When people walk into a cheery Kind Kones outlet in Malaysia, they are often curious about the dairy-free ice cream parlour’s vegan offerings.
They usually have one question in mind: Can dairy-free ice cream really be satisfying? Can it be as creamy and luscious? Or is it going to be a pale shadow of ‘real’ ice cream?
Their scepticism is born mostly out of unfamiliarity, as dairy-free ice cream still isn’t widely available in Malaysia although the trend seems to be catching on among the younger crowd.
When they are invited to try the flavours, their common response is often a surprised ‘Wow!’ as one does not expect creaminess and richness in an ice cream made without dairy milk.
Serina Bajaj, the co-founder of Kind Kones, finds joy in seeing these spontaneous responses. She still remembers meeting a customer who was overwhelmed when he tasted a Kind Kones cone for the first time – it was his very first ice cream in many years as he was severely lactose-intolerant.
Kind Kones was born in Serina’s home kitchen where she had spent months trying out different ingredients to replace dairy milk, and tweaking the proportions in search of the right taste, texture and flavour.
She did this, for health reasons. Having irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, Serina, 36, has had to cut out dairy products from her diet. And having two young children, she also wanted to prepare food that was better for health – and tasty too, of course.
“It was a challenge to get that rich, airy and creamy texture that people look for,” she said.
Countless litres of ice cream was tested out on friends and family, who raved enthusiastically about it, encouraging Serina to eventually set up a Kind Kones ice cream bar in the vegetarian restaurant which she ran with her husband, Ishpal, in 2017.
They didn’t know how people would take to it. But their fear was unfounded as their customers quickly fell in love.
Serina and Ishpal realised that there was a gap in the market for vegan, dairy-free and egg-free dessert options. Their first stand-alone Kind Kones outlet opened a few months later. Besides ice-cream, it now offers vegan cakes and other sweet treats as well.
There are now five outlets in Malaysia, and one in Singapore. The couple recently relocated back to Ishpal’s hometown of Singapore.
The right blend
Kind Kones uses a blend of cashew and coconut milk for most of its flavours, as it has found this blend to offer a satisfying level of creaminess.
“Cashew is the key ingredient which gives the creaminess to the ice cream,” said Serina.
Fun fact: While homemade vegan ice cream often uses bananas as its base, that doesn’t work well in the store as bananas oxidise. Kind Kones has, however, found a way to add bananas to its strawberry flavour – the favourite of children – for an even richer taste.
Serina said Kind Kones is clear in that it is not out to convert people to a vegan lifestyle, or any other kind of lifestyle, for that matter. Its aim is to offer healthier dessert options that are also kinder to the Earth and to fill the gap in the market.
“We want to provide more food choices for people, with as high quality and as nutritious as possible,” she said. “There is a growing market for healthier food options.”
The feedback from their customers has consistently been that they are looking for a more balanced and healthy diet that does not sacrifice taste.
As such, its ice cream is not just vegan, being free from dairy and eggs, it is also made from all-natural ingredients without artificial additives and preservatives, and uses unrefined cane sugar as its sweetener.
Serina said it’s important to listen closely to what customers want, and to try to meet their needs while staying true to Kind Kone’s own values.
Thanks to high demand, it has also introduced a nut-free range of ice cream, made with oat milk to replace cashew and coconut milk.
Sugar-free and keto-friendly
More recently, they have received requests for keto-friendly ice cream. Serina took to her kitchen to experiment with making sugar-free ice cream. That added another layer of challenge as sugar is crucial not just to the taste but texture as well.
After a lot of experimenting, they came up with a keto-friendly chocolate ice cream that replaced the unrefined cane sugar with a sweetener acceptable to the keto diet.
For the Malaysian palate, Kind Kones carries Malaysian flavours such as jackfruit, pandan and Gula Melaka (palm sugar), durian, and even cendol (a popular coconut-based dessert).
Fun fact: Despite a close cultural connection, Singaporeans and Malaysians appear to have slightly different palates. Singaporeans adored the purple sweet potato ice cream but Malaysians were less inclined to it.
With a new flavour introduced every month, Kind Kones now has over 100 flavours in its repertoire – and growing.
It’s safe to say that Malaysians are no longer strangers to vegan ice cream!