14 Savory Toppings You Never Thought To Put On Ice Cream

A dessert can't get much more ubiquitous or iconic than ice cream. The frozen treat is one of the most popular desserts in the United States, with Americans consuming an average of 20 pounds of ice cream each year, per the International Dairy Foods Association. On top of the metrics, ice cream is experiencing an artistic renaissance of sorts, with experimental flavors proliferating on social media and boundary-breaking chains delighting ice cream lovers long after summer has passed. 

While ice cream remains a sweet tooth mainstay of children and adults alike, there has been a burgeoning movement toward the savory within the world of the frozen treat. While you may not be eager to chow down on a whole carton's worth of avocado, buttermilk ranch, or blue cheese ice cream, there is a perfect way to take this trend for a test run: Try out some unexpected savory toppings for ice cream. Whether it's a home-toasted peanut alternative, nuanced Chinese spice, classic junk food snacks, or a high-end delicacy, incorporating these offbeat savory toppings will unlock new complexities and greater depth atop each and every bowl you enjoy.

Toasted sesame seeds add a nutty touch

When rounding up the components to assemble an ice cream sundae, peanuts are one of the first ingredients on the list. However, for any number of reasons ranging from peanut allergies to culinary curiosity, the adventurous foodie may want to try an alternative experience. The perfect subtle shake-up? Sesame seeds. 

Sesame seeds are typically associated with savory food cultures of major sesame producers like China, Myanmar, and Sudan, with the image of American hamburger buns or tahini-based treats. But sesame has recently made its presence known in inventive ways on dessert menus across the globe, from macarons to artisanal black sesame ice cream. 

If you're not in an area that carries these exciting (but still somewhat rare) desserts, try toasting some sesame seeds at home. Easily cooked in the oven or on the stove, topping your ice cream with toasted sesame seeds provides an interesting alternative to peanuts for just the right amount of savory with your sweet.

Fried okra gives sundaes a Southern flare

When thinking of what to pair with your ice cream, it may be helpful to think of what ordinarily pairs with other kinds of dairy products across various food cultures. For example, ultra-rich,   buttermilk-heavy ice cream can benefit from a savory topping that's deeply rooted in Southern cuisine. Crispy fried okra, the low-calorie, fiber-rich plant that might typically get paired with sauces like ranch or remoulade, is right at home as a savory topping for ice cream.

Ice cream compliments okra's subtle, grassy flavor and crunchy bite in a similar way. Frying okra in whole spheres acts as a delightful emulation of the delicious, yet somewhat polarizing, strategy of dipping your french fries in a milkshake (at a slightly less devastating calorie count as well). Or consider cutting the okra into small nickels, frying them, and sprinkling them atop your bowl. This crunchy component is a tasty topping for anything that combines richness with a bit of tang, like a bright lemon curd ice cream or the rich sweetness of a buttermilk orange blossom ice cream.

Ice cream sizzles with chili crisps

It's everyone's favorite viral topping for a reason! Chili crips, which have dotted TikTok and Instagram's pasta, marinades, and mocktails for the past few years, also happen to be the perfect touch atop scoops and soft serve. Some of the earliest versions of ice cream were found in China during the Tang Dynasty in the form of sweetened buffalo milk beverages. It's no surprise, then, that Chinese flavors are a serious boon to ice cream's many flavor potentials. 

Chili crisps have been popular in China for decades and usually consist of some combination of chili peppers, onion, garlic, oil, and seasonings. You can craft your own version of the condiment at home fairly easily or search for one of the best chili crisp brands at a local supermarket or online. 

Give a light sprinkle of the crisps to up the wattage on any ice cream that deserves a little kick; the addition will provide a subtle crunch and a big flavor impact. Or let the crisps-filled oil gather in the bottom of the bowl for a much more exciting take on pooling hot fudge. If you sometimes find the sweetness of ice cream too cloying, the potency of the savory ingredients in chili crisps will help strike a balance.

Caramelized onions play on ice cream's sweetness

Sometimes, the key to making a standard bowl of sweetness more complex is to take a savory ingredient and transform it into a complimentary topping. In other words, adding something with both savory and sweet components is a winning ice cream idea. Such is the case with alliums, specifically caramelized onions. 

This topping adds layers of nuance to any bowl of ice cream, thanks to the dynamics of caramelization. Yellow onions that are caramelized have deep richness and savory overtures to them, but the unifying force of the sugar within the caramelizing onions ties in playfully to a standard vanilla backdrop. And the bolder, the better. Consider adding them on top of a pickle or summer corn scoop.

