Salt & Straw Co-Founder Shares Details About Upcoming Taco Bell Choco Taco Collab - Exclusive

After the recent announcement of an upcoming collaboration between Taco Bell and Portland's Salt & Straw ice cream for a variation on the popular, though sadly discontinued, Choco Taco, details have been scant. Luckily, Tasting Table was able to sit down with Salt & Straw co-founder Tyler Malek and get the inside scoop (pun intended) on the new product.

While there is still no concrete release date — they are working out the packaging, everything we saw today is a prototype — the team is confident it should hit Salt & Straw locations this summer. Unfortunately for those not living on the West Coast, that means you'll have to go without ... for now at least. Malek shares, "We're working with [Taco Bell] and they're using our shops, it's actually kind of cool. We're using our shops as the testing ground for phase one, but this could be a multi — who knows how many phases! ... We have hopes for a five-year plan. Trying to do it right with this team." So while Salt & Straw isn't making any promises the product may eventually be more widely available in Taco Bell locations across the U.S.

Taco Bell-inspired packaging

Malek shared the background on Salt & Straw's history with its chocolate taco: "This is a recipe we've been working on — and serving off and on — for eight ... maybe 10 years now, so it's not brand new for us, but this partnership is. When the Choco Taco died the team at Taco Bell had a dream of bringing it back someday."

The ice cream aficionado explained why Taco Bell tapped the brand to help recreate the nostalgic treat, saying "We actually have a kind of cool connection with Taco Bell. The CEO [has been] really tied into the Portland art and food community. So he called us up, kind of cold called us, and was like 'Can we do something? I know you guys used to make this Choco Taco.' and I was like 'Yes! ... but I've only made like, 50 at a time.' I could never really figure it out. So we've been working with them for the past year trying to figure out how to redesign our techniques."

The two brands worked together closely to not only revamp the process to make the ice cream snack in larger batches but also to come up with a unique flavor and add some Taco Bell hot sauce-inspired sauces. "What we talked about a lot — I spent a few days at a time in the Taco Bell test kitchen — is what makes Taco Bell unique is the customization and personalization that people dive into. And so making these sweet hot sauces became a passion of mine." The three flavors we sampled consisted of sweet cinnamon wild berry, a sweet jam with little to no spice; mango jalapeño, which had a thinner consistency and quite a kick, though it was softened by the ripe fruit (Malek described the spice as "gentle"); and chocolate chili, which had an approachable heat.

An upscale take on a nostalgic treat

A tremendous amount of thought (and some very high-quality ingredients) went into the Salt & Straw x Taco Bell chocolate taco. While it may resemble the classic freezer aisle dessert, the flavors are lovingly elevated. Just fancy enough to appeal to adult palates, while staying true to the Choco Taco spirit. Malek explained the chocolate coating is made up of 62% dark chocolate and topped with toasted brown rice; But not just any brown rice, "secretly, it's the same [rice] you would use for genmaicha."

The ice cream itself tastes similar to a churro and is flavored with cinnamon and ancho chile. "We wanted something a little spicy but without being savory. And that cinnamon ancho is one of my favorite flavors. Cinnamon cayenne is fun too but I think ancho is a little more aromatic, so it becomes a great foundation because it disappears a little while you're eating it but at the same time it gives you just enough."

When it comes to the future of this partnership, Malek is optimistic. The co-founder shared, "[Taco Bell has] been so thoughtful and generous. They're treating us like a celeb partnership. So it's kind of cool that they're thinking of this not just as another product but as an evolution of the brand. And for a small company like us, it feels very genuine and thoughtful."