Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Flavors: Häagen-Dazs Class of 2011

Häagen-Dazs makes a product regarded for its elegance and simplicity. Conversely, their major nationwide competitor, Ben & Jerry’s, is known for ice cream innovations that are both fun and loaded with mix-ins. For the most part, each company’s new products conform to these signature brand traits, just as Häagen-Dazs has with one of their new flavors, Sweet Chai Latte. Over the past 10 years in America, chai has progressed from being exotic and obscure to being a recognizable part of the warm beverage lexicon. Less common than coffee or espresso, but more common than say, I dunno, absinthe, chai is a perfect flavor for Häagen-Dazs to add to its palatable palette of flavors.

The second most notable feature of Häagen-Dazs is their “all natural” approach to ice cream. (For those keeping score, for Ben & Jerry’s it’s their values-driven business model.) While the best example of this is their Five series, most of their products have a minimalist approach to ingredients and avoid artificial flavors. The major exception is their mix-ins; while used sparingly, mix-in ingredients aren’t exactly straight from mom’s kitchen. Two of the other new flavors exemplify this by choosing recognizable (but less common) flavors and taking the “all natural” approach: Blueberry Crumble and Caramel Apple Pie. Both ice creams have bases that use actual fruit and include mix-ins of fruit and pastry crust. These flavors make sense with the Häagen-Dazs brand: Caramel Apple Pie for its classic appeal and Blueberry Cobbler for their elegant treatment of an underutilized ice cream flavor. All of this realized, I will explain why each of these flavors, whole tasty, were not fulfilling in the way that I hoped.

Certain flavors are more about the experience and are better served out of the pint. When I pay superpremium ice cream prices (which I’m grateful to do) I want the complete package, not a dessert condiment. Blueberry Crumble would be better next to a cobbler, either that or served closer to its melting point (or even slightly melty) on cake cone. And though blueberry is delicious year round, it is best in the summertime. The other major strike against blueberry ice cream is how the intensity of fruits fade with increased freezer time and mass production. (No manufactured blueberry ice cream will compare with the batch I made this past summer using blueberries that were picked the previous week.) Sweet Chai Latte would be better as a milkshake because a smoother texture would better reflect the essence of its namesake; it certainly would be preferable to impatiently fighting the hard pint of uninterrupted ice cream with spoon.

As for Caramel Apple Pie, I’ll cut to the quick: I have never had an apple ice cream I liked because they always have an artificial apple flavor, even Häagen-Dazs’ all natural apple ice cream. The trick is using apples as a mix-in—Well-done Häagen-Dazs!—but having them in a brown sugar or light (light!) caramel ice cream. F
or those willing to hunt it down, an even better alternative is apple cider sorbet.

While my first taste of each of these flavors was less than memorable, I will admit my opinions change. (Last year I named Boston Cream Pie my favorite of Ben & Jerry’s new flavors, but it has since been overtaken by Milk & Cookies.) It is conceivable that I will return to Blueberry Crumble and not just because I am so rarely in possession of fresh blueberries. The crunchy/crumbly mix-ins in both this flavor and Caramel Apple Pie, while a step away from Häagen-Dazs simplicity, adds the much needed textural diversity these flavors need.

Your best bet: Try them for yourselves!

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