The Inside Scoop On Umami Ice Cream

Have we reached peak summer yet? Living inside of a proverbial oven, it’s hard to tell where summer ends and all other seasons begin. Temperatures have hit record highs starting in May, carelessly bulldozing right over spring, with no sign of stopping for fall. Most of the US experiences the hottest day of the year in July, but I have a feeling we’ll still be sweating it out for months to come. Want my advice? Dip into a creamy frozen treat to fight fire with ice.

I’m still not done churning after two ice cream cookbooks and scores of bonus recipes. Before you think I’ve run out of ideas and gone back to bland basics, take a closer look. Those aren’t just flecks of vanilla beans you see right below the surface, but tiny particles of finely ground shiitake powder as well.

Mushroom Ice Cream?!

Though typically touted for their uniquely meaty flavor that enhances savory entrees and snacks, there’s so much more shiitake mushrooms are capable of. Using Sugimoto shiitake powder eliminates the more earthy flavors and textures that turn some people off, leaving only pure, natural umami essence at your disposal. When used with a deft hand, it serves to amplify the existing flavors already at play, just like salt or sugar.

Instead of drowning out the delicate floral, buttery, inherent richness of whole vanilla beans, a pinch of shiitake powder brings them to the fore, brighter and bolder than ever. Suddenly, more nuanced notes of marshmallow, whipped cream, light caramel, pound cake, buttercream frosting, and custard can emerge, uplifted by the strength of free glutamate.

Ideas and Adaptations

Like any good vanilla ice cream, you can enjoy every last lick as is, or use it as your jumping-off point for bolder taste sensations. Classic mix-ins include but are not limited to:

  • Cookie dough
  • Toasted or candied nuts
  • Chocolate chips, cacao nibs, or fudge sauce
  • Fruit preserves, jam, or pie filling
  • Sprinkles

Change the whole character of your scoops by adding to the base instead:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Peppermint extract
  • Lemon or orange zest
  • Fresh ginger

Plus, there’s no limit to the possibilities for dressing it up in:

  • Sundaes
  • Floats
  • Sandwiches
  • Cakes
  • Baked Alaska
  • Pies

Umami Flavor Hack

Don’t have time, energy, or equipment to start from scratch? You’re still invited to this ice cream social! Take any store-bought pint and sprinkle a tiny pinch of shiitake powder on top. A little bit goes a long way; you’ll instantly taste the difference.

I’m not making this up! It’s been proven time and again that everything, including desserts, can benefit from the addition of guanylate, the compound responsible for creating umami taste. The drying and rehydrating process of shiitake produces guanylate, so you get a pure, potent source that doesn’t disrupt the overall flavor, preserving the subtle nuances of the vanilla bean.

Don’t just take my word for it. This is an edible experiment that anyone can try with no risks, only sweet rewards.

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Can You Hakka It?

Long before the rise (and fall) of so-called “fusion” cuisine, Hakka noodles managed to carve out a special place for themselves in Indo-Chinese culture. Seen only on some northern Indian menus, these noodles have transcended geopolitical boundaries to become a beloved staple by people of all walks of life.

The Origins of Hakka Noodles

Hakka noodles trace their roots back to the Hakka people, also referred to as the Hakka Han or Hakka Chinese. Unlike other Chinese communities, the Hakka Han don’t all come from one single region in China. The name Hakka means “guest families” in Cantonese. Made up of migrants fleeing the wars and upheaval during the Qing dynasty, they gradually dispersed and settled across the Indian subcontinent.

The city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India became the new home to many of these displaced refugees and over time, their vibrant fusion of Chinese techniques and Indian flavors were adopted as iconic, beloved street food dishes in India and beyond.

What Makes Hakka Noodles Special

Hakka noodles stand out from their other noodle brethren due to their distinctive texture and flavor. Made from a dense wheat flour dough, the strands are thin and long, with a remarkably resilient, springy, and chewy bite.

Sweet soy sauce is the primary flavor, leaning in on aromatic garlic and ginger, rather than the potent spices that create dazzling Indian curries. Due to their lack of overt heat, some consider Hakka noodles to be something relegated to the kid’s menu, but to let only youngsters relish this simple pleasure would be a true shame. They serve as a blank canvas, readily absorbing the flavors of any ingredients you throw at them.

Serving Suggestions for Hakka Noodles

Thanks to the long history of vegetarianism in India, paired with the expense and scarcity of meat, most recipes are naturally plant-based. Any vegetables available are fair game, but the most common additions include:

  • Bell peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Shredded carrots
  • Scallions
  • Bean sprouts

If such a mild approach sounds dull to you, you’re not alone. That’s why you’d very likely find fiery condiments tableside to add to taste, such as:

Hakka Noodles; Always A Welcome Guest

To this day, you can often find Hakka noodles being prepared on sizzling street-side carts in India, where skilled vendors effortlessly toss the noodles in giant woks, creating an enticing aroma that lures passersby. The art of making Hakka noodles is still being passed down through generations, preserving the original spirit and pride that goes into every plate.

Noodles You Should Know: Thukpa

Pronounced with a percussive rhythm akin to a drum, or perhaps a steady heartbeat, thukpa lives up to its name. Granted, “thukpa” is simply the generic Tibetan word for any soup or stew with noodles, which doesn’t exactly inspire great poetry. Dig a little deeper and you’ll learn that “thuk” means “heart.” This understanding clearly speaks to how deeply a bowlful of the stuff can restore the spirit, beyond merely satisfying basic bodily hunger. Warming the eater’s very heart, right down to the core, in brutally cold winters and times of need, it’s the original soup for the soul.

Those noodles, however, are the real star of the show, sometimes dwarfing the liquid to such a small component of the dish, you’d think it was just a brothy sauce. Many different variations exist, changing ratios and ingredients across cultural boundaries, but the basics remain the same: Noodles, soup, and vegetables.

My personal favorite is the Nepalese version, which is often naturally vegetarian and has a spicier flavor profile. Not many vegetables can thrive in the harsh tundra, so inclusions remain basic: cabbage, onions, carrots, and radishes are the prevailing options. Modern versions take advantage of greater access to worldwide markets, adding everything from bell peppers to tomatoes to green peas, and relish the opportunity to finish each bowl with fresh herbs like cilantro and scallions.

Types of Thukpa

As more of an umbrella term than the definition of a single dish, thukpa include many different, distinctive combinations of noodles and soups.

  • Thenthuk: A Tibetan soup with hand-pulled flat noodles.
  • Gyathuk: A Chinese-fusion soup featuring round chow mein noodles, often with chicken or pork.
  • Pathug or Thugpa: A Tibetan variant with hand-rolled, pinched noodles that are more like dumplings or gnocchi in texture.

Other spellings and pronunciations include thuppa, thuggpa, and drethug. Occasionally you’ll come across shortcut recipes that call for rice noodles, but this is another contemporary twist that purists would disqualify.

How To Make Thukpa

There’s no wrong way to make thukpa, just different approaches based on your needs and wants.

Any vegetable is fair game, in any quantity you want, which is also true of spices. Indian versions will include garam masala as a quick flavor boost, leaning on cumin for more body. It’s always a treat with homemade noodles, but there’s no shame in using regular spaghetti or fettuccine as a shortcut.

Thukpa is a food born of strife, created by migrants dispersed throughout the Himalayas to seek refuge as they forged new lives in Sikim, Darjeeling, Arunachal Pradesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, transforming the dish at every turn. It serves a need, both physical and emotional, while weaving together communities. It embodies the warmth of togetherness, reminding us that food has the power to forge connections beyond borders.