My husband has learned that appearances can be deceiving when you share a household with a food writer. An innocent-looking pint of ice cream, for example, may turn out to be made from lupini beans (not bad, I thought, but distinctly bean-y, despite assurances from the brand that you’d "never know" … we knew). A pasta casserole might be made without gluten but, in fact, with red lentil-based noodles (those actually held up quite well). My velvety chocolate mousse is vegan — it’s made from silken tofu. I love to serve him, and unsuspecting dinner guests, something with a secret, then wait till after they’ve murmured approval before I make the big reveal. I’ve just found it can dampen the enthusiasm when they find out they’re eating bean sundaes before the first bite.
Since I report on this stuff, I’m always looking to connect the dots between trends. And this summer, I noticed that the ice cream world has gone mad for condiments. Double Rainbow and Tia Lupita’s smoky-sweet chipotle hot sauce ice cream, which I love. Yun Hai’s caramelized soy sauce ice cream that plays into my obsession with salty-sweet things. Doing away with the separation between dinner and dessert entirely, one Brooklyn scoop shop even went ahead and added whole chunks of Nathan's hot dogs into its "Let The Dogs Out!" flavor. And what is a hot dog if not a vehicle for condiments?
I’m not a big hot-dog gal myself, but I am of the opinion that condiments can make or break a meal. At home or at restaurants, you will usually find me dumping sauces on my dishes, doctoring them until they are spicy or salty enough for my palate. And I’m not alone. Noting that "chili crunch is all the rage right now," Whole Foods proclaimed this "Hot Chili Summer" in its first-ever condiment trends spotlight. To prove it, it's offering a chili crisp sundae recipe that also involves ramen noodles for a dessert that is — forgive me for the obvious turn of phrase — anything but vanilla.
So when I saw that Van Leeuwen, a premium ice cream brand that is getting increasingly kookier with its offerings, was making a Grey Poupon and pretzel flavor this summer, I had to try it.
"Van Leeuwen is excited to partner with Grey Poupon for the mustard brand’s first foray into the ice cream category," the announcement read, as though the fact that it’s a first might come as a surprise. "Grey Poupon elevates any meal to something worth savoring so, why not ice cream?"
Whether or not you agree that that’s a rhetorical question, Van Leeuwen does have a (distinguished?) history of playing around with savory notes. For its surprisingly enjoyable pizza flavor that launched earlier this year at Walmart, it used small-batch tomato jam, which I found registers almost like strawberry. The brand also experimented with a hot honey flavor that, according to the brand, was its most popular during its limited run.
"Having spicy with lots of fat works well because it doesn’t shock your palate," Ben Van Leeuwen explained to me over email. "The fat neutralizes the intensity of the spice."
The inspiration for its collab with Grey Poupon ("an iconic American condiment"), he said, was that he’s found people "want to try unusual things, and savory ice cream is that."
"We like giving our customers something that sounds unusual and unexpected that turns out to be not only good but crave-able," Van Leeuwen added.
This may be unprecedented for Grey Poupon, but it's actually not the first mustard to go the mainstream ice cream route. French's made one with Coolhaus all the way back in 2019, its signature bright yellow shade not far off from the Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream that's set off its own viral craze for two summers in a row now. Given my aforementioned love of all things sweet, salty and spicy, I reasoned with myself that maybe mustard ice cream was, in fact, right up my alley.
One little pep talk ("You are a food writer and you try things with an OPEN mind!!!") and I was ready to peel off the lid. The ice cream is sweet with the unmistakable taste — and buttery color — of Dijon. The caramel-looking swirl rippled throughout may trick your eyes but not your tongue — it tastes distinctly like honey mustard, the kind my family puts on ham every year at Christmas. The brand is really doubling down on the mustard here, I thought to myself, trying to decide whether or not I was perturbed. The pretzels delivered on the flavor front but texturally gave me pause. It wasn’t clear if they were supposed to be crunchy because they’re kind of tough to chew through. However, the pretzel aftertaste is pleasant, and that’s what you’re left with, much more so than the nostril sting of mustard. I couldn’t stop going for another spoonful to figure out what I thought of it all. Before I knew it, a third of the carton was gone. I guess that means I liked it?
Maybe now that I’ve kind of come around to mustard ice cream, you could say I’m primed for something even more out of the box — say, paint? Doing away with the idea that condiments must be edible to serve as flavor inspiration, Benjamin Moore just partnered with Ace’s Hardware to give away free ice cream inspired by popular Benjamin Moore paint colors (that would be French White 1093, Mint Chocolate Chip 436, Strawberry-n-Cream 2103-70 and Cocoa Brown 2101-20).
And it-girl skincare brand Supergoop has teamed up with Sunscoop on a vegan flavor inspired by its bestselling SPF. The “Sweet Sunshine” creation features passionfruit, vanilla, ginger and turmeric, and is "boosted with pearl powder to echo the glowy finish of Supergoop!’s Glowscreen."
Do I want my ice cream to look like sunscreen? Do I want my paint to look like ice cream? Brands seem to assume these things are a given as they charge forth in an endless stream of collaborations designed to get our attention and inspire hot takes. But if you’re intrigued, you might want to act quickly: Thanks to a few factors too complicated to get into right now (climate change, the war in Ukraine, people's hoarding tendencies in times of crisis), there is a worldwide mustard shortage looming. In the meantime, you can get your Grey Poupon ice cream while it’s cold at Walmart.