The Foamy Ecuadorian Dessert That Looks Just Like Ice Cream

Here is a likely undisputed fact: Ice cream is one of the greatest desserts to enjoy on warm summer days. However, during particular heat waves as the ice cream is dripping down your hand and sticking to your napkins, you may have imagined enjoying a cooling summer treat that doesn't melt. While you may have thought it impossible, Ecuador seems to have perfected the ideal summertime snack: espumillas.

Rather than serving up chilly melty dairy, Ecuadorians enjoy serving fluffy meringue in ice cream cones. On street corners around the country, vendors scoop sugary and tangy meringue, usually dyed bright pink or yellow, for the masses. The dessert, meaning "little foam," as per Serious Eats, is hard to pass up on hot days, and it has become a staple dessert in the nation.

While you may be thinking espumillas sound like a bit of an overly sweet indulgence, it is served as a perfectly balanced treat that comes not only with infused-fruity flavors, but summertime convenience.

Cultural significance and history

There is little known about the exact origins of espumillas. Curious Cuisiniere states that a record of the dessert's existence in the country dates back to 1907, making it a somewhat old tradition. The site notes that espumilla was likely first introduced to the public through the local convents. When the meringue was infused with flavors like guava, it then captured the attention of Ecuadorians. Since then, the simple and unique dessert has been passed down through generations.

Espumilla is popular not only for its tasty and refreshing attributes, but also the affordable price from street vendors. Serious Eats notes that the dish can be found being served outside schools for children to grab on their way home, in main plazas for visitors or busy city folk to grab, and at markets. While Ecuador is known for the dish, other countries in Latin America also serve up the dessert. Today, countries including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Guatemala all enjoy whipping up this tasty, foamy treat for passers-by, as per Foreign Fork.

Ingredients in espumillas

Espumilla has two simple ingredients that make up any other meringue: egg whites and sugar, according to Curious Cuisiniere. However, the special flavor of espumillas comes from the fruit pulp. The most commonly used fruit pulp is guava, known as guayaba in the country. Guava is very common throughout Latin America, and many dishes can be made with the fruit. Myrecipes notes that guavas' taste depends on the exact variety you're eating, but overall it has a delicate sweet flavor, similar to that of a strawberry or pear.

But, guava isn't the only flavor that espumillas can be infused with. Curious Cuisiniere says banana, strawberries, blackberries, passion fruit, or naranjilla can also be featured as flavors. Naranjilla is an indigenous citrusy tropical fruit from Ecuador and Colombia, explains American Indian Health and Diet Project. However, since guava has naturally-occurring pectin, unflavored gelatin is also typically added to the ingredient list when using fruits besides guava. This is done to keep the iconic foamy texture intact.

How it's made and eaten

This dish is typically made by hand rather than a machine because it's very simple to prepare, notes Curious Cuisiniere. So simple that many Ecuadorians often make it in their own homes, rather than grabbing a cone off the street.

Traditionally, the first step in the process is to mash the chosen fruit by hand. However, for a quicker, easier method, the chosen fruit and sugar can be added into a stovetop pot and simmered, according to Foreign Fork. The two ingredients are heated together until a syrup is made. On the side, the egg whites need to be whisked until stiff peaks are formed. As the egg whites are still being whipped, the syrup can be slowly added.

When ready to serve, it can be scooped into a cone just like ice cream or placed in a small dish. It should hold its puffy texture for a few hours, at least. The dessert can also be served with different fun garnishes. Sprinkles or whole fruit can often top the meringue. Serious Eats also notes that a "sweet-tart blackberry syrup" can be drizzled on top to balance the extremely sweet flavor and give the taste dimension.

If you don't see yourself getting on a plane to Ecuador anytime soon, it might be worth venturing to your local supermarket to gather espumillas ingredients to whip up at home.