Tastes for a new age

SINGAPORE - Debbie Yong finds a new crop of local food producers who are changing the way we eat and drink.

The Mlk Co

Up till two years ago, Tee Mun Khui was your typical harried CBD worker, living on a diet of antibiotics and processed foods. But when she found herself popping antihistamines all throughout her honeymoon in the Maldives to ward off various ailments, she knew that a lifestyle change was in order.

So the 29-year-old, who has a full-time job in the executive search industry, signed up for an online course in nutrition and started making her own "nut milks" for friends and family. Now a certified health coach by the New York-based Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she will debut her products at The Local People x Singapore Art Museum night market on Aug 30.

Made by putting pre-soaked nuts in a high-speed blender and then straining out the liquid, the almond nut milk comes in three flavours for now: the original, which is made from raw almonds and flavoured with a sprinkle of Himalayan salt; the raw cacao, which blends in raw cacao powder and organic coconut blossom sugar; and a cocoa flavour, which works in cocoa powder made from roasted cacao beans.

The original flavour is pure white and a just-as-creamy substitute for those who can't drink dairy milk. The light brown raw cacao version is more nutritious but less rich-tasting than the cocoa flavour which has a mouth-coating chocolatey finish.

Unlike most store-bought almond milks, which are typically diluted to contain between 3 and 10 per cent of milk per litre, The Mlk Co's 200ml bottles have a 25 per cent nut content and are unpasteurised and preservative-free, so they're best consumed within three days. The milks are made to order for maximum freshness.

Ms Tee is currently tinkering with new flavours such as matcha and earl grey tea, along with milks from other nuts such as cashew and hazelnut, while younger sisters May and Calista chip in with branding and marketing efforts. A third sister, Tina, runs offshoot business The Cacaosians, which specialises in handcrafted cocoa products. To be launched at the same time as The Mlk Co, The Cacaosian's first product is a drinking cocoa powder that is a 75 per cent blend of raw cacao together with cocoa powder, organic coconut blossom sugar and cocoa liquor, a non-alcoholic pure form of chocolate. Future products will include 60 to 50 per cent drinking cocoa blends for sweet-tooths, and chocolate bars and truffles. The sisters ultimately hope to open a chocolate specialty cafe by year-end.

The Mlk Co's nut milks retail for S$6.90 to S$7.90 per 200ml bottle while 250g resealable brown bags of The Cacaosian's 75 per cent drinking cocoa is priced at S$18 , available from www.themlk.co after Sept 1

Healthy and bubbly

Citizen Pop

For a maker of carbonated drinks, Citizen Pop's local founder Imelda Mo - oddly - never liked fizzy drinks. "Soft drinks often taste too sweet and they don't do me any good nutritionally," says the 26-year-old former advertising executive.

That changed, however, after a particularly thirst-quenching sip of soda on a sweltering afternoon in Bangkok's Chatuchak market, where sodas come in myriad tropical fruit flavours. She was then inspired to create her own healthy range made not from artificially sweetened liquids, but from fresh juices. "I didn't want to do another juice company because there are already many options out there, from the S$2.50 juice from an auntie in a kopitiam to the S$300 juice cleanse programmes - and there's just something refreshing about having a bubbly drink on a hot day."

Handpressed fruit juices are first blended with herbs and spices, then carbonated through a kegerator in a licensed kitchen and bottled. Bottled sodas come in two flavours for now - a refreshing lemon and thyme and a sprightly apple and ginger combination - but Ms Mo has concocted over 10 other unique flavours such as pear and lemongrass, pineapple and chamomile and lime and fennel, which she sells by the cup at pop-up markets.

True lovers of soda can also order them in 18-litre kegs, and loan her 54-litre kegerator to dispense up to three different flavours straight from the tap at house parties and events. The sodas also double well as mixers for spirits such as gin and rum, says Ms Mo, who hopes to eventually launch her own line of cordials and bottled alcoholic sodas.

Available from S$5.50 at eateries such as Sprmrkt, The Lokal and D-Caf. Kegs go from S$100-150, depending on the flavour, for home delivery only. Enquiries through www.citizenpop.com.sg

Love for peanut butter

Second Helpings

Ezra Nicholas so loved his peanut butter, the sports science graduate would have it any time he could. His wife Tannie Tang, however, always found quality peanut butter scarce and even when she did find them, they'd be too dry and flavourless for her liking.

So the Singaporean couple came to a compromise two years ago: they decided to make their own preservative-free peanut butter. A few sell-out stints at pop-up markets later, they rented a weekend-only retail stall at Pasarbella in February to "overwhelming response" and haven't looked back since, says Ms Tang, 28, who left her job as a civil servant in December to grow the business full-time. Mr Nicholas, 29, has a day job running the operations of a cosmetic retail business.

Their "beenut" butters - named for their use of honey as a substitute for sugar - come in three variants: original, cocoa, and coconut and vanilla. The couple also produce a range of scented sugars in three flavours that have fresh vanilla beans, and lavender and rose petals mixed in respectively.

The peanut butters are made with all-natural ingredients, consisting of peanuts, olive oil, sea salt and honey. They don't contain any sugar, stabilisers and hydrogenated oils as most commercial labels do, and the lack of thickening agents makes them more runny than usual.

