Thai Basil Orange Ice Cream

A decade ago I visited a gelato maker who had just opened a store on the coast of North Carolina. He had been trained in Italy, and I was eager to taste every offering since I couldn’t afford to fly to Rome. Initially he offered traditional Italian savory flavors like saffron and lavender along with sweeter ones like chocolate and coconut. In a short period of time the savory creams were all replaced by sweet offerings, which while still excellent, were more like the standard fare in specialty ice cream parlors. I still eat there, but a tiny part of me always hopes to see the savory flavors make a comeback.

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock the last few years. My local Whole Foods offers basil pineapple gelato, with flecks of basil leaves. Locopops sells mango chili and lavender cream paletas. Food innovators have embraced the flavors that other cultures have considered “traditional”  in frozen treats and they have come up with new combinations, pushing at the edges of our taste.  Here are a few of the interesting flavor combinations I found trawling the internet in just a short time:

…basil blueberry, cardamom lemon, buttermilk rosemary, olive oil and sea salt, salt pepper olive oil, peanut butter curry, balsamic strawberry, sweet pea and candied bacon, goat cheese and roasted pear, maple bacon, goat cheese with vodka soaked cranberry, sweet corn with butter bacon topping …

My head is swirling.

In order to make traditional ice cream, you only need three ingredients: cream, sugar, and flavorings. If you intend to use milk or lower fat dairy products, creating a custard with egg yolks will help with the creaminess and overall flavor and texture of your final product. David Lebovitz has excellent information on his website on making traditional ice creams,
frozen custards, sorbet and the like.  My friend Jill (of Bake with Jill) also likes his book The Perfect Scoop and recommends it for anyone wanting to delve into ice cream making.  If you are making regular ice cream, I highly recommend looking over my flavor ingredients below and consulting one of these sources or others to make your frozen treat. If you plan on making a sugar-free ice cream, read on.

Low Carb Ice Cream – A Primer

Unlike traditional ice cream, making sugar free low carb ice cream is a whole other matter. Sugar provides a key element in ice cream making – not just sweetness and that smooth mouth-feel we associate with a good frozen treat, but a chemical element that prevents the ice cream from freezing into a solid block. The best way replicate the missing sugar is with a combination of low calorie sugar free sweeteners, vegetable gums/stabilizers, and higher fat dairy products. Commercial ice cream makers also have the advantage of pumping air
into their low carb products, making them fluffier, and using types of sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol which taste remarkably like sugar. I’ve chosen to skip these types of sugar alcohol ingredients because they can cause some intestinal distress. Check out the Ingredients and Resources page at the top of my blog for more information.

The Basic Ingredients

Creaminess: Cream and or half and half – they are lower carb. You can use Calorie Countdown milk as well, but expect the end product to have more ice crystals: making custard with egg yolks as Lebovitz suggests will help with the creamy texture if you use low carb “milk.”

Sweetness: Isomalt – a sugar alcohol very much like sugar but should be used in small quantities. Eyrithritol – an easily digestible sugar alcohol has a “cooling effect” on the tongue and should be used in combination with other sweeteners to offset this problem. Sucralose (or Splenda) – widely used, when combined with other no-cal sweeteners tastes remarkably like sugar. Use concentrated or liquid sucralose products to avoid the added carbs in the powdered version.

Scoopablity and SmoothTexture: Thick it Up, a vegetable gum based thickener. Food grade glycerin – liquid gel that adds sweetness and does not freeze, available where cake decorating products are sold. Alcohol (optional, helps prevent freezing and can add additional flavor).

Flavors: Your choice – chocolate, fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, etc.

After a lot of reading of what other low carb cooks have tried and experimenting in my own kitchen, I came up with what has been a very consistently good homemade low
carb ice cream that uses what I consider high quality low carb ingredients . And then the company that made my original vegetable gum stabilizer went out of business. If you’ve eaten low carb for a while, this is a fairly common occurrence; low carb was quite the rage at one point and companies were falling over themselves to make and market products, but as it has shifted back to a smaller portion of the market many of the products are gone.

