Q: What do you call it when a Danish-sounding company sells an Italian dessert in America?
A: Delicious! Or so we hope.
Fine, so I won’t get a job crafting jokes for Conan anytime soon. (At this point, even Leno is probably out of the question.) Still, you must admit there’s a certain sense of satisfaction to be felt when America, supposedly the great melting pot, so heartily embraces other cultures like this. Throw on some Spanish peanuts, serve with Colombian coffee and you’re in business!
Or are you?
As I had no idea about before researching this review (yes, I occasionally put in a little effort), Häagen-Dazs can trace its origins all the way back to… the Bronx. The founder was a Polish immigrant who decided his high-end ice cream might sell better with an exotic-sounding name, which history would prove remarkably accurate. So for everyone who assumed Häagen-Dazs originated in Denmark or Sweden, sorry… you’ll still have to head to Ikea for your genuine Scandinavian fix. Or just read the rest of this review, since the blood of a hundred raging Norsemen pounds through my veins (plus a couple of crafty Irishmen who snuck in there).
Since I was already researching stuff, I decided to go all the way and find out what distinguishes gelato from regular ice cream. Not a lot, as it turns out, since “gelato” is just the Italian word for ice cream. Generally speaking in the U.S., it’s a soft ice cream with less air and usually a little richer than regular ice cream.
But since there aren’t any official standards governing it, technically anyone can call their ice cream “gelato” with no consequences. Still, I’m going to ignore the skepticism bred into me by years of corporate work and choose to believe Häagen-Dazs actually did make this dessert a little richer than usual, instead of just calling it gelato to capture that exotic mystique. And they do capitalize on it, with the words “Italy” or “Italian” used on the carton about a dozen times and a little outline of the Colosseum.
Of course, when I hear the words “sea salt” I think not of Italy but of my home state of New Jersey. And being a big caramel fan as well, I was really looking forward to digging into this stuff. Color wise, it’s somewhere between beige and tan, strongly reminiscent of coffee ice cream. Once you dig a scoop in, you’ll locate the caramel swirl, though it should be noted that it’s not criss-crossing every square inch of the container, more popping up every now and again like jokes in recent seasons of The Simpsons. There also aren’t actual visible-to-the-naked-eye chunks of salt scattered throughout the mixture like little NaCl nuggets.
But speaking of salt, that leads me to maybe the biggest surprise about Häagen-Dazs Gelato Sea Salt Caramel, which is that the sea salt isn’t distributed evenly through the ice cream. If asked to predict ahead of time, I would have guessed that the salty taste would be pretty uniform with caramel becoming more and less prominent depending on how much of the swirl was in each bite. What I didn’t realize is that the sea salt is actually contained IN the caramel swirl. In essence, there’s sort of a “base” caramel foundation flavor, and then the saltiness waxes and wanes with the amount of swirl you get.
And boy, does it ever: some bites you might as well be eating plain caramel ice cream, with others you’ll be surfing a saline wave. At times it’s almost a delayed reaction, lingering after the caramel taste has faded, but it never becomes overwhelming, so you won’t feel like someone tossed a salt lick into your dessert. If anything I would have hoped for a little more salt… it’s good, so either expand the ribbon or mix a little bit into the base caramel.
Speaking of which, the overall caramel flavor is nicely rich and creamy, so I guess no lawsuits need to be filed over the “gelato” name, pending the results of the air content analysis I ordered. (Got my eye on you, Häagen-Dazs… or should I say, Hojnowski-Dziedzic?) The caramel swirl adds a nice textural element, and I was impressed by how easy it was to scoop even right out of the freezer — with lower air content and increased richness you might suspect it’d be harder to dig into, but actually quite the opposite. Or I’m just getting super-strong, another distinct possibility.
This is a good dessert, although the cost and calories have to be at least a little prohibitive. Still, it blends relatively well and is rich, as promised. (You’ll also need to hit the stairmaster for an extra 20 minutes the next day, as not promised but implied.) It isn’t the best ice cream I’ve ever had, but definitely a successful experiment, and one you shouldn’t hesitate to reach for if you’ve got a craving for some sweet n’ salty goodness.
(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 270 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of total fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugars, and 4 grams of protein.)
Other Häagen-Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato reviews:
The Ice Cream Informant
Item: Häagen-Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 14 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Official ice cream of both the Vatican AND the Jersey Shore. Smooth and rich, just like you like your men. Caramel ice cream + caramel swirl = great combination! When it’s there, the salt adds a terrific element. Mostly-black carton makes you look super cool.
Cons: Misleading company names. Not enough salt to justify making up 2/3rds of the product name. Recent seasons of The Simpsons. Definitely needs a wider caramel swath. Legally I’m allowed to plop a Frosty in a cup and sell it as “gelato.”