The Salty, Sour, Spicy Sauce In Every Mexican Ice Cream Shop

July 21, 2017

Yes, Mexican cuisine is filled with intense heat and fiery flavors. But what’s perhaps the most quintessentially Mexican taste is a bit more complex—sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.

Chamoy is kind of like the Mexican umami,” says Fany Gerson, who features the sauce in her latest cookbook Mexican Ice Cream. “It’s very common in Mexico to add chile, lime, and salt to fruits and vegetables as a snack. This is the same idea, but in liquid form.”

Made from salted preserved apricots or plums, chamoy is naturally sour and spiked with chiles for varying degrees of heat. People eat both the pickled fruits or the liquid on its own. The bright red sauce is often used as a topping on fruit-based frozen treats, similar to sprinkles or fudge sauce.

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“The origins are uncertain, but it is believed to have been derived from Japanese umeboshi, or salted preserved plums,” Gerson says. Chamoy became more popular in the last 20 years, with heladerías (ice cream parlors) pouring the sauce over fruit-forward or acidic nieves de agua (sorbets). But Gerson doesn’t recommend adding chamoy to any ice cream because the acid can make it curdle.

For many Mexicans, chamoy is a nostalgic flavor, and homemade versions lack that processed deliciousness they expect. Gerson tried to experiment with her own chamoy recipe, but, ultimately, decided store-bought tasted best. You can buy chamoy at Latin American markets, or order it online.

To try chamoy at home, Gerson recommends pairing it with flavors from her book like cucumber, hibiscus, watermelon, peach, mixed berries, or lime. If you insist on sampling the sauce on ice cream, Gerson says coconut will be your best bet. Check out some of our favorite frozen recipes that we think will pair well with this Mexican treat.

For more ice cream recipes, tips, and saves for when things go awry, check out Ice Cream & Friends, our cookbook dedicated to ice cream and all its pals: pops, gelato, milkshakes—sprinkles, cones, and so much more.

Have you tried chamoy? What flavors do you pair with it?

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.