Tired of the same old chocolate peanut butter coconut caramel mocha crunch? Chill out with exotic ice creams from around the world

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Pistachio-saffron. Plum. Baby coconut. Beats the beans out of plain-old vanilla, doesn't it?

Yes, we're talking ice cream, and frozen pops, too, which likewise offer exotic flavor temptations from Asia, India and Mexico. Consider watermelon, tamarind, pistachio-almond and red bean. And mango, which crosses all the borders.

Some of these exciting treats come in tubs or cartons for scooping. Others are bars. One, mochi ice cream, comes wrapped in a skin of sticky rice.

Many Asian ice creams (you won't find these in the Blue Bell case) are flavored with ingredients not found in mainstream American products. Examples include avocado, plum and green tea.

Kulfi, an Indian sweet that's also popular in Pakistan, is similar to ice cream and, in some cases, it's even called ice cream. But creamy, dense kulfi contains no eggs and is made with boiled, reduced milk. The most common flavors - saffron, pistachio and rosewater - are decidedly unusual for the average American palate.

Mexican paletas look like the frozen pops you find at the grocery store, but many are made with real fruit. Nonfruit choices are deliciously different, too, especially arroz (rice), which tastes like frozen rice pudding on a stick.

At a recent Dallas Morning News tasting of exotic frozen treats, Eatzi's chef Chris Huff said he found the Mexican bars to be "the least complicated, with the cleanest flavors." He was joined by Kim Wilkinson and Robin Plotkin of Dallas, two avowed foodies. Two students from Dallas' Forest Meadow Junior High, 12-year-old Daniel Spence and 13-year-old Kevin Brown, also joined the group, which sampled 28 frozen sweets.

Mexican: Keep it simple

The cantaloupe frozen pop from Paletas Frutitas drew raves from kids and adults. It had a "fantastic melon flavor and beautiful color," said one taster. "It's a great way to finish a meal," said another.

The mango made with water was also a hit: "light, very mangoish," and "pulpy, [with] great texture." The milk-based mango was less compelling: Tasters agreed that the milk diluted the alluring mango flavor.

All the paletas came from Paletas Frutitas, a mom-and-pop company in Oak Cliff, where they sell for 85 cents apiece.

The frozen pops came down to this: They were only as good as the fruit they were made with. While the cantaloupe was perfect, the watermelon tasted overripe to some adults, although the kids liked it and commented that seeds in the bar made it seem authentic.

But the tamarind pop was too sour for all but the most adventurous tasters. Guanabana, a largely unfamiliar tropical fruit, was deemed too strong with a "consistency like paste."

The unusual arroz pop was a clear favorite, drawing comments like "frozen rice pudding . . . great cinnamon flavor . . . chewy texture from rice." Also tops: the nuez (pecan), which had "great pecan flavor" and "was buttery and creamy."

The same could not be said for the chile pop - an intriguing concept that failed to live up to its promise, tasting "like sweetened ice with cayenne and paprika waved over the mix."

Asian exotics

With few exceptions, the Asian choices looked pretty but tasted bland - perhaps a difference in cultural expectations. One notable exception was the plum sherbet, which was "good, sweet, icy," and "wonderful [and] potent." One taster added: "Great, but aftertaste reminds me of Luden's cherry cough drops." It comes by the pint and costs $3.

Buko (baby coconut) was also a hit, with comments such as "creamy rich, smooth," "tastes like coconut milk" and "I like this one, and I don't like coconut!" All the Asian ice creams cost about $8 a half-gallon.

But lychee had none of the exotic fruit's tantalizing flavor. Likewise, avocado was a letdown: "The green color is convincing, but the flavor doesn't come through." Green tea "tastes like the tea was steeped too long - not as good as other green tea ice creams I've had." One taster compared cashew-langka (jackfruit) to Elmer's glue.

Of the specialty frozen treats, only the mango mochi scored high with tasters. And although the sticky rice dough covering was "too weird" for some, one taster loved the "texture of the dough." Everyone liked the mild mango ice cream inside.

The taro root bar was declared too sweet and starchy, and the similarly sweet red bean bar had a grainy texture. Durian, the love-it-or-hate-it fruit that is banned from airports in Southeast Asia because of its odor, elicited a strong response from our tasters: They hated it. Bars cost between $2 and $3, depending on the flavor.

Indian perspective

The falooda kulfi drove home how strongly ethnic roots and heritage color perception. Iqbal Patel, who works at Tajmahal Imports, an Indian-Pakistani market in Richardson, loves the neon pink ice cream flavored with rosewater.

But our tasters found the unfamiliar taste cloying. Other kulfis rated very well, however, including fig, cashew-raisin and pista (pistachio with a hint of mint). The ice creams come in quarts for $7 to $10; single servings in Dixie cups are $1.29.

Surprisingly, the kids led the way with two of the more exotic flavors. And there was a definite child-adult split on several of the kulfi bars, which cost about $1.40 each.

Both youngsters liked the kesar kulfi, a saffron ice cream, while the adults found it overpowering. The saffron-pistachio reminded one taster of paella, the classic saffron-spiced rice dish of Spain. And while the transition of saffron from a savory dish to a sweet did not bother this taster, others found it odd.

The kids also cheered for malai kulfi, a plain ice cream that has the slightly scorched taste of condensed milk, which the adults found too strong.

The adults embraced the creamy and nutty pista-badam (pistachio almond) kulfi bar, which the kids found just so-so.

Meanwhile, the kids gave a thumbs-up to the mango ice cream, while some of the adults felt that the fruit tasted overripe.

Susan Taylor is a Dallas free-lance writer.