Friday, May 14, 2010

Tar ice cream! Finland's madeleine?

I dropped a casual reference to tar ice cream in my last post to see if anyone was paying attention. One eagle-eyed editor emailed to ask if I mistyped tar for tea. Tea ice cream is so last year. The flavor sensation this year is tar.

My first lick of tar ice cream sent me reeling backwards in time. I felt like a hot, sticky kid putting pennies on the railroad tracks. I could taste the smell of creosote rising from the railway ties. I could feel my bare toes popping tar bubbles in the street. The tar ice cream made me feel sweaty and itchy like I had a long, hot, summer day in a half-developed suburban neighborhood avoiding poison ivy stretching out before me.

I promptly swapped Chris for his salmiakki ice cream. Salmiakki makes me think of Finland.

A friend explained that tar was an important Finnish product. Think of all the wooden ships on the Baltic kept afloat by tar. Where would the Hanseatic League have been without tar. Finland is the most forested country in the European Union and wood products, including tar, remain a large part of the economy. You can read about tar production here.

I googled around trying to find out more about tar ice cream and found this exchange about odd ice cream flavors on Metafilter.

"The single most alien and unfamiliar flavor I have ever tasted was in a wonderful little restaurant in Helsinki, Finland. When I looked down at the menu, I saw a listing for "pine-tar ice cream with spruce sauce." I assumed it was a typo of some kind, but once my hostess told me the menu was accurate, I had to order it.

When I put the first spoonful into my mouth, my whole body recoiled -- it tasted like a frozen ashtray, concentrated carcinogens a la mode. But then my hostess said, "To a Finn, this tastes like winter in the family cabin in Lapland with everyone sitting around the fire."

I proceeded to eat the rest of it and enjoy it."

Proust had his madeleine and somewhere in Finland a Finn is savoring a scoop of tar ice cream with a side order of happy memories.

A want-to-be Finn happily eating Tar ice cream (note the Suomi) hat!
Sophia not eating Tar ice cream.
Tar (Terva) is No. 5
Proust's nibbles


  1. I notice you have a photo of madeleines rather than one of a scoop of hot asphalt on a sugar cone. ;-)

  2. I know! I plan to take a picture of tar ice cream today and add it later. Yum! Another excuse to remember my misspent youth in the woods around Athens.

  3. I don't like tar in food, but as a smell it is delicious! It spells hot summer days on the seaside.

  4. Thanks for the happy memory of the seaside!

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  6. I am a Finn and tasted tar ice cream yesterday... Mixed feelings. Not suitable for people with migraine.