Just over a decade ago, the local ice-cream scape was anything but local. Global players like Wall’s, Baskin Robbins and Haagen-Dazs were typically what Malaysians turned to on hot, sweltering days when the services of ice-creams are most sought after.
But then, the winds of change blew in and suddenly local ice-cream became a tangible reality. Homegrown producers like Inside Scoop paved the way, giving rise to the notion that Malaysian ice-cream could be intrinsically local and often very, very good.
Pretty soon, others followed suit and now local ice-cream producers are gaining momentum throughout the country. Here are three new players in the market, who are doing their best to continue the local ice-cream domination.
Puntry by Pun’s Ice Cream
Tan San Eu (better known as Euwie) is an ardent ice-cream fan who started making his own ice-cream at the tender age of 12 and has never really looked back.
“I fell in love with it because you know when you make cookies and you think, how the hell did flour turn into this? It’s the same thing with ice-cream, you churn the ice-cream and the next thing you know, you have this sugary-sweet goodness that is frozen. And when I was a kid, I thought that was so cool,” he says.
Euwie is a trained chef who has worked in some pretty famous kitchens, from the Michelin-starred In Situ in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to Amass in Copenhagen and the three Michelin-starred Le Cinq in Paris.
But when he came back to Malaysia two years ago, he found himself at a loose end. His girlfriend Beh E Laine encouraged him to start a catering business called The Gathering, which he did, but when gigs dried up, he had to come up with a new plan.
“Elaine said to me, ‘A lot of people respond so positively to the ice-cream that you make at the parties you cater. Why don’t we just start making ice-cream for people and try selling it?’” he says.
Within a week, Euwie had invested in a giant ice-cream machine, which he set up in his mum’s kitchen. Beh’s mother donated a freezer and from that unassuming beginnings, Pun’s Ice Cream (www.facebook.com/punsicecream) was born.
Pretty soon, they were churning out all sorts of ice-cream flavours – from regular flavours like rum and raisin and cookies & cream to more experimental fare like smoked kaya, s’mores and vegan chocolate, all inspired by different memories and interactions with people.
Late last year, Euwie and Beh realised they were running out of space at his mother’s house. So upon the encouragement of a family friend who owned a space in Seputeh, they ventured out and started Puntry by Pun’s Ice Cream in a quaint old house that serves as both ice-cream lab as well as a physical space for people to sit and eat ice-cream.
Pun’s ice-creams are satiny smooth and incredibly good – priced at RM7 per scoop or RM55 for 1 litre, the diverse flavours offer something for everyone. The vegan chocolate is a creamy dark seductress with bitter undertones while cookies and cream features crunchy Oreo chunks lurking in between folds. The coconut ice-cream (called Sakit Kelapa on the menu), meanwhile is a wonderfully tropical offering with a strong coconut presence.
Euwie now makes about 100 litres of ice-cream a week and tried to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. He even has a herb garden which he turns to for some of the ice-creams.
“We grow our own mint, we have a small herb garden to make our mint ice-cream. And for colouring, we use bunga raya for red colouring and blue pea flower for blue colouring. The only thing that is not Malaysian is the cream,” he points out.
Moving forward, Euwie and Beh are looking at potentially opening ice-cream kiosks in malls as well as supplying to supermarkets.
“The idea is that we won’t be like other ice-creams, we will only stick to 10 flavours. And if we go to other kiosks, we will have five ice-creams that are standard and five that are creative and can become unique to that location,” explains Euwie.
Minus 4 Degrees
A few years ago, Sarah Tan Wei Ling was a commis chef at famed local fine-dining haven Cilantro. There, she had the opportunity to learn how to make ice-cream and from that initial experience, she began itching to make ice-cream at home.
“I got a small ice-cream machine and it was durian season, so I started making durian ice-cream,” she says simply.
After a friend encouraged her to sell her ice-cream on local mummies’ groups, Tan realised she was onto something. So she quit her job (she was working at Dewakan by then) and with her mother Kim Ngoh, started her own ice-cream brand Minus 4 Degrees (www.facebook.com/Minus-4-Degrees).
