Royally good ice creams

Esther Han

Olive ice-cream? Ginger ice cream. Pine nut gelato? Has someone been swapping your senses without your permission? No. Has El Bulli's gastro wizard Ferran Adria been let loose in the refrigerator? No - not that either. But we're getting closer (sort of). It's the Sydney Royal food competition, underway at Olympic Park.

And though the bulk of the ice cream entries are vanilla or chocolate, the number of wackier entries - plum port anybody? - growing year by year. But combining flavours, especially more than two, carries a risk.

“I just tasted a fig, honey and pistachio ice cream, but they didn't get it quite right,” the chief judge, Russell Smith, said. “The pistachio flavour was overwhelmed by the other two elements.”

Oh well - plenty more where that came from. Judges are eating their way through 65 gelatos and 65 ice creams from supermarket brands to boutique parlours, Sara Lee, Coles and the "super premium ice cream" brand Serendipity among them.

"Some of the biggest names can fare as well as smaller brands," said Gary Reid, chief steward at the competition. "They have the ability to churn out consistent products, keep their processes the same. Smaller manufacturers tend to go up and down."

Russell Smith said the quality of flavour and texture had gradually improved over the years.

“Gumminess used to be a problem because they put [in] too much stabiliser," he said. "That's almost disappeared now."

He stressed the importance of texture in an ice cream or dessert, saying the criterion may take greater precedence over flavour and presentation in the future.

“It you don't freeze it properly, don't time and churn it right, you get little ice crystals that change the texture of the ice cream,” he said. “Bad texture can ruin a product, despite great flavour.”


For the health-conscious, an ice-cream or gelato with reduced fat promises a better, guilt-free experience. But the judges disagree. Fat is where the flavour is.

“It's all about the lusciousness and creaminess in a luxury product,” Mr Smith said. “It needs that fat to give you the right mouth feel.”

Most products had 10 per cent fat content. But the “creamy chocolate ice cream coated in milk chocolate with biscuit pieces” entry had the highest fat content at 22.5 per cent.

Judging continues today. Winners will be announced on Friday, 15 February.