You've just finished preparing your homemade vanilla ice cream. It's thick, smooth, rich, and creamy because your combination of milk products had a considerable amount of butterfat. Maybe you even churned it extensively. Both of these considerations interfered with the formation of hard-edged ice crystals, and now you've achieved a coveted, gloppy-but-decadent concoction that's waiting to be spooned from a dish or piled into a cone. What could possibly make it better?
Sounds wacky—Tastes wonderful
For the uninitiated, Fleur de Sel is a gourmet finishing salt. It features large but delicate crystals and is usually sprinkled on a dish just before serving. The garnished food will yield a burst of salty flavor, hints of briny sea, and a satisfying crunch. Of course it is a favorite to add to savory dishes such as meats and seafoods, but Fleur de Sel also has a history as a garnish for sweets.
In fact, salted caramel was first developed in Brittany by chocolatier Henri Le Roux while he was looking to develop a distinctive product for his shop. Monsieur Le Roux sought inspiration from local ingredients and the gourmet finishing salt, Fleur de Sel, had been famously harvested off Brittany's coast since the 9th century.
Salt on fruit
As you might have already experienced there's actually quite a bit of cultural tradition for other salt-and-sweet pairings, particularly with fruit. In the American Midwest and South salting watermelon, cantaloupe, and honedew is common. South of the border Mexican street vendors combine salt with chile pepper and lime juice to top mangos and papaya. There's a similar custom across broad areas of Asia where chile pepper and salt mixes are added to mangos, guava, and other sweet fruits like pineapple. In Pakistan, where salt is mined in abundance, salt is applied to foods without discrimination, sweet ones included: even oranges are dipped into salt-filled dishes before snacking on the juicy slices.
Gelato con Olio e Sale
More to our purpose here, a popular Italian gelato garnish is sea salt and... [ wait for it ] ...olive oil! Naturally, with Italy proudly blanketed in olive groves, the quality of the oil used on gelato is of utmost importance. The savory of a high-quality extra virgin olive oil will contrast the sweet of the ice cream while sea salt will help enhance overall aroma and accentuate taste.
Understanding all this science
Regarding salt, there's a bit of chemistry and neurobiology regarding how it affects our actual taste and our perception of taste. The short of it is that salt accentuates many flavors while also suppressing bitterness. Salt also alerts your brain that it should paying attention to taste.
At the bottom of this page we've included some other interesting tidbits about salt science in general, and a bit about how it's used in specific in the process of actually making ice cream versus garnishing ice cream.
Maybe you'd like inspiration for making your sea salt ice cream garnish even more exotic... The following spices are a few ingredient suggestions to mix with your Fleur de Sel sea salt before garnishing your ice cream. Let us know what spices or botanicals you mixed in with your Fleur de Sel and what you enjoyed best. Maybe you kept it simple and stuck to just sea salt. Let us know about that too.
Rose Petals and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Dried rose petals will easily bring the romance of pale red and bright pink hues but combining the rose petals with Fleur de Sel will ensure their sweet floral aroma also makes a strong showing in your ice cream garnish. You can experiment with sprinkling on whole petals for maximum visual impact and recognizability, but you can also try pulsing a handful of the dried petals in a food processor to a powder and then mixing it with your salt for a fine pale pink dusting.
Lavender and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Mixing Fleur de Sel with dried lavender flower buds will enhance lavender's sweet floral and herbaceous notes. The lavender buds themselves can add a pop of colorful contrast to your ice cream topping but be wary of adding too many. Lavender is a fairly specific and strong scent on its own; it will be even more powerful with the addition of salt. Remember too that some folks have a soap or lotion association that you won't want to underscore. With lavender "a little goes a long way,"" for lavender plus salt this adage is even more true.
Safflower and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Safflower petals are a more exotic and savory choice to add to your Fleur de Sel ice cream garnish. The orange yellow threads are mild in flavor though not in color; their wispy petals will make a bold statement.
