Making Ice Cream That Tastes Like Color
In September 2014, on one of her frequent stops in New York City, Jeni Britton Bauer swung by the Museum of Modern Art to see Henri Matisse’s Cut-Outs. Bauer, who had studied art at Ohio State University and now owns Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, was familiar with the artworks; she had books about them and posters of them on her walls as a kid. But the reproductions in no way prepared her for the intensity of the real thing. “They felt like a vacuum—like they were going to suck me in,” she tells mental_floss. “The blue is so dry and beautiful ... I started to think what about I was tasting when I saw it.” There was a sweet-tart candy flavor on her tongue, and she knew she wanted to make a line of ice creams and frozen yogurts inspired by The Cut-Outs. The line, Jeni's Colors Collection, is available to order today.
It took Bauer and her team 12 weeks of daily tweaking to create the line, which consists of six flavors: Ultramarine Blue, Ombre Brulee, Cadmium Yellow, Garance Vert Clair, Persian Orange, and Noir d’Ivoire (you can learn more about them below). “There are many, many more colors, of course, but we wanted something from each part of the spectrum,” Bauer says. “And then we chose which ones we thought were the most striking and successful as flavors.” (A candy apple red with a grenadine scent and hot cinnamon didn’t make the cut, and she tried a purple that used ylang-ylang, “but they ended up too floral,” Bauer says. “I thought people wouldn’t like them as much.”) Bauer’s favorites are Persian Orange and Ultramarine Blue.
She created the flavors with pulverized fruits and essential oils, which she used to scent the butterfat that’s in cream. “Most of the flavor in ice cream is scent—I got into ice cream through perfuming, so layering scent in ice cream is what’s exciting to me,” she says. “You add your essential oils [to the mixture] and freeze it. As soon as you eat it, it melts immediately, and all the flavors release into your nose.”
The Colors Collection is accompanied by a book, which Bauer hopes will drive conversation about taste and color and the experience of eating ice cream. “The idea is that our interpretation of the flavors may not be your interpretation of the flavors,” she says, “but that’s part of the fun.”
ULTRAMARINE BLUE BUTTERMILK FROZEN YOGURT
This flavor incorporates not just pulverized wild blueberries from Maine but also edible raspberry extract, and pineapple. “When I was looking at it, it gave me a really tart pineapple,” Bauer says, “which is really odd, because it’s not yellow, it’s blue.”
NOIR D’IVOIRE ICE CREAM
This licorice-infused flavor also includes sea salt and crunchy dark chocolate shavings.
CADMIUM YELLOW BUTTERMILK FROZEN YOGURT
Crushed whole lemons, as well as bergamot and white grapefruit, create this yogurt's flavor.
GARANCE VERT CLAIR ICE CREAM
Bauer used lemongrass, coriander leaf, and spirulina in this flavor, as well as Douglas fir essential oil—a “blue green pine,” she says, “with kind of a resinous flavor. It tilted [the flavor] just a little bit onto that blue side.”
PERSIAN ORANGE BUTTERMILK FROZEN YOGURT
In addition to oranges, this flavor features mango, passion fruit, and blood orange zest.
OMBRE BRULEE ICE CREAM
This ice cream incorporates brown sugar cookie butter and Peru Balsam essential oil, one of Bauer’s favorite scents to work with. “It’s this resin from a tree in Ecuador, and I think it’s awesome,” she says. “It’s almost like a vanilla pipe smoke in flavor.”