An Edible Perfume Made to Enhance Ice Cream’s Savor
Science estimates that we experience around 80 percent of flavor based on our sense of smell, rather than taste. How then to think about ice cream, beloved but essentially scentless? Even when the ingredients within are highly fragrant—I’m looking at you peanut butter and chocolate—at such low temperatures, the chemicals that would normally provoke human olfactory sensors freeze. Only when ice cream melts on our tongue do flavor aromas that we can taste get released.
This conundrum long fascinated ice cream entrepreneur Tyler Malek, co-founder of Salt & Straw Ice Cream, who called it “too big of an opportunity to just let lie.” At the Portland-based brand’s 27 shops across Oregon, Washington, California, and Florida, flavors rotate monthly and often involve community-based storytelling and social engagement. Their Renewal Mill chocolate salted caramel cupcake, for example, is a vegan offering conceived with the food manufacturer, which works to fight climate change with their upcycled, plant-based pantry staples. This summer, Salt & Straw teamed up with San Francisco–based Gujarati chef Heena Patel on Besharam’s yogurt lassi with raspberries, but even this spice-forward offering—a concoction of rosewater, cardamom and raspberry jam infused with toasted cumin seeds—scoops without scent.
Four years ago, after a salesperson sprayed him with a sample from Portland-based perfumery Imaginary Authors, Malek realized the way scent could be layered similarly to food flavors, and reached out to the brand’s CEO, Josh Meyer, to create an “all sensory” ice cream experience via spritz. Launched this summer on July 17, National Ice Cream Day, Salt & Straw and Imaginary Authors’ “culinary perfume” is both edible and wearable. After slimming down a list of 40,000-plus ingredients (and deducting all non-edibles), the entrepreneurs played with a robust range of ingredients that resulted in three launch scents: “A Cloud of Cocoa,” which has a woodsy base and a velvety aroma of Ecuadorian chocolate; “A Swoon of Citrus,” which contains hints of lychee and key lime pie; and “A Plume of Blooms,” the lightest option, made with jasmine and a heavy dose of honeysuckle.
Without greatly changing the flavor of the underlying dairy, the product intends to enhance the ice cream–eating experience by incorporating smell, and thus recapturing that previously elusive 80 percent. “The best part for me,” Malek says of the process, “was the access to ingredients highly valued in the perfume industry but often considered too expensive for food…. Tasting the rose essence that Imaginary Authors was able to source was so delicious that it completely changed my perception.” Available in Salt & Straw stores as a 50-cent topping, all three Culinary Perfumes are equally intended as well for wearing. However, unlike their short-lived existence atop ice cream, these sensory extenders are designed, Malek says, “to age beautifully as you wear them throughout the day.”