What does ice cream smell like?
That’s a trick question, because ice cream doesn’t actually smell like anything. Even if your favorite flavor contains fragrant ingredients, when held at such low temperatures, the chemicals that trigger human olfactory sensors are frozen in ice. It’s not until the creamy dessert melts in your mouth and travels toward the throat that scents are released—enhancing the sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, or savoriness your taste buds already detect.
Tyler Malek, cofounder and head ice cream maker at Salt & Straw, has set his sights on revolutionizing the ice cream eating experience—by introducing scent. On July 17, National Ice Cream Day, Salt & Straw will debut a collaboration with perfumery Imaginary Authors—a collection of three culinary fragrances that will launch as ice cream toppings at Salt & Straw shops nationwide. Those include “A Cloud of Cocoa,” with notes of Ecuadorian chocolate, malted milkshake, and Japanese whiskey; “A Swoon of Citrus,” which incorporates the scents of key lime pie, lychee, and Italian lemon grove; and “A Plume of Blooms,” a floral blend of jasmine, honeysuckle, and wildflowers.
As for how these perfumes will be used as ice cream toppings, think of how drinkers swirl, smell, and taste their wine. Or, if you’ve ever participated in a coffee tasting, how breathing through your nose while sipping is essential to the experience. Now imagine how scent could enhance the visceral sensations of eating ice cream.
“This style of personalizing your ice cream is something that is completely open territory,” Malek says. “We’ve been stuck on sprinkles and whipped cream for the past 100 years. This is a new frontier—trying to figure out how to personalize your ice cream that completely plays into your senses.”
To better understand this culinary innovation, I tasted several fragrance toppings on Salt & Straw ice creams—for science, of course! Malek sent a list of recommendations, and suggested also experimenting with mixtures that seemed counterintuitive, just for fun.
“The way you smell your food is so critical to the way you eat your food,” Malek says. “Sixty or 70 percent of your eating experience is driven by your olfactory senses. If 60% of your taste is smell and ice cream doesn’t smell like anything, are you missing out? How is ice cream so good if you’re only getting 40% of the experience?”
As an all-around ice cream lover, I’m a fan of its intensely-localized, cold, sweet, oral sensation—and spritzing an edible perfume on top amplified the experience a hundred-fold. All of a sudden, just by adding a scent, eating a bowl of ice cream felt immersive, multi-sensorial, and enveloping. By far, my favorite flavor combinations are “A Cloud of Cocoa” with sea salt with caramel ribbons ice cream, and “A Swoon of Citrus” with Arbequina olive oil ice cream. It’s like suddenly being able to taste in 3D.
The Salt & Straw x Imaginary Authors culinary perfumes will launch as toppings at Salt & Straw scoop shops on July 17—and will be available to order online for home kitchen experimentation, or recreational wearing, as well.