The Coolest Ice Cream to Try Next? It's Chewy, Stretchy and Deliciously Old-School

The Coolest Ice Cream to Try Next? It's Chewy, Stretchy and Deliciously Old-School

Tracking down the Mediterranean's unusual ice creams near you is still a stretch, but it's worth it.

By Salma Abdelnour

From freakshakes to curiouser-and-curiouser flavor experiments, we’re living through an extreme moment in ice cream. So where do we go from here? Back to the past—as in, to the 19th-century Mediterranean. The region's classic ice cream has a surprising texture unlike anything most people, at least in the West, have ever tried. That ice cream is stretchy and chewy—chewing-gum chewy—and it comes from Turkey, Greece and the Levant region of the Mediterranean. Until now it’s been nearly impossible to find in the States, but for anyone determined to taste it, the search is getting easier—and doesn't have to involve a flight to Istanbul or Beirut.

Photo credit: Sarah Crowder.

Recently, a New York City-based company called Lezzetli has been honing and testing out its Mediterranean-style ice cream at pop-ups around the city and at the Long Island City Flea. This summer, it launches wider production for its four flavors: Chios Vanilla, Chocolate Orange Blossom, Spiced Date, and Tart Cherry. The all-natural ice creams have a creamy texture, with a startling elasticity that will surprise anyone who has never had this kind of ice cream before. The stretchy quality comes from using plant-root extracts like salep (or sahlab) and gums like mastic (a tree resin also used in the Greek liqueur mastiha), as stabilizers instead of eggs, but the fat content in Lezzetli's ice creams is closer to what you’d found in typical American scoops. 

Photo credit: Lezzetli.

Lezzetli co-founder Roberto Escobar said he and his co-founders decided to bring chewy ice creams to the States after becoming “insanely obsessed” with them during his travels in the Middle East and Turkey. “I tried to search it out here because it’s so amazing. But it’s not available in the U.S. so far,” at least not for retail, he told The Feast. “We wanted to combine the experience of that American-style creaminess with the experience of textures of ice cream found in the regions of the Mediterranean.” Before going into the ice cream business, Escobar had spent 14 years working in restaurants in New York City, from Felidia to Dos Caminos, and managing restaurant kitchens in D.C.

Escobar explains that the company started out in 2014 trying to market its ice creams as “Turkish-style," inspired by the country's dondurma ice cream, but that was asking for trouble: The more regionally specific you get, the more people jump at the chance to fight over the specifics. So the company rebranded and now opts for the broader, safer word “Mediterranean."

Photo credit: Sarah Crowder.

The ice creams do capture the elasticity of the versions you’d taste in Turkey or the Levant, but the flavors—with floral and even piney notes—will be an acquired taste for some. The company's most compelling flavor, Mastiha (currently available only at special events in NYC and in the Hamptons), is one that only travelers to the region will likely have tasted. With any luck, the company will decide to produce the Mastiha (pictured below) for retail. The other four flavors are going into wider production, with an aim of getting into select NYC stores later this summer. Of those, the Chios Vanilla is the one most worth seeking out: Its vanilla-bean flavor tinged with mastiha makes it both familiar and unusual. Top it with crushed pistachios and drizzle it with honey for maximum effect.

Escobar hopes to start shipping nationally in the near future. Meanwhile, if you're in the New York area, you can try a terrific Lebanese version of the ice cream, called bouza, at Cedar Pastry in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In L.A., there's Mashti Malone. And if you live near a MIddle Eastern or Turkish community, it's worth asking around. Anyone who feels extra-ambitious can try making this milky version of mastic ice cream at home. Chances are you won't find the key ingredients at your local supermarket, but you can spot them at specialty food shops, or even through the obvious online sources, if you dig around.

Photo credit: Sarah Crowder.

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