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Vegan FoMu takes the “cream” out of ice cream

Posted by  May 9, 2014 02:24 PM

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Adam Virnelson

Deena Jalal owns FoMu with her husband, Hin Tang. The couple run vegan frozen dessert shops in Allston and Jamaica Plain.

FoMu (pronounced “faux moo”), an alternative ice cream producer with stores in Allston and Jamaica Plain, has carved out a surprising niche: making ice cream without cream.

“I’m vegan, and they have a lot of ice cream options for vegans, which is rare,” said Natalie Kovalcik, a regular at FoMu. “It’s pretty much a dream.”

Instead of dairy, owners Deena Jalal and Hin Tang use coconut milk to create their frozen dessert, which they make from scratch at a facility in Watertown.

Jalal and her husband both grew up in small-business families. They left corporate jobs — she worked in international advertising for Bose, he was a financial systems consultant — when they decided to start a family together.

“We decided it was probably the right time to plan to do something purposeful in our lives,” said Jalal, “because if we were going to spend time away from each other, and away from a family, we really wanted to enjoy what we did.”

Both Jalal and Tand had dreamed of owning a business, and both loved food, but neither had culinary experience. The couple bought an ice cream shop, but they wanted to make their own product, so they sold the shop, bought a commissary and began learning the intricacies of ice cream production.

To circumvent customers’ dietary restrictions and make their product available to as many people as possible, they decided to forego the traditional dairy-based formulas and use a healthier, more natural substitute.

“Buying coconut cream or buying a nut cream allows you to build yourself,” said Jalal, “so you don’t have to add any of those preservatives or emulsifiers if you don’t want to.”

Unsurprisingly, the newly minted ice cream makers found themselves popular with vegetarian and vegan restaurants — Red Lentil in Watertown, Veggie Galaxy and Life Alive in Cambridge — and began selling in bulk to local health-conscious establishments.

Then the pair discovered a vacant property in Union Square in Allston, an area populated by a number of vegetarian businesses, and decided the location would be perfect for a store of their own.

“People with allergies were grateful, people who were vegan now had an option, and people who were just foodies and wanted to try a coconut milk ice cream that came in Thai Chili Peanut were really, really thrilled about it too,” said Jalal.

The ice cream at FoMu also differs from its big-name cousins in that it has low overrun, meaning there isn’t much air mixed into the product. Name-brand ice cream, the fluffy kind you’d find in a corner store freezer, can be made up of 50 percent air or more, according to Jalal; FoMu’s ice cream is only 25 percent air, which means it’s thick, like gelato.

The ice cream’s coconut base also gives it different properties than standard ice cream. For example, FoMu’s product is kept at a slightly higher temperature than normal because the freezing point of coconut milk is different than that of cream.

They also use organic ingredients and buy locally whenever possible.

Running the business is taxing but rewarding, says Jalal. She has seen parents come in whose allergy-afflicted children had never tasted ice cream. At FoMu, though, their kids have options.

“There’s really just something for everybody,” said Jalal, “and it’s dessert. I mean, who doesn’t like dessert?”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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