Most of us seldom stray beyond traditional ice cream flavours. But if you consider vanilla too vanilla and chocolate a tad boring, then how about goat cheese gelato with balsamic fig jam or smoked caramel with beef bacon?
Welcome to the world of wacky ice cream flavours that tantalise your taste buds but at the same time also leave you scratching your head. From peanut butter and jam and hibiscus gelato to Mandarin and black tea sorbet and smoked caramel and bacon (pictured below, clockwise from left), Canvas Gelato offers unique flavours to those with sweet tooth.
“For me, the only rule of making ice creams is that there are no rules,” says Ahmad Almarri, founder of Canvas Gelato, the Dubai-headquartered artisanal ice cream company behind the Willy Wonka-worthy creations.
Almarri launched Canvas Gelato in 2017, hoping to raise the bar for indulgence in frozen desserts.
Five years on, his oddball flavours continue to intrigue and push beyond expectations. “You may find my creations strange, but if you can have goat cheese and figs in salad, there’s no reason why you can’t have them in any other dish, especially ice cream,” he reasons.
Other outrageous concoctions include pistachio baqlawa, green apple wasabi and saffron gelato with Emirati pumpkin pudding. Almarri says he ventured into ice cream business to provide a better gelato with bolder flavours using real ingredients.
“I want people to step out of their comfort zone and try something different. There’s a whole world beyond vanilla, chocolate and strawberry waiting to be discovered,” says the dad of three. “There’s no limit to what you could do with ice cream. I wonder why other manufacturers don’t get more innovative. I consider ice creams as a blank canvas where you can let your imagination run riot. It's precisely why I added the word 'canvas' to my company's name."
Almarri says he loves thinking out of the box and challenging people’s palate with hitherto unheard-of flavours. He did that quite effectively when he tied up with Middle East’s first pitmaster chef Hattem Mattar to come up with smoked caramel and candy bacon ice cream.
“Chef Hattem Mattar provided us with smoked fat extracted from beef brisket and ribs which we then turned into a caramel sauce for our ice cream. Is that a flavour for everyone?” Almarri answers himself: “Probably not. But that’s part of the fun. You get to try something that’s not common but might still end up falling in love with.”
Many with a sweet tooth did just that when they sampled the Saffron Gelato Aseeda chocolate fondant. A modern twist to an Emirati dessert, the delicacy is the result of collaboration with homegrown bean-to-bar chocolate brand Mirzam. “It was an instant hit.”
Almarri says all of their seemingly weird pairings are based on science.
"What you get is a blend of science and creativity that is free from preservatives and artificial flavours.”
Today, Canvas Gelato flavours are available at several restaurants and cafes across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They can be also ordered online. A one-litre tub costs between Dh120 and Dh150.
Almarri says he never expected his unhinged flavours to become all the rage when he started churning them out at his sister’s kitchen in Al Quoz in 2016.
“Initially, we were just a home delivery business that ran on Instagram. Things picked up during Covid-19. Suddenly, we found ourselves besieged with online orders.
I had to work very hard to meet the demand. Ice cream making is a laborious process and requires a lot of skill and attention to detail.”
Almarri says he enrolled himself for ice-cream making courses to master the craft after his initial attempts at making the frozen dessert didn’t pan out well.
“Once I decided to surprise my friends as we walked back after dinner at Box Park. As we reached my car I pulled out a Styrofoam box containing a tub of clear milk ice cream which I had prepared earlier. My friends took a bite and exchanged amused glances with each other. Finally one of them asked, ‘Do you think it will sell?’," recalls Almarri.
"Now I know better.”
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