You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream. Not just any ice cream, either, but small-batch, ultra-premium ice cream. Indulgence, variety and high quality are all trends that have helped to build a new category of artisanal ice cream.
“Ice cream is always an affordable luxury and connected with emotions,” Humphry Slocombe co-founder and marketing director Sean Vahey said. He points out that whether we ate ice cream when we were sick or at a birthday party as children, we never let go of how it makes us feel.
“Ice cream is always an affordable luxury and connected with emotions,”
- Sean Vahey.
The farm-to-table movement also took hold at ice cream shops such as Smitten, which offers ice cream made to order through its patented liquid nitrogen ice cream machines, often featuring seasonal flavors with the freshest fruit of the moment. Salt & Straw also broke boundaries with a similar ethos of new flavors and local, seasonal ingredients and partnerships, but its name also hints at an element that sets the modern ice cream purveyors apart from the rest of the pack: salt. Savory elements add sophistication to a treat that is traditionally exclusively sweet. Salt & Pepper ice cream from Humphry Slocombe, Salted Malted Chocolate Chip Dough from Salt & Straw, and Salted Butterscotch from Tinpot Creamery are just a few of the more overtly salted flavors, but a hint of salt is often the flavor enhancer that while subtle, often makes ultra-premium ice cream flavors pop. Demand for this type of ice cream has been so great, it’s not unusual to find ultra-premium scoop shops across the street from one another.
Another strong trend in ice cream has been Asian ingredients and ice cream styles. While green tea ice cream has long been a favorite at Japanese restaurants, there’s been an explosion of matcha ice cream options in the past few years. The Japanese dessert mochi ice cream was the fastest-growing category in the ice cream market as of 2018, according to FoodDive. More recently, additional Asian styles of ice cream have taken hold, including rolled ice cream from Thailand, powder or snow ice cream from Taiwan and bingsu, a Korean style of sundae made from shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, and fruit, typically topped with ice cream. Other styles of ice cream include tropical ingredients such as purple yam and pandan from the Philippines, Mexican style paletas or popsicles and Indian style ice creams including the dense and creamy kulfi and falooda, a kind of milk-based ice cream float made with rose syrup.
Recently there have been twists on the way ice cream has traditionally been served, too. Beyond the requisite sugar cones and waffle cones, you’ll find Asian egg waffles or Belgian waffles being used; one ice cream shop, CREAM, even turns cones literally on their side, transforming them into “tacos” to hold ice cream. And in many of today’s sweet shops, the wafer cookies of old-fashioned ice cream sandwiches have been replaced by the likes of glazed donuts and French macarons. What these twists all have in common? High-quality ice cream and handcrafted confections that are made to order.
While ice cream is an indulgence, it’s not always an unhealthy one. Plant-based ice creams, frozen desserts made using probiotics, unrefined sugars, and alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, and ice cream made from dairy alternatives such as coconut milk or oat milk are growing in popularity, giving you not just one, but many options to choose from.
Interested in trying some of the ice cream styles mentioned above? Try ordering from one of the merchants below.
SoMa, San Francisco
Pints include unique flavors like Honey Graham with a base of raw blackberry honey ice cream and homemade graham crackers, plus add ons like frosted peanuts and party packs.
Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Flavors that made the brand famous include Honey Lavender and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper.
Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Decadent fresh flavors and some vegan options like Brown Sugar Chocolate, with cookie dough chunks available, too.
Japantown, San Francisco
Matcha or black sesame soft serve in cones and parfaits, with layers of East Asian toppings including agar jelly, syrups, red beans, and mochi balls.
North Beach, San Francisco
Argentine-style Italian gelato featuring produce from local farms, like Banana Salted Caramel and Yerena Farms Strawberry.
Mission, San Francisco
Specializing in ice cream sandwiches made with brownies, chocolate chip cookies or snickerdoodles.
Inner Sunset, San Francisco
With scoops like Madagascar Vanilla and Fresh Mint Chip, Hometown lives up to its “farm-to-cone” mantra.
Dogpatch, San Francisco
A San Francisco upstart focused on out-of-the-box flavors, from Sloe Gin to Chicory Coffee.