You would think that 39 flavors would be enough. You would think that after spending my summer eating ice cream that I would have had my fill. Well, if you thought that, you were wrong.

I recently returned from a trip to Japan to visit family. While there, I noticed some of the soft serve ice cream flavors and I decided it was time for our taste test to go global. We didn’t try 39, but we did manage to squeeze in tasting 6 flavors. Not a bad effort considering all of the donuts and other pastries I was busy eating while we were there.

I am not an authority on ice cream in Japan. I don’t claim to be an expert, so my findings are just based on my own experiences and observations. 

Soft serve ice cream in Japan doesn’t seem as popular and easily accessible and with the variety we have here in the United States. It seemed to be more popular in touristy spots. Like by the zoo, the hot springs and Tokyo Disneyland. Most of the places that did have soft serve ice cream, they only carried a few “standard” flavors. Which seemed to be vanilla or milk, and green tea. Green tea beat out chocolate? Really? It sure did.

They had to offer more than just those few flavors in Japan, right? They did, and with my ice cream detecting skills, I was able to sniff out some unique flavors like a bloodhound. Chinese almond jelly, chestnut, Japanese lemon soda, sweet bean, cantaloupe, peach, bay berry, grape, custard pudding, vanilla, chocolate, peach, tofu, mango, sweet potato, black sesame, milk, green tea and pumpkin are among some of the flavors I saw. I wanted to try them all, but I needed to make choices. Tough choices. Here are the six we tried:

Gyunyu (Milk)

Milk? You mean vanilla, right? Nope. This was not vanilla. This was milk and it tasted like milk. Frozen creamy milk.BORING! I was pretty indifferent on it. I gave it 3 spoons.

Kokemomo (Bilberry)

This is a unique berry that grows near Mount Fuji. I’m not sure if there is an English equivalent to the berry, but I can tell you that I really liked it. It tasted just like , which I gave 5 spoons! I kind of wish I could try a kokemomo pie now.

Maccha (Green Tea)

It’s interesting to see how many green tea flavored things there are in Japan. From traditional Japanese sweets, to candy, chocolate, Kit-Kats, potato chips, donuts, custard filled pastries and ice cream sundaes. So common it’s more readily available over chocolate flavored soft serve. It is a deep green color and tastes just like green tea. I gave it 2.5 spoons. I like green tea; I’m just not a huge fan of it in ice cream form.

Kuro Goma (Black Sesame)

I know what you’re thinking. Black sesame ice cream!? Yeah, I did too. But black sesame is a very common flavor in Japanese sweets. In puddings, jellies, donuts and traditional Japanese sweets. The ice cream looked black. It looked how I thought would look. But it tasted pretty good. On our same 39 flavor test scale, I’d give it 3.5 spoons. This happens to be one of Aya’s favorite flavors though.

Murasaki Imo (Sweet Purple Potato)

Purple potatoes are like sweet potatoes, but they taste a little different and they are actually purple. Purple! It’s another seasonal vegetable and it is used to flavor a lot of Japanese sweets. But when I think of sweet potato, I think of the color orange, not purple. But this ice cream was purple. It tasted really good, but it didn’t taste like sweet potatoes. I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like other than purple potatoes. I gave it 4 spoons.

Kabocha (Pumpkin)

I tried , but pumpkin flavored things in Japan aren’tthe same. Here anything pumpkin flavored is usually pumpkin pie flavored and has cinnamon and all those other spices with it. But Japan’s pumpkins aren’treally pumpkins. What they call a pumpkin, we call a buttercup squash. Those little green squashes you see at the store. It’s a very popular vegetable in the fall and winter there just like here. It’s just not seasoned the same as it is here. So pumpkin ice cream in Japan tastes like buttercup squash. It was good, just not 5 spoons good. I gave it 4 spoons.

This is just soft serve ice cream. From what I’ve heard and read, the specialty ice cream shops in Japan offer far more “unique” flavor options. Flavors like shrimp, squid, corn, eel, tofu, fried eggplant and raw horse (these are not typical flavors). Sounds appetizing, no? Maybe on our next trip, I’ll be brave enough to try some of those crazy flavors. But until then, I’ll enjoy my many ice cream options right here in town.

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