cherimoya plus orange juice, a flavor combination that is not unlike a Creamsicle.
Tuna, you will be glad to know, is not fish-flavored. This is the name of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. It has a mild fruity taste similar to honeydew, so much so, in fact, that honeydew is called “melón tuna.” Some fruit ice creams in Chile are water-based, and are more like a sorbet, in case you’re looking for something a bit lighter.
Chocolate al Merkén
The spice merkén is from indigenous Mapuche culture, and is a smoked hot pepper mixed with salt and other spices, such as cilantro seed. In the case of chocolate with merkén, it is just the spicy smoky flavor that comes through, and it is usually paired with a dark chocolate ice cream. The chocolate is the first flavor that hits, followed by a mellow spiciness. You can always temper it with some crema americana (the closest flavor Chile has to vanilla), if you like.
This is an ice cream that sounds much stranger than it tastes. As children, many people in Chile were given harina tostada (toasted flour) to eat. It’s served with hot water, or also can be sprinkled over watermelon. It has a toasty, creamy taste that translates surprisingly well to this ice cream, which is not starchy at all. When Chileans taste it for the first time, they often say, “wow, it really tastes like harina tostada.” I’ve only ever had the ice cream, but can vouch that it is quite tasty.
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