To us, Queen City Cayenne is more than milk chocolate ice cream with a back-of-the-throat spice. It’s the very reason we exist as a company. We’ve rounded up 5 interesting facts about the original Jeni’s ice cream flavor, from its origin story to that one time it was on TV.
1. It’s the OG Jeni’s ice cream flavor.
Queen City Cayenne is the first flavor Jeni made—ever. It was 1996. Jeni was an art and art history student with an essential oil obsession so intense she dreamt of running away to Grasse, France—the perfume capital of the world—and becoming a “nose” (aka someone who blends perfumes for a living). In the meantime, Jeni blended essential oils into perfumes in her home kitchen and soon began cooking with them, too, throwing the oil of basil into pasta or rose petal into a creme brulee. “I had this one essential oil in my collection that didn’t have a scent,” Jeni recalls. “It was the oil of cayenne. It only offered heat on your tongue, so I never used it. One day I found it in the back of my essential oil drawer and mushed it into store bought chocolate ice cream. I took a bite and felt the cold, tasted the sweet, and the chocolate. Then it burst into flames in my throat.”
2. It’s the reason Jeni started making ice creams.
The moment Jeni took a bite of this sweet-heat flavor, she knew the enormous potential for ice cream. She knew American ice cream could be better and more interesting than it was. “It was as if the sky opened up and I saw my future in an instant,” Jeni says. “I saw exactly what we are doing today. It was all I could think about. And I immediately knew I had to start this business.”
3. It’s named after Cincinnati-style chili.
Once Jeni began to refine the flavor, it needed a proper name. Jeni thought of Cincinnati’s famous sweet and spicy chili that’s made with cayenne pepper and a hint of chocolate and cinnamon. So she dedicated the flavor to Cincinnati, also known as the Queen City.
4. It’s jam-packed with Fair Trade cocoa powder.
This may sound like a simple detail, but for us it’s a huge feat. For many years Fair Trade cocoa and chocolate was lower quality than conventional in terms of flavor. But today, we can source top-tier cocoa that is also Fair Trade and has an amazing depth of flavor that rivals the best chocolates in the world. It took Jeni years to perfect this recipe—to pack in as much Fair Trade cocoa as possible without drying out the ice cream too much.
5. Queen City Cayenne was on TV.
Queen City Cayenne got a lot of attention when it was featured on a “Sweet and Spicy” episode of The Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” in 2009. Writer Ryan D’Agostino, then an editor with Esquire, called our cayenne-infused ice cream his “favorite spicy indulgence.”