Kick Your Vanilla Ice Cream Up A Notch With Olive Oil And Sea Salt

While the word "vanilla" has turned into a synonym for "bland" or "boring," there is nothing blah about this unique spice. You could even say that desserts would actually be boring without the power of vanilla. It's an essential but under-appreciated flavor powerhouse, adding a sweet, floral, warm, and rich aroma to countless sweets, a depth that would be missing without it. It can also star on its own in vanilla-forward sweets like ice cream.

Nevertheless, sometimes you are looking for a little something more from your dessert. Whether you opt for store-bought ice cream or whip up a simple vanilla ice cream at home, there's an easy way to instantly elevate a scoop of this classic flavor: Top it with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

It may sound unusual at first, but together, these three ingredients balance and enhance the best qualities of each individual element. The savory and often grassy notes of the olive oil complement the creamy sweetness of the ice cream, while the sea salt brings out the more subtle flavors of its partners. If you need convincing, you can check out any number of viral videos on TikTok, with users reacting enthusiastically to this sweet-meets-savory treat.

Adding a boost of flavor and nutrition to dessert

To try out this fantastic dessert combo, start with your favorite vanilla ice cream, a rich but balanced-tasting extra virgin olive oil, and plain sea salt. If you find that you love the combination, try experimenting with different types of olive oil and salt. It is especially important to find an olive oil that you like, since this ingredient will dominate the overall taste of the dish. Check the label on a bottle of oil for tasting notes, such as spicy, bitter, grassy, floral, or fruity. 

The flavor of the sea salt is more of a supporting role, but its texture is especially important. The smooth creaminess of the ice cream and rich olive oil are cut through by the crunchy salt. If you like sprinkles on your ice cream, you may prefer a salt that comes in larger crystals, such as Maldon sea salt.

Besides adding complexity and richness to every spoonful of ice cream, olive oil also adds a nutritious boost to dessert. While sea salt is a source of sodium and ice cream is high in calcium — both of which are essential to proper functioning of the human body — olive oil is rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds. It still won't make dessert the most nutritious meal of the day, but a few extra nutrients add appeal to this sweet combination.

How to pair olive oil and sea salt with your ice cream

Once you've tasted the pure perfection of ice cream, olive oil, and salt, you can have fun pairing this combo "a la mode" with other desserts. It is delicious atop a piece of pie and other buttery pastries, such as a cherry galette or berry crumble, or served along with a slice of cake (especially something citrusy). The olive oil and salt lend their complexity and flavor-enhancing properties to make the sweets even more delicious and interesting to eat.

For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, try jumping on the olive oil coffee trend and make yourself an extra special affogato. Pour espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sprinkle on the oil and salt, and enjoy.

If you've had enough of vanilla, try topping other kinds of ice cream with olive oil and sea salt. Fruity flavors such as lemon or strawberry work well, as do nutty flavors like pistachio or hazelnut. For those who prefer chocolate, these two ingredients with dark chocolate ice cream is simply divine. This dessert can also easily be made vegan. Swap out a traditional vanilla ice cream for a non-dairy alternative, such as coconut milk ice cream, or a naturally dairy-free sorbet.