Besides working on launching more limited edition flavours by year end, the couple have just secured a permanent kitchen and takeaway space in River Valley, where customers can personally pick-up their freshly churned orders in the coming months.

The couple also hope to start a full-fledged eatery one day, where they can provide work and training opportunities to those who would normally find it harder to be gainfully employed.

Beenuts butters range from S$8 for 100ml to S$42 for a litre, and scented sugars cost S$8 for a 100ml jar, available through www.facebook.com/secondhelpings.sg

Healthier in-between drink

Infuusa

There are only two types of drinks people bring to spin class, observes product designer by day and fitness instructor by night Ng Wei Lieh: plain water and energy drinks. The former is a little plain for those who want a bit of kick in their workout drink, and the latter is unnecessary. "It's like driving a Ferrari to the supermarket just to do grocery shopping," he says. "You burn about 300-400 calories in a one-hour spin class, but you're consuming 200 calories from one bottle of energy drink - and it's full of chemicals."

So the 39-year-old decided to come up with a healthier in-between. He first started experimenting with cold-brewed teas - teas made by steeping them in room temperature water for two to 12 hours - which results in a smoother and sweeter taste, and retains more antioxidants, but the wait time proved too impractical his busy lifestyle.

A few trials later, he came up with Infuusa, his own range of cold-brewed fruit infusions. A "teabag" - there are actually no tea leaves involved - of his Quad Berry flavour contains fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries first dehydrated and then milled down to near-powder form before being packaged in finely meshed Japanese teabags - all to accelerate the steeping process.

Each sachet contains only five calories and is best steeped in 500ml of water for 3-10 minutes. His second flavour, lemongrass and ginger, has a curious transition from a bitter entry to a lingering sweetness on the back of the palate from the inclusion of licorice root, a TCM favourite for soothing coughs and inflammation.

Both the Quad Berry and Lemongrass Ginger flavours are entirely caffeine-free, though Mr Ng is working to launch two new tea-based flavours, a rose green tea and a peach black tea naturally sweetened with organic stevia leaves for those who need a subtle post-workout buzz, he reveals, followed by further flavours and potentially a ready-to-drink line for retail in gyms and cafes.

S$13.90 for a 10-sachet pack, available from www.infuusa.com and www.naiise.com

Glorious toasty aroma

Nutteree

It's every peanut butter lover's worst nightmare: discovering an intolerance to peanuts.

Janine Campbell always blamed her discomfort on the bread on her daily peanut butter sandwich, until she decided to drink her protein shake without the peanut butter one day - and felt just fine. "Finding out that peanuts were the common denominator and the root cause of my discomfort made me really sad," the 34 year old recalls.

But Ms Campbell wasn't prepared to ditch her long-held peanut butter-eating habit at once, so the Eurasian hobbyist cook set about making her own nut butter, working in almonds as a substitute. Samples of her almond butters became a fast favourite among friends and family, which inspired the full-time TV producer to start cooking them up for retail a month ago.

The almonds used in her butters are slow-roasted for an hour and blended in a food processor until they release their natural oils and a glorious toasty aroma.

Sold through direct e-mail orders only for now, her brand of Nutteree butters come in two variations: one a melange of olive oil, seasalt and ground almonds, and another a sweetened version with a dab of honey stirred in.

Both have a nut-flecked Dijon mustard-like appearance and a more viscous texture compared to commercially produced peanut butter. The butters are made to order and keep for about a month, says Ms Campbell, who is working on launching a dark chocolate hazelnut spread soon.

S$12 for a 190g bottle for both flavours, available through orders@nutteree.com

Conveniently available

Cocoloco

You've just finished a heart-pumping hot yoga class and you want to refuel with some coconut water. But it's 9pm and there isn't a fruit stand open nearby, and it's too much work to pry open one - husks and all - anyway. What do you do?

Well now, thankfully, there's Cocoloco. The svelte bottles of locally bottled fresh Thai coconut juice are the brainchild of young local couple Kelvin Ngian and Jun Hew, who want to make the trendy health drink more conveniently available to the masses.

Their coconut water tastes exactly like what you'd get from a fresh coconut, and is slightly sweeter than most other bottled labels of coconut water. That's because the water is tipped out of coconuts directly imported from Thailand and only filtered but not pasteurised before being bottled, says Mr Ngian. No sugar or artificial sweeteners are added. "Some of the other coconut waters on the market have shelf lives of up to a year, which makes you wonder how much it's been treated," says the 30-year-old, who left his banking job to join his family's coconut import and wholesale business, Siam Coconuts, last year.

Noting the recent increased interest in coconut water - the low-calorie, potassium-rich liquid is said to have anti-ageing, anti-carcinogenic properties - the idea to branch into coconut water was birthed shortly after, and bottle retail kicked off last month, says Mr Ngian. Ms Hew, 29, is a luxury jewellery marketeer by day and helps out with marketing efforts in her free time.

Cocoloco is bottled in Siam Coconut's processing plant in Aljunied on-demand, and are delivered on the same day. The bottles have been lab-tested and stay good for up to a week, though Mr Ngian recommends consuming them within three days.

S$32.30 for a six-pack of 330ml bottles, inclusive of delivery, available through www.cocoloco.sg or info@cocoloco.sg


This article was first published on Aug 9, 2014.
Get The Business Times for more stories.