Republic of Booza

I’m always interested in ice cream, no matter where it’s from. But probably the most intriguing one I’ve ever come across was booza, an ice cream thickened, not with eggs or cornstarch, but with sahleb and mastic.

Republic of Booza was opened by Jilbert El-Zmetr and Michael Sadler, along with two business partners, in Brooklyn, New York, bringing this ice cream stateside. Jilbert owned a booza company in Sydney, Australia with his sister, and through one of his business partners, met Michael, an Oxford scholar, who studied Arabic and was traveling through the Middle East when he discovered this style of ice cream.

Like many things in Brooklyn, the great melting pot of America, a confluence of cultures and cuisines met up, and their booza shop opened there.

To make booza, milk and cream are mixed together and any infusions are added, like spices, vanilla, or saffon, for flavoring. There are no eggs added to booza. Instead, the salep and mastic thicken the mixture, then flavors such as pistachio paste, orange flower water, or chocolate are added.

Salep is made from ground orchid roots and mastic is a resin extracted from trees. It’s a prominent ingredient in chewing gum, and gives the ice cream its distinctly elastic, stretchy texture. The salep they use comes from Lebanon and the mastic is from Chios, Greece. Interestingly, the little nuggets of mastic are often referred to as “tears,” and have an opaque color, and irregular texture, that resembles actual tears. They gave me a few to chew on, reminding me that if I have fillings to watch out, which I did. But after rolling them around in my mouth for a while, it was easy to see how the tears could become gum (or a way to lose a filling), or stretchy ice cream.

Unlike traditional ice cream, which is churned to incorporate air (called “overrun”), booza is traditionally “churned” by pounding and stirring. Since there’s no air added, and no eggs, the flavors in the booza are more focused. And what flavors they are!

The flavors at Republic of Booza change, but you’ll find classics, like Vanilla, Pistachio (using Bronte pistachios from Sicily), blackberry, and salted caramel, which uses panela (unrefined cane sugar, sold in blocks) from Colombia, rather than cooked sugar.

Some of the other flavors, listed under “Global” when I went, were horchata de chufa, made with groundnuts from Valencia, Spain, Red Miso, which Michael told me he thought was an underrated ingredient (me too, I’ve enjoyed it in strawberry ice cream and in cocktails) ,and Labneh with honey. They were all very compelling to taste, requiring a little more concentration than standard ice cream because they were so inventive and original.

Qashta was probably my favorite of them all, which they also call “candied cream.” Nope, there’s no candy in it, but the quality of the cream is so good that it’s considered candy due to the natural sugars in the dairy products used. It’s similar to Fior di latte ice cream in Italy, or Fleur de lait in France, which is made with only top-quality cream and milk, so to keep the focus on the flavors of the dairy products, no additional flavorings are necessary. (There’s a recipe for Fleur de lait ice cream in my book, The Perfect Scoop, if you want to give it a go.)

Another favorite flavor of mine at their shop was Mango-Tajín, a sorbet made from fresh mangoes and tajín, a spicy tangy, Mexican seasoning with chiles, salt, and lime. And if you go, also try the Peanut Butter Crunch, which gets its crunch from a surprising combination of house-made white chocolate and potato chip bark.

Not only are the flavors of booza bolder than other ice creams, but so are the colors. Republic of Booza probably had the prettiest array of ice creams I’ve ever seen together in one shop.

One of the most fascinating aspects of booza is that it can be stretched, but it needs to be done quickly, and with skilled hands, since it warms up fast.

While I was there, Jilbert had a go at it, pounding some of the booza in one of the chilled canisters, right next to the customer counter, using one of the big wooden pounders that had made for the shop.

Once the mixture was thick and cold, he pulled it out of the tub and started pulling.

I hadn’t planned to spend two hours talking to them, and watching what they do, but it was hard to stop. While I was asking them too many questions, the steady stream of customers coming through the door showed the diversity of people interested in what they were doing, from a couple of French tourists who just happened to wander in, to people from other parts of Brooklyn (and other boroughs), who were already familiar with booza, and wanted a taste.

Republic of Booza
76 North 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY
Tel: 718-302-5000

Follow Republic of Booza on Facebook and Instagram


Related Links

Salep and Boza: History and recipe of special Turkish drinks (Istanbul Insider)

Salep, or sahlab, a rare ingredient, and recipe (Anissa Helou)

Booza al-haleeb, Milk ice cream with pistachios (Taste of Beirut)

Lebanese Ice Cream: Booza/Buzza (Amira’s Pantry)

Middle Eastern Ice Cream, in New York

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30 comments

  • Dave
    August 17, 2018 5:12pm

    I’m trying to make this ice cream. I ordered the Salep and Mastic off of ebay a week ago but am waiting there arrival from Greece (I live in California).

    Is it ok churn this in my ice cream maker or do I have to churn it another way?

    • August 17, 2018 5:19pm
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t made booza, so don’t know, but I’ve linked to some trusted sources for recipes at the end of the post, which might help you with freezing it.

    • August 17, 2018 5:37pm

      Churn in an ice cream maker. Be careful with the mastic, it is very very sticky. Grind it with a tablespoon or so of the sugar to get it powdered. Do not try to grind it on its own. My favorite booza flavor (I juts got back from a visit to my home in Lebanon) is half pistachio half ashta dipped in more crumbled pistachios. Delicious….now i need to make some to get a fix.

