New Zealand’s real fruit ice cream is getting an American makeover

In New Zealand, one of summer’s greatest pleasures is known as real fruit ice cream: a scoop of vanilla mixed with fruit in a machine produces an airy, barely-sweet spin with a buttery texture. The dessert, which likely originated in the country’s berry groves, has become a national favorite over the past few decades, prized for its freshness and simplicity.

In the US, it’s just starting to spread to cities like BostonAnd Portland, Ore.And Austin, Texas. But along the way, the no-frills treatment has undergone a complete makeover.

In most American stores that sell it, real fruit ice cream can be mixed with graham crackers and Oreos; topped with hot fudge, caramel, or chamois; It is enjoyed on top of a cone dipped in chocolate and sprinkles. Some stores build sundaes or milkshakes around it. And some point out that even with all the toppings, the candy has nutritional benefits. (“Almost healthy” is the unofficial motto Nikko ice cream with real fruits in Portland, Oregon).

“The American Ice Cream Experience is a very American experience,” said Hap Cameron, a New Zealander who runs Happy Cones Company, a real fruit ice cream shop in Edgewater, Colorado. “It’s bigger, more options, 20 to 40 flavors of ice cream.”

Dennis Little manufactures Little Jim, a blender to make real fruit ice cream, in Nelson, New Zealand. In recent months, he said, he and his brother and business partner, Chris Little, have received hundreds of inquiries from Americans wanting to open real fruit ice cream shops. Some wonder if they can put cookies in Little Jem.

“In New Zealand, if you make cookies or some kind of candy, I don’t think you’ll sell much at all, to tell you the truth,” said Dennis Little.

Ice cream may be a classic American dessert, but New Zealand leads the world in its consumption — at 20.1 liters, or 5.3 gallons, per capita, according to 2023 data from Euromonitor International, a market research firm. (The United States ranks fourth, with 13.1 liters, which is about 3.5 gallons.)

said August Radbel, owner Far out ice cream A real fruit ice cream shop in Brooklyn, Massachusetts. “I’m going to have so much fun, I’m going to have a big one with hot fudge, gummy bears and put everything on it because I’m not worried about calories.”

When Mr. Radbell and his business partner, Drew Bega, opened the store in 2021, the menu featured just two flavors and four fruit options—similar to what Mr. Bega first saw on a 2015 trip to New Zealand’s South Island. But customers kept asking for toppings. “In the end we gave up,” Mr. Baja said.

Zed’s ice cream with real fruits, in Austin, offers many flavors and toppings, and sundaes like Berry Butterfinger: strawberry ice cream with real fruit garnished with chocolate sauce and Butterfinger candy. Owner, Mack Brown, said sales have been so brisk that he is looking for a location for another store in Austin.

Mr. Brown said that the garnish often makes people try the ice cream. “Americans love the idea of ​​toppings and drizzles rather than the ice cream itself.”

The US has seen its share of frozen fads: wraparound ice cream, nitrogen ice cream, Dippin’ Dots. The recent rise in real fruit ice cream may be partly driven by tourism; The number of American visitors to New Zealand increased by 84 percent from March 2015 to March 2020, according to the country’s official data agency, Stats NZ.

On a Wednesday afternoon at Zeds, excited customers pressed their noses to the window to watch their creations come to life. A pink drill whipped fruit and ice cream together, and the smooth serving-like concoction flowed in a colorful swirl.

“I tend to like things that are more naturally sweet,” said Kelly Ferraro, a professional trainer who was having fun with her 6-year-old son, Liam Bloch. “So I like the fruit to be the sweetener.”

Liam, his chin dripping strawberry ice cream and chocolate sauce, was more succinct: “I love chocolate.”

Ozan Oye, who works in software and had ordered pineapple ice cream with chamoy, said the novelty of real fruit ice cream was interesting. But he found the texture very sloppy.

“Would you enter my top 10 ice cream experiences?” He said. “I won’t say yes.”

Lily Phillips, owner Willy’s real fruit ice cream In Port Angeles, Washington, similar suspicions. She said that many Americans are traditional when it comes to ice cream. They want mint and chocolate chips – so they serve up classic scoops in those flavors, too.

American customers have complained to Mr. Cameron, who runs Happy Cones, that his strawberry ice cream with real fruit doesn’t taste as good as it used to—”strawberry ice cream full of artificial colors and flavors,” he says.

Mr. Cameron grew up in Nelson, New Zealand, and spent summers working in a mulberry orchard that served real fruit ice cream. His goal with Happy Cones, which opened in 2015, was to celebrate dessert in its purest form, without the dozens of garnishes. “I really wanted to stay true to our Kiwi roots,” he said.

Today, he even offers toppings: caramel sauce, crushed honeycomb and rainbow sprinkles.

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