Last year, right about now, tahini broke through from Middle Eastern cuisine to mainstream menus.
Now, another sesame-based flavor is making the same progression.
Black sesame has been part of Asian culture for centuries. In Japanese cooking, you might see black sesame seeds sprinkled on top of rice.
It’s also an ingredient in furikake, a mixture that also includes dried seaweed and fish flakes.
Korean cuisine uses black sesame in rice cakes, while in Chinese cooking, you’ll find in in the rice balls called tang yuan.
But, as flavors make the leap from their origins to more-accessible foods, black sesame is joining them.
In Canada, Starbucks recently introduced the Teavana Black Sesame Tea Latte, which is black tea and milk, with with black sesame sauce and topped with a crunchy black sesame praline.
There seems to be a black sesame latte available at Starbucks on Jeju Island in South Korea, too, according to tourism officials.
Black sesame is also showing up as an ice cream flavor, in everything from soft serve to gelato.
Luvi, a new Asian-inspired restaurant in New Orleans, serves black sesame and coconut ice cream, made specially for it by The Creole Creamery, a popular local company. The black sesame comes from tahini, usually made with lighter seeds.
Meanwhile, Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, Mich., is offering black sesame gelato among its new flavors for summer.
You might wonder what black sesame flavored items look like, and to be honest, black sesame doesn’t really present itself as something pretty.
Most black sesame variations come out in different shades of gray or black.
But, that hasn’t stopped activated charcoal from making its way into apothecary and food items.
Consumers, it seems, aren’t demanding aesthetics, if they’re willing to try something new.
As it turns out, there are believed to be some apothecary qualities to black sesame, too.
“In the Chinese culture, the belief is that you eat black sesame to make your hair darker,” says Hao Gong, the chef and owner at Luvi.
“We believe anything black is good- black pig, black sesame, black sheep, etc. We feel the flavor is better.”
Gong says he was also being considerate of customers with food allergies. “I also wanted to create a peanut butter flavor without peanuts,” he says.
“The coconut and black sesame tahini were the perfect ingredients. The ice cream is creamy, rich, savory and a little tart. In the Chinese culture, we enjoy sweets and pastries that aren’t very sweet. This ice cream fits that bill perfectly.”
Gong says he gives his seasonal ideas to Creole Creamery, “and they make it happen!” Other ice cream flavors on his menu recently have included Dragon Fruit and Magnolia Black Tea.
The idea for black sesame gelato at Zingerman’s came from a restaurant client, says Aubrey Thomason, the managing partner in charge of the Creamery and Cream Top Shop, which sells Zingerman’s gelato, sorbet and cheese.
Thomason says the gelato is also a menu feature at one of Zingerman’s businesses, Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant.
“The black sesame gelato is one of our favorites for its nutty and rich flavor, and for its gorgeous grey color,” “Ji Hye Kim, chef and managing partner at Miss Kim, said in a Zingerman’s newsletter.
“I have sweet memories of black sesame and have always associated it with a special dessert or snack flavor.”
Like Luvi, Zingerman’s also is using black sesame tahini as the basis for its black sesame flavor. But it’s an easy flavor to dress up. You could top it with maple syrup, if you’re trying to avoid nuts, or Nutella if you’re not.
The Zingerman’s version sells for $9 a pint or $16 a quart at the Creamery.
Other seasonal flavors this summer from Zingerman’s include coconut caramel crunch gelato, black and blueberry sorbet and watermelon sorbet.
Read lots more about black sesame — and how it differs from regular sesame — in this story from Taste.
And, if you spot it on a menu during warm weather, you’ll be right on trend.