Hong Kong Ice Cream Shops Offer Fun Flavours, All-natural Ingredients, Vegan and Gluten-free Variations

Andrew Sun wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s another hot and humid summer in Hong Kong and that means many people can’t stop thinking about ice cream and its assorted relations, from gelato and sorbet to frozen dessert and ice pops. While familiar international brands are popular in the city, several home-grown entrepreneurs are also taking a lick at the market.

The first small local ice cream to make a name was XTC. Launched in 2001, Hong Kong’s first gelateria pioneered flavours that included Hong Kong milk tea and chocolate Sichuan pepper.

The ownership of the business has changed over the years but XTC continues, selling at its shops as well as in supermarkets.

Since then, other brands have come along introducing quirky distinctive flavours and products. Customers are now so spoiled for choice, they don’t ever have to settle for the traditional chocolate, strawberry or vanilla flavours again.

Chinese-Canadian Larvina Wong opened Igloo Dessert Bar, at Central Ferry Pier 7 (Star Ferry Pier), during a sort of minor midlife crisis. Tiring of her stable but stressful architecture job, she reinvented herself as an artisan gelato maker in 2016.

“I had gone on holiday in Italy and gelato shops were everywhere. People just enjoyed life and ate gelato, so that was my inspiration.” Wong says. “I always baked cakes and enjoyed cooking. The laws for importing ice cream were quite stringent so I thought let’s make it ourselves.”

She gained some blogosphere buzz last year after introducing flavours such as Horlicks, Ovaltine and White Rabbit (renamed White Bunny for copyright reasons). The gelato is produced at the Central shop, but Wong has rented another space for larger scale production after Yata, a department store that can be found across Hong Kong, requested Igloo dessert cups to sell.

“The whole ice cream concept hasn’t been easy. Things didn’t roll in quickly, but slowly, one thing has led to another,” says Wong, who has also developed a line of vegan ice creams and sorbets.

This month, she kicked off a collaboration with Hong Kong milk producer Trappist Dairy using its fresh milk for limited edition cups featuring flavours including peanut butter toast, honey osmanthus and honey butter.

“Retail is tough [since the pandemic],” Wong admits. “But malls have approached us about doing pop-ups. It is still expensive so we need to recover from the last few [economically depressed] months first. With my professional degree, I can always go back to architecture but Igloo has been a lot of fun. It never stops.”

Coming in straight from Italy is ice pop concept Stecco Natura. The label was brought to Hong Kong last year by Ben Tang, after his boss, Maisy Ho Chiu-ha – Stanley Ho Hung-sun’s third daughter – discovered the refreshing dessert on a trip.

“She tried the desserts there and basically got me to go secure a deal,” explains Tang, the label’s Hong Kong general manager. “The ice cream is 100 per cent natural and made from fruits and nuts. Others use food essence and water. We use real fruit juice.”

The funky popsicles contain no emulsifiers, use mineral water and are gluten- and lactose-free – even though they are made with fresh cream and milk.

“It’s noticeable in the consistency. You don’t taste ice separately, everything comes together whole. Served on a stick, [the ice pops] can be dipped in chocolate or coated in nuts and other stuff,” says Tang.

To maintain quality control, a condition of franchising is that the products are produced in Italy. “It’s fully imported. They want to maintain consistency all over the world. But even if you have the recipe, the raw ingredients can be different so we can’t do it like [they do] in Italy,” Tang says.

However, a competing ice lolly stand believes it can make high-quality, small-batch fruit- and milk-based ice pops in Hong Kong. Former lawyer Candice Yung runs the boutique brand, I See I See Handcrafted Icy Desserts, which she launched in 2015.

“I quit law due to health reasons because I was working a lot,” Yung recalls. “I happened to be in New York on a trip and saw an ice lolly brand do this [business model] so I thought I could do the same thing here. I am also allergic to many things, so now I can control the ingredients and make it gluten-free.”

Her secret weapon is a machine that can go down to minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to quick-freeze the ingredients in 20 to 30 minutes. The result is smaller ice crystals for a feathery, snowlike texture. Her visually appealing ice pops are also super Insta-worthy with actual fruits inside.

