Ever since I was a little girl, poised with wonder under the glittering Christmas tree, frankincense has captivated me. My brain could never quite grasp what on earth frankincense was or why it was so special, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming of the magical era when a gift of frankincense was as beloved as gold. In fact, the mystery only made it seem more special.
Then, thundering in from the far reaches of Oman, on the Arabian Sea, comes frankincense ice cream – a glorious mystery in itself. Each nibble is creamy and sweet. Thanks to the frankincense oil lurking within, the ice cream has an alluring bite of pine, sweet ginger, orange zest and foggy twilight smiles. The unusual and seductive flavor compelled me to look further into this wondrous ingredient. It turns out frankincense is resin, a.k.a. dried sap, from the boswellia tree. The highest quality flows creamy white and is called luban, meaning “milk,” although the color can vary from soft yellow to rich amber or even luminous green. It just depends on the season.
While you can find ice cream with sprinkles of frankincense resin on it all over Oman, the ice cream I offer today seems to have been popularized by a woman named Trygve Harris. Her scoops draw Omanis and foreigners alike. While you can get lost in wisps of frankincense ice cream any time of year, I’d highly recommend serving generous bowls during this holiday season, when the crunch of snow and pine surrounds you and your heart is filled with the holiday spirit.
Frankincense Ice Cream
2 1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
10-15 drops 100 percent pure frankincense oil
(boswellia sacra), available at health food stores
1 c. sugar, divided in half
3 egg yolks
First, whip three egg yolks with a 1/2-cup of sugar until pale yellow and thickened. Meanwhile, heat up the milk, cream and remaining sugar in a medium pot. Slide off the stove right before it reaches a bubble and whisk the hot liquid, a little at a time, into the egg mixture. Return to medium-low heat and cook until thickened and the velvety mixture coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in the frankincense drops to taste, and strain. The oil will want to separate, so move quickly to incorporate it. Chill the mixture in an ice bath or overnight in the refrigerator. Churn in an ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Frankincense is eaten sprinkled on ice cream, cooked into pastries or chewed like gum and consumed for medicinal purposes throughout much of southwest Asia and northeast Africa. However, it is not approved for human consumption in the U.S. If you do decide to give it a try, you should only use 100 percent pure boswellia sacra essential oil. Alternately, you could flavor this ice cream with other spices that evoke the season, such as cinnamon, clove, juniper or ginger.