Twelve thousand years ago, the Levant was an important place — it was central to the Cradle of Civilization business you’ve heard so much about. Now the Eastern Mediterranean has provided something almost as important as a place for humanity to hang its hat: It’s given us booza — the stretchiest, chewiest ice cream out there.
Now, this sounds like a new-fangled thing, but it’s not. Booza is likely one of the oldest forms of ice cream in the world. The ingredients are almost exactly the same as normal ice cream — milk and sugar and flavoring — but booza gets its characteristic doughy consistency from the combination of unusual additives and an aggressive production process.
Salep flour, made from the roots of an orchid plant that grows throughout what was once the Ottoman Empire, and mastic, the resin from a Mediterranean tree and key ingredient in chewing gum, both give booza its stretchy texture, but an extreme bout of pounding and kneading are required to make it look like the mozzarella in a pizza commercial. These special ingredients and all that punching give booza a melting temperature about 20 degrees higher than most other frozen dairy desserts.
This is all very interesting, but how does it taste? Booza is denser than gelato, with a more intense flavor and the consistency of cold whipped taffy. And though you can find a booza shop with not much problem in Syria, Turkey or Lebanon, it’s a little hard to find it outside the Middle East. But Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York has a new authentic booza joint, Republic of Booza. So if you’re in the area, stop by, and after waiting in a bit of a line, you’ll be twirling booza like spaghetti on a stick, pretending you’re vacationing on the Mediterranean.
Salep, the ingredient in booza made from dried orchid tubers, is becoming increasingly hard to come by, partly because the orchids are being overharvested to make the ice cream.