There's always a reason for ice cream – our perpetual summer heat makes sure of that. While our grandparents cooled off with shaved ice packed tightly into balls, drizzled with coloured sugar syrups in the past, today we have diverse flavours inspired by cultures beyond our shores. Here’s a sampling of some of our nation’s coolest creations.
Made with fruits, seeds, and even leafy greens
The ice cream served at Mrs. Plump’s melts fast – much faster than usual. It also has a shorter shelf life, and can only stay in the freezer just for just under a month.
These are the “flaws” of the natural, superfood-infused ice cream here: omitting corn syrup reduces the duration the icy treat can remain frozen outside; cutting out preservatives shortens its expiration date. But founder Mia Kusen has a simple solution: eat it quickly. “We think that the inconvenience is much better than having a very processed ice cream,” she says.
The idea of creating nourishing ice cream first struck her when she was taking care of her two sons – both of whom had contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease. Ice cream was one of the few foods they could consume, but Mia couldn’t find any in the market that was nutritious. So she decided to make her own. To add fibre, dehydrated kale is grinded and mixed into a chocolate base to create her signature chocolate kale flavour – one that’s covert enough to trick her vegetable-hating children. Family and friends tried it, loved it, and started ordering it from her, and this gave the former chartered accountant the confidence to make the switch and start her own ice cream shop. Her other healthy creations include strawberry yoghurt, and vanilla speckled with chia seeds.
Rather than going through financial records, Mia now stands on her feet for over 10 hours in the kitchen. “It’s tough,” she says. “But seeing every one of your customers happy – it’s a really nice job.”
Only the freshest ingredients
Apiary’s co-founder, Travis Goh, brings out a bag filled with fresh mint. “Feel the leaves,” he says excitedly. The young plant, purchased from a local hydroponics farm, is soft and tender and teeming with fragrance. “I want a pillow made out of this,” he says. These leaves will be used to make a batch of his fresh mint and chocolate ice cream.
Using fresh ingredients is important to Travis; it helps ensure quality. Bananas and oranges are sourced from the nearby Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market. A chance encounter with fresh perilla leaves at a supermarket inspired the unique Korean perilla leaf flavour. “We try to source for good ingredients and turn them into ice cream by putting our own twist,” he says.
It’s a formula that's proving successful. The most famous creation to date: Blue Milk, a cheeky Star Wars reference made with sea salt and butterfly pea flowers. Equally popular is the signature Apiary, where, depending on when you visit, a honey-sweetened base can come folded with cacao nibs, or bee pollen, or macadamia nuts. The recipe is frequently updated to keep things interesting. Travis shares: “We seek change to be better at what we do.”
A sweet dose of nostalgia
When Yvonne Kwek was young, she recalls having guava dipped in sour plum powder – a treat she enjoyed when she scored well for spelling test in school. It inspired her first creation: guava with sour plum. “I wanted to make ice cream that brought back happy childhood memories,” she says.
Starting her own ice cream shop has always been at the back of Yvonne’s mind. It first emerged when she was in culinary school. It lingered when she got a job in market research. And it stuck with her when she spent three years as a cabin crew. During her travels, she noticed something: of the gelato shops she visited, many celebrated local produce and flavours. She thought: “Why don’t I do something similar, to create ice cream that reminded people of home”.
A year ago, The Humble Scoop opened up in the basement of Katong Shopping Centre. It attracts a steady crowd, each resonating with different flavours. Some might come in for sugarcane with lemon, others drop by for its signature pulut hitam. But everyone leaves with a smile on their face. “Because ice cream makes people happy,” says Yvonne.
Leonard Ong is in the business of making people smile. “When you have ice cream, you feel happy,” shares the owner of Dopa Dopa Creamery. He decided to name his gelato shop after dopamine, the chemical compound that affects the way people feel pleasure. His goal: “to spread happiness” – served in cups, waffle cones, and sometimes sandwiched between flaky croissants.
But making, even serving, gelato is hard work. Home-roasted pistachio, the shop’s most popular flavour, is labourious to create. The nuts are first slow-roasted, then blended down into a thick paste to flavour the ice cream. The resultant murky colour might be confusing: chlorophyll, the reason why pistachio nuts are green, is lost to the heat in the process. In its place, a shade of earthy brown, toasty in flavour, develops.
Other flavours that are stored within the shop's special ponzetti include milk oolong, green tea toasted rice, and lemon basil sorbet. They might be hidden from sight, but with each order, Leonard performs a peculiar action: he hand-whips a portion of gelato to make it “springy and elastic”. This extra, painstaking step warms up the dessert, giving it less of a frozen bite. “You can taste more of the flavours,” he says.
Churning dreams into reality
Growing up, Emma Goh and Jeslyn Yeo had a common dream: to open a café. The god sisters, who knew each other since 13, would often cook as a duo in the kitchen. “It was something we wanted to do together,” says Jeslyn. When they were 27, they opened Geometry.
They named their store after a branch of mathematics – one that reflects the pair’s approach to gelato-making. “It’s all about the numbers,” shares Emma. “Everything has to be accurate to produce the results you want.” Their meticulous approach has resulted in many unique and successful iterations: goma, black and pale-white in colour, is made with a combination of black sesame and the unusual golden sesame; sake soaked raisin is swirled in a sake kasu base; and soursop lychee is sweet, sour, and floral all at once.
Sometimes, ice cream can be served atop a warm, crumbly almond tart. “It has the same characteristics of a waffle,” shares Jeslyn. “Crunchy on the outside, and soft, chewy on the inside.” Her favourite combination: to have it with fruity flavoured gelatos. “Like a fruit tart,” she says.
Forward-thinking frozen treats
Despite its name, the prized creation here is, in fact, a sorbet – pear, ginger, and ginger flower. The flavours develop as its name suggests: sweet notes of pear give way to the gentle warmth of ginger, then the light floral fragrance from ginger flower emerges.
The forward-thinking mind behind this multi-layered treat belongs to Damien Yau. His ice cream shop, Denzy Gelato, was only six-months-old when he joined the Singapore Gelato Competition in 2019. “We went as underdogs with nothing to lose,” he says. His creation won, and it gave Damien the confidence for his other “avant-garde“ travel-inspired flavours: elderflower mojito, floral and refreshing, was inspired after visiting Bali; Persian Prince, made with almond and infused with saffron, is based off Italy.
Before this, Damien worked as a recruiter who used cooking as an escape. When work got too stressful, he lost himself in recipes, obsessed with making each dish taste great. He tried making gelato, and fell right in love with it. “It’s a blank canvas,” he says. “It allows me to express myself in a cup.”