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Love or hate it, mint chocolate has churned its way into Israeli cones

Despite appealing mostly to Americans, Israeli ice cream chains and the local Ben & Jerry’s franchise are finding the once-rare flavor scoop-worthy

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Stock image of an ice cream in a cone (Courtesy Leggenda)
Stock image of an ice cream in a cone (Courtesy Leggenda)

National Chocolate Mint Day in the US may have passed on February 19, but American-born Israelis are still celebrating, because they finally can.

After years of pining for the classic mint-flavored ice cream threaded with chocolate chunks, fans can finally find a local version at some Israeli ice cream shops and on the shelves of grocery store freezers where Ben & Jerry’s Israel stocks its latest flavor, Mint Chocolate Cookie.

“Cookies and Cream is our number one flavor, so we said if we’re going to make [a mint ice cream], let’s do it with cookies,” said Avi Zinger, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel.

The local franchise put out the minty flavor in January, whereupon it found over 700 comments on its Facebook page ranging from “When will it be in the stores?” to “Puke. Mint only belongs in tea.”

Last summer, after the ice cream giant announced its plans to stop selling its products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” apparently referring to West Bank settlements, Zinger had to hire a public relations firm to handle all the interview requests. But this week, he was more than happy to speak about a matter no less divisive: mint as an ice cream flavor.

“This is one topic I can really expand on,” said Zinger, who opened the Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Israel 35 years ago, beginning with ice cream shops in Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem. Now he churns his creamy flavors out of the factory store down south in Be’er Tuvia.

מי חוזר?

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Posted by Ben & Jerry's on Monday, January 17, 2022

The Israeli franchise of the ice cream giant used to stock mint chocolate chip ice cream for its local ice cream stores. Zinger was one native-born Israeli who loved it, though many of his Israeli customers thought it tasted like toothpaste.

“We don’t make anything that I don’t love,” he said.

The lack of sabra buy-in stopped him from making mint ice cream for years. But a steady stream of customer requests made him rethink, and the flavor returned as a minty ice cream studded with pieces of vanilla cream-filled chocolate cookies.

“It’s surprising how many people love it,” he said. “We get really good feedback about how refreshing it is.”

Ben & Jerry’s Israel teased its customers about the return of a minty ice cream flavor in January 2022 (Courtesy Ben & Jerry’s Israel)

The appearance of the recently released minty cookie flavor created a buzz on social media about where to track down pints of it in Israel, with lists posted on Facebook groups about which stores carry the flavor.

“I literally can’t keep it in stock,” said Amos, of Amos & Sons Minimarket on Ein Gedi Street in Jerusalem. “I had no idea it would be this popular.”

For now, the plan is to continue churning out Mint Chocolate Cookie, said Zinger,  to ensure it will be delivered regularly to stores with substantial numbers of American-born customers, the main consumers for the flavor.

Ben & Jerry’s isn’t the only ice cream maker in Israel catering to its US-born customers.

A few Israeli gelaterias have been whipping up their own versions of mint chocolate chip for several years.

Israeli ice cream chain Golda posted their chocolate mint on Instagram, telling followers to tag friends who can’t live without the flavor, one of the top five most popular ice creams in the US (Courtesy Golda Instagram)

Golda, a 30-branch ice cream franchise and sister to the Anita ice cream chain, serves mint chocolate chip at most of its ice cream parlors, said a company spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Wisconsinites Kati and David Sharett began making and delivering their own mint chocolate chip ice cream about five years ago, after importing a frozen custard machine from their favorite hometown chain and taking a course in custard and another in Italian gelato.

“You couldn’t find mint chip with any regularity,” said Kati Sharett, who has been living in Israel for the last 25 years.

They market their mint chocolate chip — as well as Thanksgiving pumpkin spice flavor and a few others — through a Facebook page and WhatsApp group. They deliver in Tzur Hadassah, Jerusalem and Mevasseret Zion and say they usually sell out their 45 to 50 pints in 18 hours or less. “Some people buy 12 pints,” noted Sharett.

She claims their ice cream has a lower fat content and less sugar than Ben & Jerry’s. “It doesn’t need to be quite so sweet.”

Leggenda, a gelato chain based in the northern coastal town of Nahariya with branches throughout Israel, has made mint chocolate chip flavor for the last 21 years, said owner Ori Finkelstein.

“There are even Israelis who are starting to love it,” said Finkelstein. “But it’s one of those kinds of flavors, you either love it or you hate it.”

That could be, but it’s primarily Americans who love, said Sigal Ohayon, who always has mint chocolate chip — both dairy and non-dairy versions — available at Tziga, her ice cream shop on Bethlehem Road in Jerusalem .

Sigal Ohayon, the ice cream master at Jerusalem’s Tziga, who adds mint extract to her tubs of mint chocolate chip, both dairy and non-dairy versions (Courtesy Tziga)

“Mint chocolate chip and rum raisin are for my American customers,” said Ohayon, who sells out of her non-dairy mint chocolate chip every Friday. “It’s not for any of the other English speakers, like the Brits.”

(British cooking student Marilyn Ricketts is often credited with inventing mint chocolate chip ice cream in 1973 as her entry in a competition to create an ice cream dessert, Mint Royale, for Princess Anne’s wedding. But American ice cream chain Baskin Robbins claims it has been churning out mint chocolate chip since the late 1940s.)

At Tziga, Ohayon adds extra peppermint extract to her mint chocolate chip and smashes the chocolate chunks into small shards to spread them throughout.

“They all want it extra minty,” she said. “I have to answer the needs of my customers because it’s the flavor they love.”

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