Saturday, December 2, 2023

Kumara gelato finds cyclones’ sweet side

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Damaged vegetables find new use in the hands of a culinary innovator.
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The adverse weather events in the north that damaged some of the kumara crop this year both sent the price soaring and presented novel ways to use the vegetable. 

An innovative Kiwi patisserie engineer, Hannah Clarke, developed the world’s first gelato made from upcycled toka toka (gold) kumara.

The culinary innovation is part of an initiative by Island Gelato Co to reduce food waste by demonstrating the use of imperfect fruit and vegetables in artisan food products.

According to latest data, 122,000t of fresh produce is rejected annually as imperfect and is either composted or enters the waste stream as landfill. 

Clarke said while premium foods are not normally associated with produce diverted from landfill, the ingredients have a number of advantages, including lowering the product’s cost.

Island Gelato has used imperfect fruits in gelato previously, but this is the first time a root vegetable had been used. Extensive trials were required to determine whether it was feasible.

Clarke had been experimenting with the gold kumara and was fortunate to find a supplier who had hundreds of kilos available after recent weather events.

The final product – Hannah Clarke’s world-first Kumara gelato.

“Recent flooding has seen the price of kumara reach a record $12.99 a kg in some supermarkets, up 164% from just seven years ago. 

“At the same time, thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables are dumped with minor imperfections, which range from having an unusual shape through to being too large, too small, the wrong colour or too ripe for the mainstream market.” 

With weather events contributing to greater crop yield uncertainty and with climate change accelerating this process, Clarke said, it’s becoming increasingly important to learn to adapt and become more efficient with food production.

“We work closely with producers to rescue as much cosmetically imperfect produce as possible before it reaches landfill.

“As a food producer the use of imperfect ingredients can reduce the cost by up to 70%, which also helps stabilise the pricing for the end consumer.” 

The gold kumara brûlée gelato has a distinctive caramelised flavour and the high carbohydrate levels of the root vegetable manifest in a custard-like consistency when used in the frozen dessert.

“While ‘gelato’ is the Italian word for ice cream, there are a number of differences between the two products, which are not well understood by Kiwi consumers,” Clarke said.

Gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream and there is also significantly less fat in gelato. With less fat to coat the palate, gelato’s flavours tend to be more intense and more immediate. 

Gelato also contains less air than ice cream, which helps keep it dense, fluid and creamy.

“These characteristics provide us with a more flexible medium when we are experimenting with new flavours,” Clarke said.

“I don’t think it would have been possible to create an ice cream that has the same taste or texture as the kumara gelato.” 

Along with kumara, Clarke has been inspired to create a number of gelato flavours with other fruits and vegetables, including avocados, bananas, grapefruit, rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries and stoned fruit destined for landfill.

“We ended up with hundreds and hundreds of the most beautiful cherries, which were deemed too dark for the export market, but they were just gorgeous. 

“We needed to work with another Kiwi company to pit them all for us, but the gelato at the end was exquisite. 

“It was wonderful that we were able to give money back to the farmer who grew such an incredible product.

“We are definitely on a journey with vegetables. Up until now it hasn’t been something we’ve delved into much because we weren’t sure customers would go for it, but I’m hoping to bridge that gap. 

“Just as we’ve seen an evolution in the beer category and the emergence of boutique craft beers and ales, Kiwis are becoming more discerning when it comes to chilled desserts.

“New Zealand leads the world in ice cream consumption with a per capita consumption of 28 litres per year.”

Island Gelato Co last week picked up 25 medals at the National Ice Cream and Gelato Awards, including a gold for its sour cherry and rich chocolate gelato, which uses cherries considered too dark for the Asia export market.

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