Big pails of nut pastes, boxes of sugars and cases of raw ingredients line the shelves of the Vaniglia gelato factory in Israel. One at a time, like a little kid in a candy shop, Itay Rogozinsky, chef glacier and owner of the popular ice cream chain, unscrews the lids or opens the boxes to show the perfect consistency of each mixture. He also tells its backstory – from which country the ingredient hails, when he went to the factory that makes it, and in which gelatos you’ll find it.
Rogozinsky drew international attention recently when he mixed certain quantities of these natural, raw ingredients into a new flavor of ice cream: cannabis.
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“People don’t know what cannabis tastes like because people don’t eat marijuana. To create a cannabis-flavor for ice cream, I studied the marijuana plant and learned about its different terpenes and aromas,” Rogozinsky tells NoCamels. “I then created an ice cream that, in my opinion, tastes like the aroma of cannabis.”
Vaniglia’s cannabis ice cream is without any part of the marijuana plant but rather uses an exclusive mix of herbs and nuts that Rogozinsky created through trial and error.
“The feedback so far is 50-50 on the cannabis flavor. People like to try new things. Some people really liked it. For others, it was a bit weird,” says Rogozinsky. “It’s like guava: either you like it or you don’t.
“Our cannabis flavor has a bit of a nutty taste,” he explains.
The first batch of cannabis-flavored ice cream was introduced in March of this year at CannaTech, an annual cannabis innovation conference. The green gelato is made of natural ingredients (like all flavors at Vaniglia) and includes cannabis terpenes (essential oils that enhance natural flavors) and chlorophyl (found in all photosynthetic organisms).
The first batch originally also included hemp seed oil as an ingredient.
In July, Health Ministry officials popped by the factory in Hod Hasharon – a 15-minute drive from Tel Aviv – to double check that the ice cream was free of cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical produced by the cannabis plant believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and painkilling properties.
Industry experts expect the World Health Organization to reclassify cannabidiol soon, but at the moment, CBD is still listed as a controlled substance and cannot legally be added to foodstuffs.
“This ice cream is legal. The moment CBD oil is legalized, we’ll add it to our ice cream. We’re waiting for the regulators,” says Rogozinsky.
Saul Kaye, a pharmacist and the CEO of iCAN Israel-Cannabis, a leading cannabis tech startup accelerator, told NoCamels in July that the “World Health Organization is about to reschedule CBD” and that the compound has been “misunderstood and shouldn’t be classified as it is. It is 100 percent safe.”
While the Health Ministry may have been worried about the possibility of CBD in ice cream, Kaye sees a time in the near future when all dairy products will include it.
“It’s going to be the next additive in everything. Just like Omega 3. It’s going to be in everything,” he tells NoCamels.
“The moment the regulators okay CBD, nutritional and food companies will be the first to adapt it. There is so much research highlighting its therapeutic properties. It will become a regular ingredient in health foods and even ice cream,” says Rogozinsky.
On the global market, you can find cannabinoid-infused beer, water, and vitamin drops. US law says that CBD edibles are legal if they’re derived from hemp.
“CBD likes fat and oil, and milk is a fatty oily drink that we have every day. Adding CBD to milk will be a natural progression,” says Kaye.
So while Rogozinsky’s cannabis gelato is the first of its kind in Israel, it is actually part of a global trend of
independent gourmet ice cream makers wooing customers with either cannabidiol (CBD)-infused or cannabis-flavored ice cream. CBD oil has already been dubbed one of 2018’s “it” ingredients in the kitchen.
There are ice cream parlors in Canada and the US using CBD oil in their frozen ice cream treats. Some ice cream makers are adding THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, as well.
Rogozinsky says he won’t use THC in ice cream because it could be dangerous not knowing the exact dosage a person is getting.
For Rogozinsky, his newest flavor is most definitely not a publicity stunt. He believes in the marijuana plant’s healthy properties.
“I’m very proud of the product,” he says.
Wild flavors and tastes
Rogozinsky is the official taster – or, more appropriately, the sensory scientist – for all 50 flavors of gelato and sorbets produced by the Vaniglia ice cream chain.
Watching him in his little laboratory at the factory is mesmerizing. During a recent visit, a supplier came in with a package of frozen pineapple chunks. Rogozinsky scrutinized the pieces in the bag.
He then cleaned a surface in his lab and poured the pieces out. “These are imported from Costa Rica,” he says, while picking up the frozen fruit piece, sniffing it and admiring its coloring.
Once in his mouth, he moves the fruit around with his tongue before chewing and eventually swallowing it. Another few pieces follow the same routine.
“There is no flavor that I don’t like,” he says. “But I really dislike poor quality and artificial flavors.”
The 34-year-old is not being pretentious. His olfactory talents have kept the Vaniglia chain, which he founded in 2002, among the country’s best gourmet gelato and sorbet shops for over 15 years.
The company produces two tons of ice cream and sorbet every day. Flavors like pistachio, chocolate and mango are made on a regular basis while more eccentric flavors including lemon pie (this reporter’s favorite), 10-spice, cannabis and the vegan peanut butter-chocolate-banana are made seasonally or on a rotating schedule.
Rogozinsky also makes a vanilla ice cream with olive oil for a chef’s fine dining restaurant (he can’t say the name on record).
Israelis, after all, are known for being open to trying new things – and that is greatly evident in their ice cream consumption.
According to Statista market research, revenues of ice cream manufacturing in Israel amounted to approximately $39 million in 2010. In 2018, that figure will be closer to $55 million by the end of the year.
Ice cream is said to trace back to China around 200 BCE. This frozen treat has gained gourmet prominence along the way and Israeli gourmet artisan ice cream/gelato chains and independent parlors showcase their creativity and innovation in the display cases.
Leggenda yogurt and gelato, another Israeli chain, has hummus and Bamba flavors. Gelato Delicato serves up challah-and-butter and watermelon-and-feta cheese flavors. Eissalon has labane-zaatar-pita ice cream on its menu for the hardcore fans of Mideast flavors. And Buza, a chain with roots in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Tarshiha, has pomegranate-lemongrass, kenafeh cheese pastry and black coconut flavors.
Vaniglia’s signature flavor is cheesecake with crumbs. It is also a go-to destination for pistachio, espresso, and hazelnut gelato, as well as water-based fruity sorbets.
And now, cannabis flavored gelato is also an option.
“Ice cream in Israel is of a very good quality, it gets better every year, and it will get better,” Rogozinsky tells NoCamels.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com