Lauren Kaelin
Lauren Kaelin

How Brooklyn Creamery Ample Hills Dreams Up its Colorful Flavors

Lauren Kaelin
Lauren Kaelin

Brooklyn-cased creamery Ample Hills is known for their inventive and delicious flavors of ice cream. Even non-New Yorkers might be familiar with some of their more popular flavors, like The Munchies, Salted Crack Caramel, and more recently, their Star Wars-inspired flavors.

The creamery is going to be at The Village Voice’s upcoming Choice Eats event on March 11, so we called up their art director Lauren Kaelin to find out how Ample Hills comes up with their famously crazy flavors.

“We’re always interested in flavors that tell stories,” Kaelin told ­mental_floss in a phone interview. “We like to experiment, constantly coming up with new flavors, reinventing old flavors.”

In their five years of operation, Ample Hills has churned out about 500 different flavors of ice cream. Inspiration for the flavors can come from many different places—even simple things like the view from outside. Each Ample Hills location has its own signature flavor based on the neighborhood it’s located in. The Gowanus location has a flavor inspired by its infamously sludgy canal (called It Came From Gowanus). The custom creation features dark chocolate with “mysterious elements lurking within the chocolate.” It also has little white chocolate pearls to honor the oysters that used to reside in the canal.

A lot of inspiration also comes from pop culture, like television and movies. Last year, Ample Hills released a flavor called One More For The Road, in honor of the Mad Men series finale. The flavor was an ice cream spin on the Manhattan cocktail. It contained a sweet cream base with Canadian Club whisky (Don Draper’s favorite) and pieces of glazed orange peel for garnish.

More recently, Ample Hills released an X-Files-themed flavor called The Scoop Is Out There. “We called on our fans on social media to name and design a flavor,” Kaelin said. “Then we pulled elements from different ones and created an X-Files flavor.” The paranormal green pistachio ice cream came with chocolate-covered sunflower seeds for Fox Mulder and chocolate microchips for Scully.

Lauren Kaelin

The pints had stickers on them that were inspired by the “I Want To Believe” poster in Mulder’s office. Fun elements like that are considered part of the flavor-making process. In December, Ample Hills celebrated the new Star Wars movie with two new flavors that came in collectible pint containers. They even worked with Lucasfilm to design them.

Aside from television and movies, Ample Hills has also been inspired by politics. Each presidential election cycle, the creamery pays tribute to candidates with a special flavor. Last election, Mitt Romney got a flavor called Mitt Rom Raisin. Obama’s flavor was based off the White House’s microbrewery and honey bee colony, with a sweet cream base, Ommegang Witte beer ice cream, and homemade honeycomb.

“Beer and ice cream go really, really well together,” Kaelin said. Still, sometimes the combinations fall a little flat. Kaelin’s least favorite flavor was an ambitious savory-sweet concoction called Beer Munchies. The flavor was meant to be a more intense, boozy spin on their popular flavor, The Munchies: Pretzel-infused ice cream with assorted junk food like Ritz crackers, potato chips, pretzels, and mini M&Ms.

“We wanted to take that a step further and try to create a Munchies mix-in that actually had the flavor of cheddar cheese.” Kaelin said. The team threw in Cheez-Its, Goldfish, and other cheesy junk foods. They sprinkled it with salt and baked it in butter. Next, they combined that with an apple lambic beer ice cream. “We only made a few tubs of it and it was around for too long. I think we ended up giving it away. Surprisingly enough, there were a few people that were die-hard Beer Munchies fans and to this day, they’ll still ask about it.”

Even when a flavor is retired, it’s not forgotten; often flavors will be re-imagined or repurposed and find new life as another flavor.

For example, Kaelin mentions a flavor called Hundred Acre Woods, which was inspired by Winnie the Pooh. The popular flavor had gummy bears and honeycombs in it to honor the yellow bear and his favorite food. While enjoyed by most, the gummy bears tended to get too hard when frozen, leaving some customers to say they'd prefer the flavor without the candy. In response, Ample Hills released a new flavor called Sweet As Honey, which ditched the bears. “That has been on our menu as a staple now for years,” Kaelin said.