Fortunately, I have in my pantry several similar products used to thicken and stabilize liquids, one of which is available to order on the internet.  Um, and they all vary in strength.  This is definitely where the mayhem part of Tasty Mayhem comes in as I tell you to  do as I say not as I do: my original recipe called for 2 Tablespoons of thickener. Based on a previous disaster with thickeners and low carb sweet chili sauce (You’ve seen the film The Blob right?), you think I would have learned that when using a new vegetable gum based thickener, add small amounts at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. Nope, I dumped in the full 2 Tablespoons.  At that point the consistency was clearly too thick and from past experience likely too “gummy” on the tongue. I was out of cream (and ended up using some almond milk too), it was late, and the hurricane was bearing down so I forged ahead with the freezing anyway. There are now two pints of somewhat gummy but wonderfully flavored Thai basil orange ice cream in my freezer. This recipe reduces the thickener and suggests you test out adding it gradually to achieve the desired consistency. Next up, saffron or maybe that peanut butter curry with my Dad’s wildly hot masala spice blend…

Thai Basil Orange Ice Cream (lower carb version)

This made slightly less than 2 pints. It paired very well with granola cookies and with my homeade low carb granola sprinkled on top.

Base and sweeteners:

¼ cup erythritol

1 Tablespoon isomalt/brown sugar Diabetisweet

2 teaspoons up to 1 Tablespoon of Thick it Up, vegetable gum thickener

½  cup heavy cream

½ cup orange juice (not low carb, but needed to use up the 2 oranges)

½ cup equivalent of sucralose (I used liquid drops to achieve ½ cup of sugar sweetness)



Leaves from 3 stalks of Thai basil, washed

1-2 teaspoons orange extract or flavoring (flavorings vary in strength – you may need to experiment)

Zest from ½ an orange

1 Tablespoon lemon juice


Cream and additions:

1.5 cups cream

1 cup almond milk (note that you will have creamier results using all cream, or all half and half, I did not have enough cream had some almond milk on hand.)

1 Tablespoon food grade glycerin

1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)

Combine the isomalt/brown Diabetisweet, Erythritol and Thick it Up and set aside. Combine the juice, cream, and any liquid sweetener (sucralose).Heat the liquid mixture in a saucepan until bubbles form.  Lower heat and while whisking, add
isomalt/erythritol/thickener mixture and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream, milk, extract, zest, lemon juice, glycerin, Grand Marnier. If you have an immersion blender, add the basil leaves to the ice cream liquid and use the blender wand to pulverize into fine bits. If you do not have an immersion blender, blend ingredients in a regular blender or food processor or chop leaves by hand until finely chopped and add to the ice cream liquid. Chill the liquid mixture completely (either in the fridge for several hours, or by placing a metal bowl or container holding the ice cream liquid in an ice water bath for at least 30 minutes).  Process in your ice cream maker according to directions. Place in freezer proof containers and allow to cure overnight in the freezer.

If the ice cream is too firm to scoop (and it likely will be after several days), allow it to soften in the fridge for 20 minutes before scooping.


About Tasty Mayhem

Love to eat, cook, write. Try to think of witty things to say about the world but my thoughts are consumed by food. Mostly.
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9 Responses to Thai Basil Orange Ice Cream

  1. Alison says:

    My head is swirling too! Awesome info!


  2. Kayte says:

    I have seen these more savory ice cream/sorbet/gelato offerings a few times but was not in a mood to try them…after reading your post, I’m now in the mood to go in search. Your ice cream photo is lovely as it is so hard to photo ice cream!!


    • Tasty Mayhem says:

      It will be interesting to see how the next batch photographs – this scoop was from the “gummy” batch so Its holding together REALLY well. Also, I did chill the glass cup and I softened the ice cream in the fridge for about 20 minutes so that I wouldn’t need to warm up the scoop.


  3. I’ve been meaning to do a basil flavored ice cream. This looks and sounds fantastic!


  4. Jill says:

    I always think that I won’t like savory mixed with sweet, but then if I try it, I do like it. Fresh basil is so good that it’s hard to imagine this not being tasty. As always, interesting information about sweeteners!


  5. Tasty Mayhem says:

    My neighbor and I were talking before I made this, bouncing around ideas about what would go with the Thai Basil. She suggested basil blueberry, even before I saw it suggested elsewere. That would be my next basil flavor, but I think I’m going to try something with nuts and curry.


  6. Elaine says:

    I have a pot of Thai basil and would love to try making this. Your picture is so pretty! Thank you for the resources and all the info on low carb ice cream. I agree that it is so interesting to see some of the flavor combinations bouncing around the Internet. Some I want to try and some not so much.


  7. Liz says:

    I’m in awe! Amazing flavor AND low carb? Brava! And I have a feeling I’d eat a few bowls even if it’s a little gummy 🙂

    PS…so gorgeous in your green glass bowl~


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