Creating this savory topping for ice cream is as easy as sauteing yellow or sweet onions over low heat for a long time and adding a few extra ingredients like salt and oil. This foolproof caramelized onions recipe provides a simple way to prepare the topping, which complements just about anything and can be made in large batches and stored frozen. Frozen caramelized onions sound like the perfect experiment in savory ice cream topping territory, especially for those inclined toward a crunchier texture.

Tajín takes fruity ice cream to another level

Tajín: you know it, you love it, you top your sweet fruits with it, you may even take it before or after imbibing in a shot of tequila. So why not try the spicy seasoning mix as a savory topping for ice cream? The spice mix has been officially around since 1985, when Tajín went from a family recipe to a cultural mainstay. Since then, people, particularly those in Mexico and in households influenced by Mexican heritage, have topped all sorts of food items with a sprinkle or a serving of Tajín, like watermelon slices, mangoes, and vegetables. 

While watermelon sorbet may not technically be ice cream, yet its proximity makes it a compelling case for this roundup. But other flavors would benefit from this savory topping on ice cream as well: creamy lemons, coconut, and mango ice cream need just a little kick of the seasoning that is, according to some, really a lifestyle. The mix's salt, dehydrated lime juice, and dried red chilis offer a foolproof method for a punch-up. Make your own at home or pick up a shaker at a local grocery store for under $5.

Truffles make everything better

Though chocolate truffles may be a more orthodox choice to place atop one's ice cream, the other kind of truffle is just as deserving of that perch. The savory truffle is a result of fungi, a sort of "fruit" that is produced via a symbiotic relationship the two share. They are foraged for by experts — of human, canine, and pig variety — and are largely found in Europe and some regions of the U.S. and Australia. There are winter, summer, Oregon, Burgundy, and many more varieties of truffles, but the one most known to diners tends to be the black truffle. 

The fungi fruit's earthy flavor gives them a major impact, often dressing up blank-canvas food like French fries. But when shaved, chopped, or drizzled (try truffle oil) over a bowl of ice cream, especially in wintertime, the results are magical. 

Try black truffles shaved on top of chocolate ice cream for a chef-inspired sundae that's the perfect intersection of risky and ritzy. Creating truffle cream is another good option for those looking to get a little more involved. Combining truffles, whipped cream, butter, and eggs, the sauce gives hot fudge a run for its money. Have even more time and ambition? A truffle caramel makes for an ultra-rich, decadent pairing that works well in small doses.

Fried pickles offer briney brightness

The sensation of dunking a fried pickle in a creamy sauce is perhaps one of life's greatest pleasures. Whether one dips a perfectly golden-brown pickle chip in ranch, remoulade, or aioli, fried pickles with rich sauces are a match made in heaven, usually of the dive bar and gastro pub variety. This makes them the ultimate savory topping on ice cream for those who love the high-impact flavor and the textural crunch of a pickle.

Frying full-sour pickles in tempura beer batter is a surefire way to get started. After frying them up at home, try them on top of any flavor — a rich buttermilk or a French vanilla is a safe bet (as safe as pickles on ice cream can get), or pull a Lucille Ball and add them to papaya ice cream. With this topping, the bolder, the better. All pickles are welcome, from bread and butter to the tangiest of dills.

Potato chips are the topping to end all toppings

No one is proclaiming this to be the healthiest suggestion you'll receive, but if you want a guaranteed hit that walks the line of unconventionality, try crumbling potato chips over the top of your next bowl of ice cream. Greasy, crispy, starchy, and salty, the humble potato chip has everything needed to elevate your serving of ice cream. 

The brilliant thing about potato chips is that there are so many ways to get it right. A thicker kettle chip, perhaps a cracked black pepper variety, offers a distinctly different experience than, say, sweet Maui onion chips dusting the top of a bowl of coconut ice cream. BBQ chips may work well with honey-based ice cream, while the bold may opt for a sour cream and onion chip atop their favorite flavor. And, of course, the standard bag of Lays, Utz, or any other brand of thin, perfectly greasy potato chips is versatile enough to jazz up just about any flavor of ice cream.

Add wasabi almonds for a fiery nut infusion

Wasabi is an ancient staple of cuisine and medicine. It's been found in Japan since as early as 14,000 B.C. and has since spread to tabletops globally. The spice of wasabi is sometimes described as a "white heat," meaning that though there is certainly spice to wasabi, it doesn't leave your mouth burning the way a Louisiana-style hot sauce would. Some recipes suggest adding wasabi peas to ice cream, which is a good idea in and of itself. But for a delightfully offbeat take on almonds or peanuts that might normally top a sundae or a cone, try adding chopped-up wasabi almonds. 

This trick kills two birds with one stone. Infusing the buttery, toasted nuance of almonds and the powerful freshness of the wasabi flavor can electrify your experience. Blue Diamond Bold Wasabi Almonds are always a delicious investment and are fairly easy to find at a local grocery store or bodega. The result is a pungency that few other savory ice cream toppings can deliver. 

