Brain Freeze: UMass Amherst Ice Cream Creations Now Available at Herrell’s

Pepper, purple sweet potato and margarita among the ‘unique’ flavors
Scoops of Pepper, Ube and Just Peachy join the routine chocolate and strawberry flavors at Herrell's Ice Cream. Photo courtesy of Herrell's Ice Cream & Bakery.
Scoops of Pepper, Ube and Just Peachy join the routine chocolate and strawberry flavors at Herrell's Ice Cream. Photo courtesy of Herrell's Ice Cream & Bakery.

AMHERST, Mass. – All seven original ice cream flavors concocted by University of Massachusetts Amherst food science students in a popular annual competition are now being scooped up for sale at Herrell’s Ice Cream & Bakery in Northampton.

“The students worked so hard on these flavors, and they were so interesting and good that there was no way I wasn’t going to do all of them,” says Judy Herrell, owner of the ice cream shop, who mentored the food processing class during lab sessions last spring, gave students a first-hand look at ice cream production at her store and served as judge of the contest.

Among Herrell’s current list of gourmet premium ice cream flavors are the UMass prototypes: Cantina Margarita and Ube (tied for first place), Magic Wings and Salt Bae (tied for second place), and Just Peachy, Pepper Storm and Sunday Brunch.

Cantina Margarita contains tequila (a negligible amount, leaving it open to all), natural lime and blood-orange flavor. The student team designed a crunchy add-in – chocolate-covered tortilla chips – but, as feared, the chips became soggy during production. Herrell followed the team’s directions for a backup option – pieces of chocolate-covered ice cream cone. The students who developed the flavor were Elizabeth Cole, Margaret Hibbs, Shannon Kelly, Loren Klein and Emily Newman.

The Ube ice cream, which Herrell calls “flavorful and fun,” was created with extract of the purple yam from the Philippines. Team members were Winnie Yu, Marina Russo, Joe Ciurleo, Juan Marin and Minh Huynh.

Herrell’s challenge in making Magic Wings, a honey and lavender ice cream named after the butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield, was getting the honey to streak. “If you add it as a swirl it sinks; it’s too heavy. We put the honey in a blender, which changed the viscosity by adding air, and that worked pretty well,” Herrell says. The student team members were Jessica Savarese, Mariana Cortes, Amanda Chin, Rachel Enfield, Victor Chiang and Moji Apaipakdee.

Salt Bae is a salty/savory ice cream flavored with the herb fenugreek and matcha tea. Its originators had hoped to use a different Chinese tea, but it was unavailable. The student team was Jiani Bao, Anqi (Sera) Yu, Shijun Huang, Chuanyang Chen and Xiaoyan Tan.

Pepper Storm, spiked with jalapeño, habanero and poblano peppers, is as spicy as it sounds and also “yummy,” Herrell says. The Pepper Storm creators were Qixiang Gao, Jianfei Shen, Bozhong Guan, Dominic Del’Olio and Cassandre Adelson.

Sunday Brunch, flavored with maple syrup and cinnamon, “tastes just like French toast,” Herrell says. “We made no changes at all. The way they wrote it up was the way we made it.” The student designers were Bianca Chima, Kayla Goodridge, Minji Kim, Benjamin Ngo and Emily Steen.

Just Peachy, the flavor Herrell thought would be straightforward and simple to produce, turned out to be tough because one of its featured ingredients, oatmeal, needed to be painstakingly blended in. “It’s very good; it actually tastes like oatmeal peach,” she says. The student creators were Louisa Bachman, Brigitte Farah, Lauren Mazzulli, Elizabeth Sansevero, Christina Wormald.

In the sixth annual contest, the ice cream names were as thought-out and original as the flavors themselves, notes Matthew Steffens, a UMass Amherst food science alumnus who teaches the course. “You can make a nice-tasting flavor, but if you don’t have a good name, people might not be as interested in it,” Steffens says.

In addition to developing the ice cream flavor in the food science pilot lab, students complete their capstone project with a sales pitch and food safety presentation. The lab time was cut short last spring due to the pandemic, and the judging – usually a well-attended, hands-on taste test and sensory experience – became a Zoom event.

Steffens is gearing up to teach the course in the spring, and Herrell says she’s excited to serve again as the real-world partner. “It’s very educational for the students to see what it’s like to be out there in the trenches making ice cream,” Steffens says, “and how much effort goes into being successful.”