Sweet As Honey will be featured at Choice Eats, along with Salted Crack Caramel and Snap, Mallow, Pop—an ice cream spin on the Rice Krispie Treat. "[Snap, Mallow, Pop] is amazing because it has that gummy consistency that you love about marshmallows because it is just marshmallows."

Looking forward, Kaelin said Ample Hills is experimenting with some more cookie dough flavors. They're also tinkering with a raspberry champagne sorbet.

So with all these flavors, what is Kaelin’s favorite? “Pistachio Squared,” she told us. “It’s pistachio ice cream kind of like how you would imagine it’s supposed to taste.”

5 Ways to Define a Sandwich, According to the Law

It’s easy to say what a sandwich is. Grilled cheese? Definitely a sandwich. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato? There’s no question. Things start to get messy when you specify what a sandwich isn’t. Is a hot dog a sandwich? What about a burrito, or an open-faced turkey melt?

The question of sandwich-hood sounds like something a monk might ponder on a mountaintop. But the answer has real-world implications. On several occasions, governments have ruled on the food industry’s right to use the delectable label. Now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg—pop culture icon, scrunchie connoisseur, and Supreme Court Justice—has weighed in on the matter.

When pressed on the hot-button issue as to whether a hot dog is a sandwich while appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ginsburg proved her extreme judiciousness by throwing the question back at Colbert and asking for his definition of sandwich before making a ruling. Her summation? A hot dog fits Colbert's definition of a sandwich, and therefore can be considered one.

While RBG's ruling may not be an official one, it matches Merriam-Webster's bold declaration that a hot dog is a sandwich (even if the Hot Dog Council disagrees). Officially, here’s where the law stands on the great sandwich debate.


Hot dogs are often snagged in the center of the sandwich semantics drama. Despite fitting the description of a food product served on a bread-like product, many sandwich purists insist that hot dogs deserve their own category. California joins Merriam-Webster in declaring that a hot dog is a sandwich nonetheless. The bold word choice appears in the state’s tax law, which mentions “hot dog and hamburger sandwiches” served from “sandwich stands or booths.” Applying the sandwich label to burgers is less controversial, but it’s still worth debating.


When Qdoba threatened to encroach on the territory of a Panera Bread in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the owners of the bakery franchise fought back. They claimed the Mexican chain’s arrival would violate their lease agreement with the White City Shopping Center—specifically the clause that prohibits the strip mall from renting to other sandwich restaurants. “We were surprised at the suit because we think it’s common sense that a burrito is not a sandwich,” Jeff Ackerman, owner of the Qdoba franchise group, told The Boston Globe.

The Worcester County Superior Court agreed. When the issue went before the court in 2006, Cambridge chef and food writer Christopher Schlesinger testified against Panera [PDF], saying, “I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.”

Justice Jeffrey A. Locke ruled that Qdoba would be allowed to move into the shopping center citing an entry in Merriam-Webster as the most damning evidence against Panera’s case. “The New Webster Third International Dictionary describes a ‘sandwich’ as ‘two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them,’” he said. “Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term ‘sandwich’ is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.”


If you want to know the definition of a certain dish, the officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are good people to ask. It’s their job to make sure that the nation’s supply of meat is correctly labeled. When it comes to sandwiches, the agency follows strict criteria. “A sandwich is a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit,” Mark Wheeler, who works in food and safety at the USDA, told NPR. His definition comes from the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book used by the department (the USDA only covers the “labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products,” while the FDA handles everything else, which is why the USDA's definition excludes things like grilled cheese). Not included under their umbrella of foodstuff served between bread are burritos, wraps, and hot dogs.


The USDA’s definition may not be as simple and elegant as it seems. A sandwich is one thing, but a “sandwich-like product” is different territory. The same labeling policy book Mark Wheeler referred to when describing a sandwich lumps burritos into this vague category. Fajitas “may also be” a sandwich-like product, as long as the strips of meat in question come bundled in a tortilla. Another section of the book lists hot dogs and hamburgers as examples of sandwich-type products when laying out inspection policies for pre-packaged dinners. So is there an example of a meat-wrapped-in-carb dish that doesn’t belong to the sandwich family? Apparently strombolis are where the USDA draws the line. The Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book clearly states the product “is not considered a traditional sandwich” [PDF].