A little bacon goes a long way

When it comes to indulgences, sometimes more is more. Combining two all-time great guilty pleasures, ice cream and bacon, into one dish is a surefire way to achieve excellence in the dessert arts. There are many ways to go about achieving this. Frying bacon bits (the smaller, the better) is the most straightforward introduction to bacon as a savory topping for ice cream. The small crisps are salty, fatty, and rich and can also add a nice textural component to an otherwise one-note ice cream. 

Keep in mind that standard pork bacon need not be your end-all-be-all. Turkey bacon or even meatless bacon crisped up will do nicely as well. And though it's not a traditional way to do a "topping," one could also opt to coat an ice cream product, like an ice cream sandwich, in the bacon bits, or to craft the "sandwich" itself out of strips of bacon. Arteries, be warned: the bacon-on-ice-cream rabbit hole awaits.

Caviar makes for an upscale scoop

What's great about ice cream is that it can be a budget-friendly treat or an all-out indulgence. For a topping that skews to the more upscale side of the grocery store, try the ingredient that's a worldwide delicacy: caviar. Caviar is certainly not for those faint of heart or wallet, with a single tin costing upwards of $75. The version of caviar that's most often enjoyed is the variety made from unfertilized sturgeon eggs and cured in salt. Since sturgeon are endangered and the process of creating those coveted little tins is labor-intensive, the result is a delicious but expensive product. 

But why does this luxe-life savory topping work to spruce up ice cream sundaes? Simply put, caviar offers a chance to play at extreme opposites. Think fishy and salty on top of rich, creamy sweetness. Crème fraîche is a traditional caviar pairing for a reason. Try your new topping with eggnog ice cream, lime ice cream, or a beautiful homemade fresh cream style of frozen treat.

Cheese on ice cream is a dairy complement

While a good contrast is always welcome atop your ice cream scoops, sometimes a complementary addition can be just the thing. Take, for example, cheese. Cheese has lately come to the forefront of the savory ice cream movement. From upscale ice cream shops like Van Leeuwen, which offers a Kraft Mac 'N Cheese ice cream, to the Filipino cheese ice cream that's slowly creeping Stateside, the two forms of dairy are far from unacquainted. 

This makes cheese a great starting point as a savory topping for ice cream. Want a bit of bite? An extra sharp cheddar will do the trick. Softer cheeses, like brie, are great atop ice cream when mixed into chocolate-based flavors. Similarly, a piquant gorgonzola can pair with fruit-forward flavors, such as strawberry or raspberry ice cream. Perhaps you're a fan of a Greek palette? Try a crumbling feta with something honey-based. You can even take inspiration from scoop shops that sell ice cream topped with styles of cheese from Latin America.

Garam masala is the unexpected spice MVP

This is a spice that should be on your radar regardless of its relation to ice cream. Spicy, warming, and savory — yet not overpowering — the mixture can be used on any number of dishes, like stews, vegetables, and dahls. Garam masala only has a few ingredients, including cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorn, whole cloves, star anise pods, cumin seeds, ground cinnamon, ground coriander, and ground nutmeg.

The garam masala mixture originated on the Indian subcontinent and can be found in the food cultures of India, Pakistan, and Nepal, among others. Pairing it alongside cold treats may also have historical context; a frozen milk treat called kulfi, which is one of the earliest forms of ice cream, also originated across the region.

So, what kinds of ice cream will benefit from a dusting of garam masala? Try it on standard vanilla for the blankest of canvases, or put it on coconut ice cream for a tropical yet earthy treat. While you can find garam masala in the spice aisle at the supermarket, making your own at home allows you the freedom to customize the ratio of ingredients to your liking.

Corn Nuts are ice cream's unexpected boon

Gas station snacks sometimes make the most delicious additions and complement dishes high and low. One grab-and-go snack defines this phenomenon: Corn Nuts. The concept of the corn nut is simply a toasted, roasted, or deep-fried corn kernel. The brand Corn Nuts offers these crunchy kernels dusted in a variety of flavors; from zesty ranch to BBQ to a Mexican street corn style, there's a spectrum of flavors available on shelves likely near you. While they're great for car-snacking and late-night munchies, they also make a delicious addition to your bowl of ice cream. 

The natural sweetness of corn with the salty, crunchy, and deeply seasoned quality of these kernels adds a major upgrade to your standard peanut sundae fare. Or, if you tend to steer clear of the junk food aisle, try this air fry hominy recipe as an alternative. The effect is pretty much the same: a crunchy, corny topping that's salty goodness encapsulated, adding to ice cream's charms without gilding the lily.