The two ably divide their roles – Ngoh handles the marketing and social media while Tan works alone to come up with different ice-cream flavours. These days, Tan has become so adept at making ice-cream that she is able to single-handedly produce 10 litres a day!
Since her early days of making ice-cream, Tan has branched out, creating all sorts of flavours ranging from classic options like rum and raisin (their best-seller) and Bailey’s coffee to more innovative offerings like smoked salmon and white chocolate longan fish sauce chilli.
“I think one of her gifts is being able to pair ingredients and make them into ice-cream,” offers Ngoh gently.
Minus 4 Degree ice-creams are priced between RM10 to RM12 and are indulgently good (although as the ice-creams are made without stabilisers, they tend to melt faster).
The rum and raisin for instance, is a sensual experience that presents a phenomenal hit of rum while the dark chocolate has deep-rooted chocolate notes. Even the white chocolate longan ice-cream presents an unusual but interesting exploration of tastes, from sweet to hot to intensely savoury.
At the moment, the mother-daughter team make their ice-creams from their home in Selayang and deliver to customers who order as well as to selected restaurants like Tipsy Boar in Section 17, PJ and Butcher Carey in Hartamas.
But eventually, they are hoping to expand their business to a physical outlet. “Once we find somewhere that we like, we will open an outlet that serves our ice-creams and I will make plated desserts as well,” says Tan.
Calli Ice Cream
Seven years ago, friends Dzarrin Alidin and Nathaniel Loe joined forces to launch a sports nutrition business called Lush Protein. The business has been going strong ever since but over a year ago, the duo started thinking about different ways they could incorporate protein into food.
“The boundaries between food and supplements are all blurring nowadays. So that’s where we started thinking about ice-creams and snacks and fitness food in general and how we could give customers a better choice compared to what’s out there.
“And ice-creams really stood out for us as an industry that we could go into and improve as a product,” says Loe.
After running an initial focus group with their friends, family and existing customers, the two realised that what people really wanted was ice-cream without the guilt, so their main focus then became about creating low-calorie ice-cream that also tasted good.
The friends spent a year doing research, testing about 50 different flavours and coming up with various iterations until they developed the perfect formula. And that’s how Calli (www.eatcalli.com.my) was launched late last year.
Under the Calli umbrella, there are four flavours – chocolate, Earl Grey, salted caramel and durian. All are made using natural ingredients like Belgian cocoa powder, tea steeped overnight and D24 durian pulp.
But perhaps what is most amazing about these ice-creams is that they are 1/3 the calories of premium ice-cream, with each pint clocking in at under 400 calories, compared to over 1,000 calories for commercial ice-cream.
To attain the reduced calorie result, a lot of the cream in Calli ice-creams is replaced with whey protein.
“Whey protein makes a very good ingredient for ice-cream, it gives it body and texture. Ice-cream makers don’t typically use this because protein is a lot more expensive than cream but it’s the ingredient that we’re familiar with, so we used that,” says Loe.
The two also replaced a lot of the cane sugar typically used to make ice-cream with erythritol, a corn-derived non-caloric sweetener.
On the taste front, the ice-creams are incredibly attractive – the chocolate is particularly beguiling and has deep chocolate undertones while the durian is an outright winner with pungent hints of durian laced throughout. The Earl Grey might take some getting used to if you’re not a fan of tea, while the salted caramel is a smooth, sweet operator.
Although Calli ice-creams will likely exceed your expectations of low-calorie ice-cream, texturally, they are not quite as creamy as regular ice-cream and have a slightly strange aftertaste.
In any case, response to Calli has been overwhelmingly positive – customer base on their online platform (where consumers can buy the brand’s ice-cream and get it delivered on the same day) has been growing at a rate of 10% to 15% every week. On top of that, although they only launched late last year, Calli ice-cream – priced at RM29.90 a pint is already available at Village Grocer and Ben’s Independent Grocer outlets.
According to Dzarrin, the brand now produces 6,000 to 8,000 pints a month and has already launched in Singapore. The guys are also looking at introducing a new flavour every quarter and might even create single serve cups.
“I think the great thing for us as a starting company is we like to think we are very close to our customers – we listen to them a lot, so whatever they want, we are nimble enough to tweak the flavours and how we formulate things,” says Dzarrin.