When it comes to sandwiches, New York doesn’t discriminate. In a bulletin outlining the state’s tax policy, a description of what constitutes a sandwich warrants its own subhead. The article reads:

“Sandwiches include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

It then moves on to examples of taxable sandwiches. The list includes items widely-believed to bear the label, like Reubens, paninis, club sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Other entries, like burritos, gyros, open-faced sandwiches, and hot dogs, may cause confusion among diners.

Big Questions
Why Do Onions Make You Cry?

The onion has been traced back as far as the Bronze Age and was worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians (and eaten by the Israelites during their bondage in Egypt). Onions were rubbed over the muscles of Roman gladiators, used to pay rent in the Middle Ages, and eventually brought to the Americas, where today we fry, caramelize, pickle, grill, and generally enjoy them.

Many of us burst into tears when we cut into one, too. It's the price we pay for onion-y goodness. Here's a play-by-play breakdown of how we go from grabbing a knife to crying like a baby:

1. When you cut into an onion, its ruptured cells release all sorts of goodies, like allinase enzymes and amino acid sulfoxides. The former breaks the latter down into sulfenic acids.

2. The sulfenic acids, unstable bunch that they are, spontaneously rearrange into thiosulfinates, which produce a pungent odor and at one time got the blame for our tears. The acids are also converted by the LF-synthase enzyme into a gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, also known as the lachrymatory factor (or the crying factor).

3. Syn-propanethial-S-oxide moves through the air and reaches our eyes. The first part of the eye it meets, the cornea, is populated by autonomic motor fibers that lead to the lachrymal glands. When syn-propanethial-S-oxide is detected, all the fibers in the cornea start firing and tell the lachrymal glands to wash the irritant away.

4. Our eyes automatically start blinking and producing tears, which flushes the irritant away. Of course, our reaction to burning eyes is often to rub them, which only makes things worse since our hands also have some syn-propanethial-S-oxide on them.

It only takes about 30 seconds to start crying after you make the first cut; that's the time needed for syn-propanethial-S-oxide formation to peak.


The onion's relatives, like green onions, shallots, leeks and garlic, also produce sulfenic acids when cut, but they generally have fewer (or no) LF-synthase enzymes and don't produce syn-propanethial-S-oxide.


Since I usually go through a good deal of onions while cooking at home, I've been road testing some of the different methods the internet suggests for reducing or avoiding the effects of the lachrymatory factor. Here's what I tried:

Method #1: Chill or slightly freeze the onions before cutting, the idea being that this will change the chemical reactions and reduce the gas that is released.
Result: The onion from the fridge has me crying just as quickly as room temperature ones. The one that was in a freezer for 30 minutes leaves me dry-eyed for a bit, but by the time I'm done dicing my eyes start to burn a little.

Method #2: Cut fast! Get the chopping over with before the gas reaches your eyes.
Result: Just hacking away at the onion, I get in the frying pan without so much as a sting in my eyes. The onion looks awful, though. Doing a proper dice, I take a little too long and start tearing up. If you don't mind a mangled onion, this is the way to go.

Method #3: Put a slice of bread in your mouth, and cut the onion with most of the bread sticking out to "catch" the fumes.
Result: It seems the loaf of bread I have has gone stale. I stop the experiment and put bread on my shopping list.

Method #4: Chew gum while chopping. It keeps you breathing through your mouth, which keeps the fumes away from your eyes.
Result: This seems to work pretty well as long as you hold your head in the right position. Leaning toward the cutting board or looking right down at the onion puts your eyes right in the line of fire again.

Method #5: Cut the onions under running water. This prevents the gas from traveling up into the eyes.
Result: An onion in the sink is a hard onion to cut. I think Confucius said that. My leaky Brita filter is spraying me in the face and I'm terrified I'm going to cut myself, but I'm certainly not crying.

Method #6: Wear goggles.
Result: In an effort to maintain my dignity, I try my eyeglasses and sunglasses first. Neither do me any good. The ol' chemistry lab safety glasses make me look silly, but help a little more. I imagine swim goggles would really do the trick, but I don't have any.

Method #7: Change your onion. "Tear free" onions have been developed in the UK via special breeding and in New Zealand via "gene silencing" techniques.
Result: My nearest grocery store, Whole Foods, doesn't sell genetically modified produce or onions from England. Tonight, we eat leeks!

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