Perhaps it's no surprise that a state known for potatoes has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to inventive ways of preparing.
Meet the Idaho Ice Cream Potato! This shockingly sweet spud is the brainchild of local chef Lou Aaron, and he's spent nearly 40 years perfecting this dessert that looks exactly like a savory baked potato.
"We could do a movie on how many times people have mistaken this for a baked potato," Aaron told TODAY Food. "They can't believe we're putting ice cream into a potato! They think it's disgusting until they start eating it."
The dessert is really a large, potato-shaped ball of super creamy vanilla ice cream (that has an exceptionally high butter fat content), dusted in cocoa powder, then topped with Oreo cookies, whipped cream and diced peanuts. The whole thing is served on a bed of chocolate syrup to give it that fresh-from-the-dirt look.
Despite the shock that many people experience when they first see the dessert, it's very popular among both locals and visitors. Aaron estimates that they sell over a thousand a month at his restaurant, Westside Drive-In. When he's at the Western Idaho Fair, where the treat has been sold since the 1990s, he sells as many as 10,000 in just nine days. People can also rent trailers and have the ice cream served at private parties and events throughout the year.
"We've been very blessed with it," he explained. "We sell it to convenience stores and food service companies, and they actually sell it to other companies."
For three years running, it's won the Crowd Favorite award at the Western Idaho Fair. The dessert is so popular that it's also made appearances outside of its home state and has been served in New York and Texas. It's also been featured on TV shows, including "Man vs. Food" and "State Plate with Taylor Hicks." Celebrity chefs Martha Stewart and Sandra Lee have even recreated the dessert.
"It's a pretty novelty deal," Aaron said. "We sell a ton of them. People buy them for birthday parties, you name it. They just buy it all over the place."
In a state that loves potatoes so much, it's no surprise that this replica dessert has taken off.
"I think that for Idahoans, we respect the potato as a symbol of Idaho because it represents all of the back-breaking labor, mind-blowing innovations, and entrepreneurship that it took to build the potato industry in Idaho into what it is today," said Tish Dahmen, the executive director of the Idaho Potato Museum, which stocks the ice cream during the summer. "The ice cream sells well at the museum because our visitors are ready to try everything potato!"
For Aaron, the road to this kind of popularity has been long. The ice cream was first created and served by another chef at a restaurant he worked at more than 40 years ago. When Aaron moved to Texas, he asked if he could keep making the dessert himself. He was given permission to go for it and then made a few tweaks to the original recipe before trademarking the dish itself.
"Once, at a Hilton Hotel I was a chef at, we had a banquet for 450 people. It was a women's conference, and we served the ice cream potato for dessert," he said. "The head lady came back yelling, asking how she could serve a baked potato for dessert! She just wouldn't take it."
While the dessert has always been delicious, the recipe has changed quite a few times in the 40 years Aaron has been making it.
At first, it was made with maple-nut ice cream and topped with slivered almonds. In the 1980s, he tried cookies-and-cream ice cream, only to find that it was too overpowering with the Oreo cookie topping. Most recently, Aaron tried a rich vanilla ... and it stuck. The vanilla version is the recipe that has been served for 30 years.
"It's been surprising," Aaron said of his unique dessert's success. "But it's been quite the conversation piece."