Not frozen in time — India’s evolving ice cream palate

This story was originally published in TravelDine India by Vernika Awal.

From adding fresh fruits to legendary flavours from the 20th century, to completely new, eclectic ones, India’s taste preferences for ice cream speaks of a larger narrative of our social growth.

India’s love for ice cream is not a newfound facet of how we eat. In decades gone by, the sound of a tiny bell in the neighbourhood was enough to thrill children, who would run to meet the ‘ice cream waale bhaiya‘ on his bicycle. Known as sancha ice creams, these hand churned ice creams were the ultimate delicacies of mid-society India, well into the ’80s.

As the ’90s approached, India’s tryst with ice creams evolved. From the mid-’90s, Amul doubled down on its ice creams — quickly becoming popular across the country. Hindustan Unilever’s Kwality Wall’s, which had so far served its frozen desserts under just the brand name ‘Kwality’, rebranded itself in 1995 and launched a wide range.

What’s amusing to note is that even with the mass market brands targeting the Indian mainland, many still considered them to be a delicacy — to be kept aside for that special day.

Nearly three decades later, the humble ice cream is perhaps one of the most important vessels that reflect upon the socio-political changes that the wide band of middle-class India has gone through. As India’s purchasing power grew, coupled with liberalisation of key sectors and a wider exposure to more developed nations, the way Indians ate began to change.

Amid all the stars, trophies, and finely plated food, came the evolution of the ice cream.

How — and why — did these changes come along? Sana Bector Parwanda, founder of Zoet Desserts, says that one of the key factors behind the change in the way we eat ice cream is how we have grown in our travels. This, according to her, has given us a penchant for “exploring and trying new things and flavours”.

It is this that has pushed brands, such as Zoet itself, to add new infusions to classic Indian ice cream tastes. For instance, the cassata — a rather fragrant but classic ice cream that was mainstream through the ’90s. As Parwanda says, Zoet’s take on the cassata preserves all the colours, but adds fresh strawberries, lemons, and roasted pistachios. Simply by replacing artificially flavoured frozen creams with these ingredients, the once-classic item on the ice cream menu takes a considerable new turn.

Such moves, driven by India’s exposure to the rest of the world, is clear everywhere, and is driven by the underlying theme of being open enough to experimenting with new flavours. This has led to recognised brands from other categories moving to the ice cream space as well. As Aman Arora, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Keventers — known for its milk shakes — says that there is a clear potential for massive growth in ice cream, in India.

“Today, we have older players and established names that are reinventing their product categories and introducing flavors that were once only heard of in international markets. But, there is also a spurt in artisanal, homegrown ice cream brands–which are targeting niche markets with unique concepts,” Arora says.

This spurred Keventers to open its own ice cream brand last year, diversifying into this segment buoyed by its brand name’s weight. Arora says that thanks to the demand for experiments, consumers today look for a fusion of the classic and the modern–leading to flavours such as pan gulkand, and the rose falooda.

Ashni Shah, co-founder and director of Mumbai-based new-gen ice cream brand NOTO, concurs, adding that India’s hunt for the modern-day ice cream is also a move to find old-school flavours, without compromising on health. “We’ve grown to see actual fans of ice cream flavours such as cereal milk, or imli popsicles,” Shah says.

It is this that defines India’s modern day ice cream space. It is driven by flavours that are classic, but with ingredients and compositions that stand out as fresh, or even experimental. Natural fruits remain evergreen in the ice cream space, but given the expanding palate of the ice cream aficionado, it is sure to not stop just here

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