  • Tom L
    August 17, 2018 5:27pm

    I think you showed their chocolate booza but didn’t comment: looks intense. Did you try it too?

  • Vi
    August 17, 2018 5:53pm

    Have you been to Glace Bachir on rue Rambuteau? First time I had what I think must be booza (slightly stretchy and chewy), rolled in chopped pistachios! Yum.

    • August 17, 2018 6:12pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I’ve been to Bachir. I wrote about it here. They do make a flavor with a similar texture and flavor.

      • Sue Fourmet
        August 17, 2018 7:04pm

        Dave, is there an index for your old blogs? I’ve been trying to find a couple of them and don’t know how to do so.
        Thanks.

        • August 17, 2018 7:47pm
          David Lebovitz

          All the posts are categorized in the Categories, listed in the right sidebar of the blog by type. If using the mobile version of the site, you may need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to access them. Recipes are listed by type in the menu bar at the top of the page. Those should help! (If not, try the search engine at the top of the page.)

          • Sue Fourmet
            August 17, 2018 8:03pm

            Thanks. That should do the trick.

      • Vi
        August 30, 2018 8:48pm

        See what happens when I don’t read you religiously?! Sorry about the coals to Newcastle comment :)

  • jennifer
    August 17, 2018 5:58pm

    it may have spread throughout the middle east but i believe this ice cream has turkish roots.

  • Lynn in Tucson
    August 17, 2018 6:01pm

    Friends brought some salep home from Turkey for me a couple years ago but I haven’t been sure how to use it!

  • Francine Goldman
    August 17, 2018 7:36pm

    WOW! …is all I can say…no limit to creativity!

  • Deborah Hodges
    August 17, 2018 9:11pm

    So interesting, David. You post the best stuff. No kidding. Thank you.
    I am heading to France for almost 4 weeks with a week in Paris at the end of september. I am studying your website for all sorts of suggestions. Thank you, thank you! Tried to get in your trip to Bordeux, but it was booked. Maybe next time. I have one question. My favorite dessert in France in Iles flotante. Do you have a favorite place in Paris to eat this wonderful dessert?
    Happy Friday and merci beaucoup!

    • August 18, 2018 10:14am
      David Lebovitz

      I like the one at A la Biche au Bois, although I haven’t been there in a while. Hope it’s still good!

      • Deborah Hodges
        August 19, 2018 4:54am

        Thank you very much, David. Will give it a try!

  • Sharon B.
    August 17, 2018 10:04pm

    Mastic? I have some mastic-flavored coffee I use to make Turkish coffee, and the flavor is distinctive. Does it not influence the flavor of the final product?

  • Pam
    August 17, 2018 10:10pm

    I’m still trying to wrap my brain around stretchy ice cream.
    Not that I would ever turn down ice cream of any sort.

  • Nita
    August 18, 2018 12:00am

    Is there a shop selling their gelato in Sydney that I don’t know about?

    • Penelope
      August 18, 2018 5:07am

      Enmore Rd just after it deviates from King St Newtown. About 200m along and on the right as you drive towards
      Encore. Can’t remember the name but great ice cream.

      • Mary J
        August 20, 2018 11:28am

        Yes – it’s called Hakiki
        Turkish Ice cream and it is fabulous! I was there a couple of months ago with my family.

  • Shoegal
    August 18, 2018 3:29am

    Do you know if it’s gluten free?

  • Ttrockwood
    August 18, 2018 6:47am

    I’m embarrassed to say i live in manhattan and had no idea about this place just a subway ride away! I’ll certainly go soon, especially since they have a few dairy free options too. I hope they can survive the long winters here, this is such a unique concept; thankfully not another rainbow colored instagram-photo-op driven thing

  • veredgy
    August 18, 2018 10:20am

    There is a Booza (ice cream in Arabic) place in kibbutz Sasa (northern Galilee), Israel. It’s made freshly everyday from local fruits and fresh ingredients. I think it’s the best in Israel.

  • claire silvers
    August 18, 2018 5:44pm

    Wow! So beautiful and so interesting. Tantalizing flavors. Easy to see why you lingered longer than anticipated.

  • Tania
    August 18, 2018 6:14pm

    I know this is a long shot, I read a story of a recent Syrian refugee to Canada who was an ice cream maker in Syria. He is looking to start his business in Halifax, but is having a difficult time finding the Goood such as the paddle and pounder thing. Is there any possibility. That the Republic of Booza could direct him or advise for where he might find them?

    • Jen
      August 19, 2018 8:49pm

      For what it’s worth, there’s a Lebanese pastry shop in Ottawa (Malak, at 1216 Bank St.) that makes this kind of ice cream–I never knew what it was called until this post! They do only one flavour, with rose water (I think) and pistachio, but it is delicious and addictive. If they can get what they need here in Ottawa, chances are they could help out the guy in Halifax.

  • August 20, 2018 12:09pm

    As much as I know and love food I always learn from reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your passion. Lovely to see different cultures and flavors coming together in this way.

  • Kate
    August 20, 2018 9:07pm

    I had this in Turkey where it’s called dondurma and served by stretching it out theatrically. Delicious! I hope it becomes more popular stateside!

  • Jen
    August 24, 2018 3:18pm

    Gosh I’ve lived here for 30 years, been following you for (well not 30 years but it seems like it) and have barely visited any of the places you mention (though I hit G.Detout regularly, and have done at least 20 recipes so there’s that). I really have to get busy.