Classic ice cream flavours like vanilla and chocolate might be everyone’s favourites, but unusual regional interpretations are now inching up the popularity charts. Both mass and artisanal brands across India are harking back to traditional mithai, nostalgia and even street food to create these flavours. Today, masala chai, meetha paan, sol kadhi, puran poli and even ukadiche modak are being refurbished as icy treats.
It may have started with Kolkata’s popular ‘ice cream wallahs’ Pabrai’s. Founder Anuvrat Pabrai introduced the nolen gur ice cream way back in 2008. “It was a caterer who suggested developing an ice cream based on the liquid date jaggery. Since I had no idea about it, I visited some sweet shops like Nakur Nandy, Chittaranjan, and more, to taste nolen gurer sondesh,” says Pabrai. He loved it so much that he bought 50 kilos of liquid nolen gur from Sovabazar and made the first batch after a lot of experimentation. Today nolen gur ice cream is among his best sellers.
The earthy, sweet delicacy topped with a trickle of fresh nolen gur is the star attraction at Pabrai’s Ice Cream, which has 26 outlets across India. That’s not the only inventive flavour from Pabrai’s. Their Kolkata meetha paan ice cream is a blend of 17 ingredients while the gondhoraj lemon ice cream appeals for a play of sweetness and acidity.
Another legendary ice cream brand that has jumped onto the desi flavour movement is Apsara Ice creams, which started its journey in south Mumbai in 1971. Best known for their hand-churned fruit-based ice creams, the brand has taken a detour with a pani puri flavour. Made with ten ingredients such as coriander, mint, green chilies and rock salt, this ice cream offers a spicy bite. It’s served with crushed puris to add a crunchy twist. The childhood favourite—pink guava with a sprinkling of chilli and salt—is also replicated in a scoop and served with a dash of secret spices.
For Mumbai based ice cream brand Trayog, the puran poli ice cream is an attempt to present traditional Indian mithai in a new avatar. “All the international ice-cream brands were selling flavours inspired by western desserts like tiramisu, New York cheesecake, and more. And the irony was that a lot of the consumers, who were lapping up these flavours, might not have even tasted the dessert from which the flavour was inspired,” says Parag Chaphekar, founder and CEO, Trayog Ice Creams. On the other hand, countries like Japan have been making ice creams inspired by local dishes, which have become quite popular there. “But Indians tend to under-market themselves, and we desperately want to change that. We have such an amazing array of sweets that can inspire a whole range of ice creams,” he adds.
The puran poli ice cream made with the same ingredients as the original Maharashtrian delicacy—chana dal, jaggery, cardamom and nutmeg—has been a runway success. Then there is the ukadiche modak ice cream inspired by a sweet rice dumpling popularly made during Ganesh Chaturthi. “There are people who absolutely love these ice creams since they taste authentic. But then there are also those (albeit a smaller number) who can’t accept the change in the form of their favourite sweets. A majority are somewhere in the middle. They like the novelty of it and enjoy these flavours,” reveals Chaphekar, who is all set to launch the sheer khurma ice cream soon.
Festival time is a great occasion for ice cream makers to test flavours and introduce new ones. Specials at Naturals include a tilgul ice cream during Makar Sankranti, aamrakhand ice cream for Gudi Padwa, thandai for Holi, shrikhand ice cream for Dussehra, prasadam ice cream during Ganesh Chaturthi and malai khurma on Eid/Ramzaan. “Every region has a unique set of sweets. The idea is to give guests throughout India a taste of these regional sweets, which people are so attached to,” says Siddhant Kamath, Director at Naturals ice cream. The company is currently working on an ice cream based on the orange barfi or candy associated with childhood treats.
Talking of childhood treats, Chennai-based The Perf Ice Candy has been churning out vegan ice candies laced with nostalgia. The kamarkattu ice candy, made with caramelised cane jaggery and coconut milk, is a trip down memory lane for people in Tamil Nadu. “It’s a popular local candy loved by children. We wanted to keep the ice creams as simple as possible and based on things we grew up on,” explains Sudharsan Hari, founder, The Perf Ice Candy.
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