With just two small outlets, Yung acknowledges wholesale is the way to grow. “When I first started, I didn’t have much strategy – just open a cute little shop and be there every day. After it was quite well received, we were approached for more pop-ups so we increased capacity. Then, I thought I would do hotels too. Rent is so expensive. I want to do more wholesale and catering events.

“To be completely honest, it’s a lot about luck as well. With last year and the pandemic, these things are out of our control.”

Mary Schroeder also wanted to make an alternative ice cream that was healthy but tasty. Since 2013, her Happy Cow brand has been producing plant-based frozen treats that are free of dairy, eggs and cholesterol, use less sugar – and she’s managed to do it all in Hong Kong.

“Our goal was to address the lack of better-for-you desserts in Greater China,” Schroeder says. “Usually, all ice cream is made [with] cow’s milk. We found most people have allergies to milk, egg, soy and gluten.

“Happy Cow was founded to create delicious plant-based frozen desserts. After years of living in Hong Kong, we realised that Asia was not producing this sort of product. It was also important to us to create a lower sugar ice cream option. Our premium frozen dessert is made from coconut cream and organic coconut sugar, a low glycemic sugar for diabetics.”

The products – suitable for vegans and halal diets – are sold in supermarkets, restaurants and cinemas. There is currently a pop-up store next to the Hong Kong Observation Wheel in Central.

Schroeder, who is the CEO of the brand, is proud of the variety of special Asian flavours that Happy Cow can offer. “It was important for us to be able to create some ice cream flavours that highlight Asia, such as dragon fruit, durian, red bean and of course, coconut. We are proud to be an Asian-born brand.

“We believe that dairy-free ice cream can grow tremendously. We suspect that people that have historically limited the amount of ice cream they eat, for dietary or health concerns, will now feel more comfortable to eat more frozen desserts.”

Source: SCMP

Grilled Steakhouse Hanger Toast


1 pound hanger steak, trimmed of extra fat
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
8 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons heavy (double) cream
2 tablespoons grapeseed oi
4 (3/4-inch thick) slices country-style bread
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
flaky salt


  1. Make the steak: Rub the steak with the garlic, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and the pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.
  2. Remove the steak from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
  3. Make the spinach: Preheat one side of a gas grill (barbecue) to medium-high and the other side to medium. (Or prepare a charcoal grill so the coals are banked more on one side than the other; you should be able to hold your hand 5 inches above the grate for 3-4 seconds on the medium-high side and 4-5 seconds on the medium side.)
  4. Set a large piece of foil on a work surface and mound the spinach just left of the middle. Dot the spinach with the butter and add the chives, cream, and remaining salt. Fold the right side of the foil over so the ends meet, then crimp and fold the foil to make a tight seal all the way around.
  5. Use tongs to dip a folded paper towel in the oil, then use the oiled towel to grease the grill grates.
  6. Place the steak on the hot side of the grill and the spinach on the medium-hot side. Grill the steak on both sides until it is charred, 2-3 minutes per side. Move the steak to the medium-hot side of the grill and cook it for an additional 2-3 minutes for medium-rare (the steak will yield to light pressure in its thickest part). Set the steak aside. Remove the spinach from the grill.
  7. Make the toast: Drizzle the bread slices with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toast the bread.
  8. Open up the foil packet and divide the spinach and accumulated juices among the pieces of toast. Slice the steak against the grain and on an angle to the cutting (chopping) board. Arrange the steak slices over the spinach. Sprinkle with flaky salt and serve drizzled with accumulated meat juices from the cutting board.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Toast The Cookbook

In Pictures: Breakfast Toasts Prepared by Home Cooks

Study: For a Longer Life, Any Exercise Is Good Exercise

Want to live longer? Take the stairs, stretch or toss a volleyball around, a new study suggests.

Those activities were among several tied to lower rates of early death in an Arizona State University study of nearly 27,000 U.S. adults between 18 and 84 years of age.

Researchers wondered which of the more socially oriented exercises — such as team sports — contribute to longevity. They asked participants in 1998 which types of activity they engaged in, then watched for causes of death through 2015.

While they found that any form exercise helps, stretching and volleyball were uniquely tied to a lower risk of early death. Fitness activities such as walking, cycling and aerobics were also beneficial. Only an association was seen between activities and death rates.

The findings suggest some kinds of exercise have special benefits when it comes to reducing the risk of early dying, but most have no effect on longevity, researchers said.

