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Portland company introduces fried chicken ice cream

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's summertime, which might inspire cravings for classic picnic fare like deviled eggs and fried chicken. One company in Portland, Ore., has reinvented these standbys and turned them into ice cream flavors. Reporter Katia Riddle tried them out.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: It's been more than a decade since Tyler Malek bought an ice cream maker at Goodwill to experiment with. Today, he and his cousin own 27 ice cream stores. Their company is Salt & Straw. Malek says they've never stopped experimenting.

TYLER MALEK: We made bug ice cream for Halloween.

K RIDDLE: The bug ice cream was born of a collaboration with an insect farmer from central Mexico. Unusual flavors, says Malek, get people questioning their assumptions about food.

MALEK: It makes people - like, puts them on edge. But it's actually a really cool way to provoke conversation.

K RIDDLE: The team has also made pig blood and cow bone marrow flavors.

JENNIFER MAPES CHRIST: There's this set of consumers who are looking for ice cream as something that's an adventure.

K RIDDLE: Jennifer Mapes Christ studies food trends for an industry group called Packaged Facts. She says people are looking to the ice cream cone for a novel experience, something they've never tried or a place they've never been.

MAPES CHRIST: Especially young consumers who are looking for those exciting and different global flavors.

K RIDDLE: She says these flavors mostly turn up in artisanal or specialty shops, but it's not unusual for niche trends to make their way into the mainstream. Maybe bug ice cream will be next to the mint chocolate chip at grocery stores soon.

MALEK: So it's a pink rose and watermelon sorbet.

K RIDDLE: Standing in one of their shops, Malek reads the summer tasting menu posted on the wall. It's based on the idea of a picnic.

MALEK: The middle flavor, it's a deviled egg custard with smoked black tea that it gives us almost, like, that bacon-y element.

K RIDDLE: It includes marshmallow fluff with balsamic vinegar.

MALEK: Even on our teams, there's, like, a camp that absolutely loves it, and there's a camp that absolutely hates it. So you have to taste the sample.

K RIDDLE: OK, here we go. I wouldn't say I hate it.

MALEK: That's good.

K RIDDLE: But I wouldn't say I love it.

MALEK: That's fair.

K RIDDLE: And this is where the fried chicken makes an appearance. The star flavor of the summer menu is Cinnamon Honey Fried Chicken.

MALEK: I actually think this is one of the coolest flavors we've ever created, so I'm excited for you to taste it.

K RIDDLE: Is it? OK. Oh, yeah. That's good.

MALEK: There's a ton of umami from that chicken fat and the - like, a little bit of texture from the croissant.

K RIDDLE: I do taste the chicken, but it's so sweet.

MALEK: Yeah.

K RIDDLE: And there's - I taste honey and the cinnamon and...

MALEK: Good.

K RIDDLE: Yeah, it's all in there.

MALEK: Yeah, yeah. You know, get that with a little bit of - a spritz of perfume on top.

K RIDDLE: A spritz of perfume on top - you heard that correctly. This is their latest invention, edible perfume. Soon, customers will be able to select these scents as toppings or buy them to wear. Don't worry, the scents are like citrus or flowers, not fried chicken. I took some of the picnic ice cream flavors home for some more research.

THOMAS: Smells good. What's that?

K RIDDLE: This is my son, Thomas. He's 9.

This ice cream has chicken in it.

THOMAS: I hate it.

K RIDDLE: You haven't even tried it yet.

THOMAS: I still hate it.

K RIDDLE: And yet, after he tasted it...

THOMAS: Six out of 10.

K RIDDLE: Six out of 10. My 4-year-old, Phoebe, gets the final verdict.

PHOEBE: I want to taste.

K RIDDLE: Dip your spoon in.

PHOEBE: I like it.

K RIDDLE: From the mouths of babes. Phoebe's not alone. Overall, bestsellers are still salted caramel and cookie dough, but Malek says the fried chicken flavor sells better at their Disneyland location than at any of their other stores.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Portland, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katia Riddle