Kiwi patisserie chef develops world's first upcycled kūmara gelato

Split screen of Hannah Clarke preparing kumara on the left and image of finished gelato on the right
Photo credit: Supplied

A Kiwi patisserie chef has developed the world's first gelato made from upcycled gold kūmara, or toka toka, as part of a new initiative to reduce food waste.

About 122,000 tonnes of cosmetically "imperfect" fresh produce is either composted or enters the landfill each year, according to the latest data. 

Hannah Clarke, the patisserie engineer at Island Gelato Co, is hoping her culinary innovation will demonstrate that imperfect fruit and vegetables can still be put to good use - particularly in artisan products made with fresh produce. 

While these premium foods typically come with a hefty price tag, Clarke noted that manufacturers can make the cost more accessible for consumers by opting for fruits and vegetables otherwise destined for landfill.  

Island Gelato Co, which was founded in 2014 on Waiheke Island, has previously utilised imperfect produce in their handcrafted, artisanal ice cream but hadn't experimented with a root vegetable before, with the process requiring extensive trials to determine whether it was feasible.

"Recent flooding has seen the price of kūmara reach a record $12.99 per kg in some supermarkets, up 164 percent from just seven years ago," Clarke said in a statement. 

"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.

"Weather events are contributing to greater crop yield uncertainty and with climate change accelerating this process it's becoming increasingly important that we 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 percent, which also helps stabilise the pricing for the end consumer."

The gold kūmara brûlée gelato.
The gold kūmara brûlée gelato. Photo credit: Supplied

Her experimenting resulted in the gold kūmara brûlée gelato, a treat with a distinctive caramelised flavour. Her trials found the high carbohydrate levels of the root vegetable manifested in an almost custard-like consistency when used in frozen desserts.

"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. Gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream and there is also significantly less fat in gelato and with less to coat your palate, as a result 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," she explained. 

"These characteristics provide us with a more flexible medium when we are experimenting with new flavours, I don't think it would have been possible to create an ice cream that has the same taste or texture as the kūmara gelato."

Clarke has since been inspired to create several other flavours using fruit and vegetables destined for landfill, including avocados, bananas, grapefruit, rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, and stoned fruit. Plans are also underway to use the same methods to create unique savoury gelatos using tomatoes, corn chips and chili, guacamole, as well as a flavour inspired by authentic Italian pizza.

Last week, Island Gelato Co picked up 25 medals at the National Ice Cream & Gelato Awards, including a gold for their Sour Cherry & Rich Chocolate gelato which uses cherries considered 'too dark' for the Asia export market.

"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," Clarke said.

"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."