Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley
Model: Gabija Mitchell
Ben & Jerry’s recently announced an ice-cream flavor said to be inspired by Bob Marley. Dubbed “Satisfy My Bowl,” the newest product from the minds behind Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey consists of banana ice cream with caramel and cookie swirls and chocolate peace signs. Sure, Bob loved peace, and it’s true that bananas are grown in Jamaica, but… really? The way we see it, this seemingly random flavor selection represents a huge missed opportunity for Ben & Jerry to let the world in on the biggest secret in the ice-cream world: the amazingness of Jamaican ice cream.
Visit any ice-cream shop in the Caribbean, and you’re likely to encounter some flavors that you won’t get at Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin Robbins or any other American chain. Along with more commonly known tropical fruits like coconut and mango, less widely available fruits such as soursop, guava and nesberry make for popular ice cream flavors in the Caribbean.
Jamaica has developed a particularly rich ice-cream culture, and it doesn’t stop at tropical fruits. While most people associate ice-cream consumption with childhood, Jamaica has perfected what one might call “adult ice cream,” crafting savory-sweet flavors from beer, rum and even apple vodka. Easily, the most popular of these concoctions is Irish Stout ice cream, typically made with Guinness or its somewhat sweeter Jamaican counterpart, Dragon Stout. and popularized at Kingston institution Devon House I-Scream. Falling completely to the left is the decidedly non-alcoholic, yet surprisingly intoxicating “Grape Nut.” In Jamaica, it’s almost an anomaly to consume the similarly named cereal as the Post Foods company intended it–it’s far better known as the active ingredient in a delicious ice cream.
Explaining why Jamaican-made ice cream tastes better than other ice-cream can be tricky. (It’s also not a universal opinion). The fruit flavors tend to have a tangier edge than usual, a phenomenon that’s been described as “almost like milk on the edge of spoiling” and “something more sophisticated” than regular ice cream. We’ve heard a few explanations for the richness, including the use of coconut milk and New Zealand Anchor Butter, but no purveyor of Jamaican ice cream that we spoke to would cop to using either. One thing they all seem to agree on is that for ice cream to be up to Jamaican standards, it must be made with fresh, real ingredients (no artificial flavors) and a “premium” milk mix with a butter-fat ratio of about 14 to 16 percent.
So, yeah, Ben and Jerry–you guys blew it with this one. But a hippies’ loss is a yardie’s gain—and all the more reason to grab a cone when you’re in Jamaica, or in the vicinity of the dozen or so shops specializing in tropical ice-cream around the US.
Here’s a look at 10 of the Caribbean’s most beloved ice-cream flavors, and where to find them.