When Manu Chandra opened his restaurant LUPA on Bengaluru’s MG Road last year serving European fare, much of the attention went to its gelateria. The gelato and its theatrical-making process — on a vintage Cattabriga machine — has since become the talk of the town.
In Gurgaon, freshly-churned gelatos at Wild & Raw, with flavours like basil and caramel and Idukki chocolate draw patrons from as far as Delhi and Noida; the multi-city Burma Burma, has recently launched a line of premium ice creams in flavours like avocado and honey cream, and caramelised white chocolate and cheese ice cream for both dine-in and delivery. Meanwhile, Bombay Sweet Shop’s Soft Serve, made by a unique hand-churning method (much like Lucknow’s kulfi), is not only decadent but also brings back the nostalgia of eating a softy albeit in new flavours like honeycomb and birthday cake.
According to a recent report by the International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group (IMARC), the ice cream market in India stood at a whopping ₹194.1 billion as of 2022 and is set to reach ₹508.4 billion by 2028. Of this about 50% is impulse ice cream purchase; the rest is focussed on the niche customer base. These new-age ice cream and gelatos are harping not just on innovative flavours but also on fine ingredients.
“Burma Burma meticulously selects premium ingredients — be it the 35% fat French elle & vire cream, renowned for its luxurious texture, or the 74% dark Belgian chocolate, that adds depth and richness,” says co-founder Ankit Gupta. “What makes our ice cream truly artisanal is churning it in small batches, every day, at each of the cities where Burma Burma is present,” he adds. Flavours like pineapple energee, honeycomb, sweetcorn, and durian meanwhile induce nostalgia and newness in equal measure. While pineapple energee is inspired by the after-school drink of the same name that was loved by every kid in Mumbai; the latter blends sweetcorn with honey to create nostalgic notes, and durian is a delightful introduction of a flavour largely unknown to the Indian palate until now.
At LUPA, the flavours of gelatos range from classic banoffee and rocky road to innovative apple pie, night at the movie and dark chocolate with pistachio — all made with seasonal ingredients and A2 milk, a variety of cow milk that is considered nutritionally superior to the others. “The idea is to make artisanal products using the best techniques and practices. The mini gelateria fit into this philosophy perfectly. Using the rare Cattabriga gelato machine, we are able to churn out fresh batches of gelato that pays homage to seasonality, sans eggs and cream,” says chef Manu Chandra, founder of LUPA and founder-partner of Manu Chandra Ventures.
Some of these places also have special flavours for festive seasons, like Bombay Sweet Shop’s Soft Serve that offers specials like nolen gur and thandai, among many others. At Wild & Raw, only a kilo of fresh gelato with ingredients sourced from small organic farms across India is churned at a time. And at Soft Serve in Chennai, the hottest-selling flavour, cereal milk, is a throwback to the cereal-flavoured milk that is left in the bowl after you have eaten the cereal! Anush Rajasekaran, co-founder, Soft Serve Co says they have been consistently experimenting with flavours and their latest offering is a payasam one, a spin on the much beloved paal payasam. “We are currently experimenting with a lemon curd with candied pineapple flavour, and a charcoal tahini flavour. We’ve seen polarising reactions to some of our flavours – for instance, the vanilla and fries didn’t find much favour among a bunch of our customers, but some others loved it,” he adds.
The equipment used by these ice cream makers plays an important role in creating these premium creations and adds to the richness and texture of the final product. The standout feature of the mini Gelato lab at LUPA, for example, is the vintage Cattabriga machine brought all the way from Rimini, Italy. Its glycol-cooled drum can drop to a chilling -20 degrees celsius in under five minutes, allowing for the swift creation of nearly five litres of gelato in just eight minutes which means you always have fresh batch in stock.
At Soft Serve Chennai and Bombay Sweet Shop, the ice creams are made in the classic “softy” machines reminiscent of the 1990s but are much thicker and creamier than their older cousins while Wild & Raw makes its gelato in a classic Italian Taylor machine that takes about 12 minutes to churn a batch — and can turn around multiple rounds if needed. “It is because of the machine that churns and chills the gelato at the same time, that our final product is so smooth and luscious,” informs chef Vanshika Bhatia of Wild & Raw who has replaced eggs in her gelatos with high-fat milk to ensure even the vegetarians can enjoy the ice creams.
And what do consumers have to say about these innovative offerings?
While at LUPA, no one leaves without tasting a scoop of its best-selling flavours, burnt butter caramel and rocky road sundae (the most popular in the sundae category), at Wild & Raw consumers come especially for the Idukki chocolate, Kerala vanilla, and Burnt Butter gelatos. The steep price tag of ₹400 per scoop is hardly a deterrent for them. “They love the natural flavours we offer be it mango or litchi which are both seasonal and local,” says Vanshika. But it is the popularity of durian ice cream at Burma Burma that truly reflects the changing palate of the Indian consumer. “While the durian fruit might be an acquired taste, to our delight and surprise, this ice cream has quite a strong fan base across cities where our ice creams are available,” concludes Ankit. .