New York startup Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream recently launched into select grocery stores on the East Coast a “first-to-market” stretchy, “chewy” ice cream that also melts slower than traditional American ice cream and has less sugar and cholesterol.
“It is a thick, creamy style premium ice cream, but it also has a resistance to it. It literally has chew,” Roberto Escobar, co-founder and COO of Lezzettli, told FoodNavigator-USA. “The closest thing I have heard people compare it to is almost the feeling of biting into an almost frozen marshmallow” that then melts in your mouth.
He explains that the ice cream is inspired by a traditional take on the frozen dessert that is found across Turkey and Lavant called dondurma, which gets its elasticity from salep – an ingredient harvested from the root of a wild orchid.
“In Turkey you can find ice cream that is so stretchy people jump rope with it, which is amazing,” Escobar said. “We wanted to create an ice cream that has that experience of chewiness,” but which also would appeal to Americans who want something rich and creamy.
To strike this balance, Escobar says Lezzettli swapped out the salep, which cannot be imported into the US because the orchids from which it comes are nearing extinction, with other natural gums and fibers that are slightly less stretchy.
The result is an unexpected and intriguing texture that consumers either love or hate, Escobar says.
He explains that even though marketing materials promote the ice cream as “chewy” most Americans are not prepared for the texture because they can’t reconcile the concept with their nostalgic memories of silky smooth ice cream on hot days.
“Most people are usually taken aback at first … but usually end up liking it” because it offers a new experience, which consumers increasingly seek from the foods and beverages they buy, Escobar said.
A healthier alternative?
Lezzettli also is unique in that it has lower cholesterol, fewer calories and far less sugar than typical American-style ice cream, Escobar said.
He explained that because the ice cream uses natural gums and fibers as stabilizers, it does not have any eggs in it – which are a source of high cholesterol in other traditional ice creams. This also lowers the fat content – and by extension shaves off a few calories from the total amount per serving.
In addition, most of the flavors in the company’s line up are savory – meaning they have less sugar than the decadent, sweet options that typically crowd store shelves.
The company’s best-selling option is a limited special edition – mastiha, which is an herbal flavor akin to pine or evergreen trees. Recognizing that this might be a bit of an acquired taste that is too much for some Americans, the company also offers Chios Vanilla which blends a hint of mastiha with the vanilla to create a clean taste and makes mastiha more approachable.
The other options include spiced date, tart cherry and chocolate orange blossom, all of which have “purposefully reduced sugar,” Escobar said.
He explained that the company founders reduced the sugar not because it is a rising concern of many consumers, but because they did not want to feel guilty about “eating a bowl of sugar” when they polished off a pint of their product.
Despite these healthier attributes, Escobar says the ice cream is not promoted as better-for-you because it is still a premium decadent dessert that is calorie dense. Also, he said, better-for-you products also sometimes are perceived by consumers to either not taste as good or as filled with low- or zero-calorie sweeteners and artificial ingredients. And, Escobar said, the company wanted to maintain and play-up the ice creams natural status
However, he cautioned, it is still marketed as a treat and not as a better-for-you alternative.
Ready to scale
While Lezzetli’s ice cream currently is only available in a few stores in New York, it will expand throughout the tristate area and Northeast through the spring and summer of 2017 with help from McMahons Farms.
It also sells the pints online through its website with limited distribution on the East Coast, and soon nationwide through Gold Belly, Escoba said.
He also noted that the company has a co-packer and is ready to scale – it just needs retailers across the country to ask their distributors for the product.