A Chat with a Ben & Jerry’s 'Flavor Guru'
Eric Fredette has a job that most people would be envious of. He’s one of Ben & Jerry’s "flavor gurus," a small group of research and development pros who are responsible for inventing every new flavor for the renowned ice cream company. We had a chance to chat with him about what it’s like to spend all day dreaming up new ice cream flavors, and complex food science aside, it’s about as fun as it sounds.
"We’re constantly inventing new flavors," Fredette told The Daily Meal. "We develop new recipes in our batch freezer, make sure it’s perfect, then wait and see how the country responds."
That waiting game is always interesting, because there’s no way to tell how a product will do until the world gets a chance to try it. In fact, there were several times when Fredette thought that a new release would be huge, and it ended up bombing.
"Peanut Butter & Jelly didn’t do as well as I thought it would," he said. "I thought that Peanuts & Popcorn was going to be a huge seller as well. Who doesn’t love Cracker Jack?"
Aside from not selling well, that ice cream encountered another problem: popcorn sog. "If you can’t coat the popcorn with enough chocolate, it’ll get soggy," he said. "That’s why all the pretzels and other chunks are chocolate-covered. It’s a seal to keep moisture out."
Other new releases didn’t sell simply because the names weren't right. "We released Primary Berry Graham to coincide with presidential primaries," he said. "It didn’t sell. After that was over, though, we renamed it Strawberry Cheesecake, and it sells great!"
Every new release needs to have mass-market appeal, which means that the ingredients can’t get too crazy or experimental. "I’d like to be able to experiment with savory ingredients more, and booze," Fredette admitted. "Rosemary makes amazing ice cream, because it plays with fat and sugar really well. I’d like to do a strawberry ice cream with white chocolate and pink peppercorns, or a blackberry sage. Tarragon, not so much. I’d also like to do a bourbon ice cream. It has vanilla notes, it’s malty, it has so much going on. I’d also like to do a bacon ice cream, but the rabbi says no."
The flavor team is essentially left to their own devices when developing recipes, which means that they’ve whipped up some crazy one-off concoctions over the years.
"For Halloween every year we do some crazy things," Fredette said. "We did barbecue chicken ice cream as a joke. The barbecue works, actually, but chicken doesn’t. We also did a Dinty Moore beef stew ice cream. That didn’t work out so well."
When asked if there’s one old flavor that’s been banished to the Flavor Graveyard that he’d bring back, Fredette answered without hesitation.
"Rainforest Crunch," he said. "I loved that stuff."
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.