“If you’re doing any exercise, that’s better than if you’re doing nothing,” said lead author Connor Sheehan, an assistant professor in ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

“I wouldn’t go out of your way to adjust your lifestyle to the results of this study, because it might be harder for you to stretch than to play volleyball, for instance,” he said in a university news release.

And the team sport that was shown to have a negative effect on longevity will probably catch you by surprise: It’s baseball. Researchers suspect that owes to the culture of chewing tobacco that’s linked with the sport.

Football, a contact sport associated with development of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, was not associated with earlier death.

Researchers said the benefits of exercise were consistent across different social groups.

The takeaway: “I think what’s best is to just keep doing what you can consistently do, what you consistently enjoy doing,” Sheehan said.

The findings were published in the July issue of the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Source: HealthDay

Aerobic Exercise Could Have the Final Say on Fatty Livers

A new Trinity study highlights that fitness may be a more important clinical endpoint for improvement in patients with fatty liver disease during exercise trials, rather than weight loss. The findings have been published in the medical journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) is a condition characterised by a build-up of fat in the liver. The liver is central to a suite of vital processes in the body including digestion, blood clotting and energy production.

If left untreated MAFLD can lead to serious complications such as liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer, as well as cardiovascular and metabolic issues. Risk factors for developing MAFLD include type 2 diabetes and obesity. The global estimated prevalence of MAFLD is 25%, making it the leading cause of chronic liver disease worldwide, and is quickly becoming the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer in liver transplant candidates in the western world.

Up to now, due to the lack of approved pharmacological interventions, treatment has been a combination of prescribed weight loss and physical activity, with a weight loss target of 7-10% being the primary treatment endpoint. There is some evidence that exercise training alone without significant weight loss can reduce liver fat content (assessed using non-invasive methodologies such as transient elastography and ultrasound) in MAFLD patients. However, the independent effects of exercise alone on biopsy-measured outcomes (the gold standard for diagnosing and assessing MAFLD) have been unknown.

This new study highlights that increased fitness, the result of aerobic exercise participation, may be a more important clinical endpoint for improvement in MAFLD patients during exercise trials, rather than weight loss.

In Ireland and worldwide, MAFLD is a silent epidemic. In Ireland, there is currently no national screening programme for the disease, so the true prevalence in Ireland is unknown. However, St James’s Hospital, Dublin, where the study took place, now has over 1000 patients on their own database, with the numbers growing year on year.

The Trinity study is the first to demonstrate significant improvements in biopsy-measured liver outcomes in a MAFLD cohort following an exercise-only intervention, without clinically significant weight loss. The study also demonstrates that improvements in biopsy-measured liver outcomes were significantly related to improvements in fitness levels. The study also found however, that when patients were followed up longitudinally, none of the benefits of the exercise intervention were sustained.

The research is unique in that the team used repeat biopsies in MAFLD patients during an exercise-only intervention. Only two previous studies have been conducted using repeat biopsies in exercise-only trials, but these studies had significant methodological limitations. These studies used low-intensity resistance exercise and lacked exercise supervision, which may have led to non-significant changes on liver biopsy outcomes. The Trinity study is also the first to relate improvements on liver biopsies with improvements in fitness, suggesting a potential interrelationship between the two outcomes.

Dr Philip O’Gorman, Department of Physiotherapy, Trinity College and joint first author on the study said:

The benefits of exercise training on both liver and cardiometabolic outcomes for these patients is very clear. Our findings suggest that there is an urgent need to better transition exercise into the community setting for these patients as the benefits of exercise intervention were not sustained longitudinally. This study clearly demonstrates the clinical benefit of exercise in MAFLD in as little as 12 weeks and shows the clinical benefit of improving cardiorespiratory fitness, which is increasingly being considered a ‘clinical vital sign.’

Worryingly, there is little to no exercise referral systems in place within hospital departments and beyond throughout the healthcare system in Ireland. However, as our results have shown, the lack of sustainability of the benefits of exercise in MAFLD is concerning and there is an urgent unmet need to enable patients to continually engage in exercise therapy in the community setting. A systems-based approach whereby clinicians can refer patients to exercise specialists in the community is required for long-term benefits of exercise to be sustained.

The paper is published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Source: Trinity College Dublin

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