Booza is a type of ice cream from the Levant region of the Middle East developed 500 years ago as technology for freezing dairy evolved.
The treat has traveled a long way to Republic of Booza, based in Williamsburg, which just opened a pop-up location in Fort Greene that will be open through September. The new location doubles the presence of the first booza scoop shop in the Americas, and the first culinary booza brand in the world.
“Our overarching vision is for the world to fall in love with booza the way we did,” says Michael Sadler, the shop’s co-founder.
He explains that the oldest record of ice being harvested in colder months and stored for consumption in warmer months dates back to 3500 B.C. Different peoples would mix fruit juices or honey with ice or snow to make the original slushie. Booza, however, was the first chilled treat to have a creamy dairy texture.
“It distinguishes itself from other forms of ice cream because of its elasticity,” Sadler says. “It’s smoother, denser.”
Booza has two key ingredients that help create its taffy-like texture but that have also kept it relatively unknown in the Americas. Sahlab is a flour made from ground orchid root, and mastic is a resin from hardened, sun-dried tree sap. It is only very recently, Sadler says, that technological and agricultural advancements have made it possible to sustainably obtain enough sahlab and mastic to support a booza shop in the United States.
Sahlab and mastic also allow more flavor to come through, Sadler adds.
“Booza doesn’t require as much sugar as regular ice cream because of sahlab and mastic, and because of those ingredients, it’s actually served at a slightly higher temperature range. Instead of [typical ice cream’s] negative five to five degrees Fahrenheit, booza is served at 12-13 degrees Fahrenheit, a range that brings out much more complexity and flavor.”
The Republic of Booza co-founders Sadler, Mohammed Makki, Tamer Rabbani and Jilbert El-Zmetr have taken that peak flavor potential and run with it. Each of the foursome had encountered booza in their own childhoods, studies and/or travels (booza is primarily found in Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey and Syria) and wanted to celebrate its unique characteristics and history while expanding its reach through inventive flavors.
Booza is typically served in just one flavor: qashta, or candied cream, which has an earthy, piney flavor with rose and orange-blossom brightness. It tends to be garnished with pistachio. But the co-founders built on that foundation.
“We wanted to explore flavors for New York and the world to discover through booza,” Sadler says.
Republic of Booza’s menu is divided into “classic,” “global” and “experimental” sections. “Classic” includes iconic flavors Americans will have grown up with, Sadler explains; “global” explores authentic flavors from around the world, and “experimental” is where the team gets creative.
“The first two sections show we know the rules and the third section shows we know how to break them,” Sadler says. This includes, for example, salted Oreo, sour cherry mahlab, raspberry EVOO, and watermelon feta sorbet.
Though Republic of Booza’s first location only opened in June of 2018, the public’s response has helped spur the team’s mission forward, and there’s no sign of slowing down. Sadler says they’ve started to see booza shops pop up around North America, which he feels just helps accomplish the goal of introducing more of the world to booza.
Beyond Fort Greene, Republic of Booza plans on continuing to look at ways to grow, whether that’s through more brick-and-mortar locations, offering products by mail-order, or both.
- Republic of Booza has developed around 75 flavors and serve 17 at any given time.
- Sadler says the “usual suspects” are popular, like vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio, but that the more innovative flavors get the more enthusiastic, wow-factor reactions. These have included the watermelon feta sorbet, coconut matcha and cannoli.
- The vanilla flavor is a favorite among the culinary crowd because it uses whole vanilla beans, dehydrated and powdered, instead of typical extracts.
- There are no toppings. “Flavors are meant to be consumed as they are created,” Sadler explains. This means any garnishes are mixed right into the flavor.
- Republic of Booza is located at 76 N. Fourth St. in Williamsburg; and 45 Willoughby Ave. in Fort Greene. For more info, visit republicofbooza.com.