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Lauren Kaelin

How Brooklyn Creamery Ample Hills Dreams Up its Colorful Flavors

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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.”

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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