Cayenne Powder and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
A cayenne chile powder kick enhanced with Fleur de Sel will create a bright heat; this contrasted with the creamy sweetness of your homemade vanilla ice cream will add complexity to a dessert that though tasty is, well, rather vanilla.
Chipotle Chile Pepper Powder and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Chipotle chile powder with sea salt will provide a smoky, savory, earthy contrast to the rich sweetness and warming vanilla of your ice cream.
Guajillo Pepper Powder and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Guajillo is a mild-to-medium spiced chile that will give your sea salt ice cream garnish impressive specks of bright red along with their flavorful sparks of heat.
Pink Peppercorn and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
This delicate spice is not actually related to black peppercorn. Pink peppercorn's flavor is more like that of capsicum peppers with their bright, fruity heat and complexity. Add this to your Fleur de Sel for a more layered flavor with a bit of heat. Its fragile shell will fall paper-like and fine on your rich cream dessert and give your eyes a visual feast.
Cracked Black Peppercorn and Sea Salt Ice Cream Garnish
Zesty cracked black peppercorn mixed with your Fleur de Sel will balance your sweet ice cream dessert with a bit of crunch and savory. Contrast in color and peppery bite will shake up your expectations.
Cinnamon Ice Cream Garnish
A warming spice like ground cinnamon with its sweet but slightly spicy flavor profile is probably less daunting as an experimental add on to your salty ice cream garnish. The familiar aromatics of cinnamaldehyde will be enhanced and emboldened by the Fleur de Sel sea salt and the perceived warmth of the spice will balance nicely with the actual coldness of the ice cream.
Pumpkin Pie Spice Ice Cream Garnish
Speaking of fall...Oh, we weren't? Well regardless, no warming spice list should be put forth without adding this autumn sensation. Like cinnamon on its own, pumpkin pie spice blend will undoubtedly seem like a more natural companion to your homemade vanilla ice cream. With each creamy bite you'll also experience all the aromas of the season.
Star Anise Ice Cream Garnish
Star anise has an intense licorice aroma and taste—it isn't a good choice for those who are on the fence about the flavor. However, for licorice believers, whole star anise is beautiful looking star-shaped spice that begs to be used as a garnish during festive seasons. When it is used in drinks in this way it infuses into beverage. Whole star anise as a garnish with sea salt on ice cream can be a presentation-and-aroma-heavy addition. Chose and place the spicy stars strategically on the tops of your scoops and they will instantly elevate the sophistication of your homemade ice cream concoction. If you want to have a little more of the licorice-y star anise flavor present beyond just the presentation, add some ground star anise to your Fleur de Sel garnish and sprinkle it on your ice cream before placing the aromatic ornamental pods.
Keep in mind we sell most of our spices in 'try me' sample sizes for 75¢ each so you don't have to commit to a jar of something exotic you might not use every day.
• Salt is one of the five flavors: Salt, Sweet, Bitter, Umami, Sour
• We readily notice salt as 'missing' in a dish; unsalted food registers as less flavorful
• Salt acts chemically on foods to increase aroma — it increases the volatility of aroma molecules which then aerate; their wafting fragrance can be inhaled
• Salt acts physiologically/neurobiologically on our brain's perception — most simply explained as an association trigger for the brain to weigh in and notice the foods' flavor.
• Salt suppress the sensation of bitterness
• We don't smell salt, but it does make other ingredients it is mixed with more aromatic (see previous bullet point)
• Salt water solution — Salt water freezes as a lower temperature than water
• Ice alone isn't cold enough to freeze ice cream — the sugar and fats interfere with the formation of ice crystals, too much sugar or fat will not allow ice cream to solidify
• When the ice cream mix is surrounded by a salted water solution it acts as an agent* in the cooling process that is cold enough to harden the cream (even though it itself is a slushy solution it is colder than solid pure ice)
• *To be clear, this salt IS NOT mixed into the ice cream, and you shouldn't use fancy salt to make this solution. The ice cream mixture will be contained in a bag or metal vessel and surrounded by this salted ice cube/water solution (large granule or rock salt works well)
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