One year ago, 20-year-old accounting student Hailey Yong joined a global business pitching competition with two other friends. The theme for the competition then was food and sustainability, and Yong confesses that at the time, she had little to no exposure to issues like food waste.
“For the competition, we did a lot of research and it was shocking to know that food waste is a huge issue but we often overlook it. So we were kind of heartbroken because there are so many underprivileged communities in Malaysia and yet we are wasting at least 24% of food every day. So, we thought, ‘How can we be a part of the solution?’,” says Yong.
Through the course of their research, Yong and her friends visited local markets and discovered that many imperfect-looking fruits (fruits with blemishes, imperfect surfaces, etc) were not displayed for sale at all and were often thrown away entirely because they were considered unsellable.
Yong knew she needed to do something, so she and her friends brainstormed and had a eureka moment when they realised they could incorporate these fruits into gelato.
“Ice cream is something everyone can relate to, even kids, so we wanted to spotlight the issue of food waste through this dessert,” says Yong.
From that initial idea, sprouted the seeds of a full-fledged, functional business. Yong in fact became so committed to her cause that she has since taken a gap year from college to focus on the business (her friends have gone back to their studies).
In November, after nearly six months of trial-and-error, market testing and experimentation, Yong finally launched her fledgling online brand The Unusual Greens which utilises a variety of ugly fruits like mangoes, bananas, avocados and apples.
Getting to this point has been no easy feat as Yong does not have an F&B background and had to figure out how to make gelato from scratch, as well as how to add unappealing fruits into this configuration.
After “a lot of failed attempts”, she has now nailed four recipes.
While locally-made ice cream has become fairly ubiquitous in the artisanal landscape, locally-made gelato is far rarer. Yong says gelato felt more naturally positioned with her brand identity than ice cream simply because it has a lower fat content (only 9% in the case of The Unusual Greens) and this quality is what many health-conscious, sustainability advocates – Yong’s target demographic – find appealing.
The gelato that Yong and her production team produce is also made using a combination of the ugly fruits saved from local markets as well as premium ingredients like Valrhona cocoa mass, couverture chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut and oat milk.
“We decided to brand it in a premium way, because we think it can bring more value to imperfect fruits, which are traditionally rejected or deemed not good enough for consumers,” affirms Yong.
To get a taste of just what The Unusual Greens has to offer, try the vegan BTF (RM37.90 for 450ml). BTF stands for banana, mango and toffee, and features ugly mangoes and bananas paired with toffee and Lotus Biscoff. This may seem like a case of crazy, haphazard matchmaking but it actually proves to be an inspired concoction.
The brand’s gelato has a smooth, incredibly velvety mouthfeel with a creamy underbelly and the ingredients woven through it accentuate this textural appeal.
In this instance, the mango and banana form a harmonious partnership, one where each carries the weight of their responsibilities equitably, offering a balanced share of their natural attributes in each mouthful. All of this is tied together by the toffee and more notably, the Biscoff, which provide a sweet counterpoint and a lovely crunch.
This is a lovely, summery ice cream that will whisk your palate (and your imagination) away on a sun-soaked beach holiday in an instant.
Up next, have a go at the Midnight Sun (RM42.90 for 450ml). Here, rich dark chocolate (made out of Valrhona cocoa mass and chocolate couverture) is interspersed with orange zest and juice, coconut milk and oat milk, and is a very satisfying vegan combination. The intensity of the chocolate pairs incredibly well with the zesty citrus-laced oranges in the mix. It is a riotous affair reminiscent of a clandestine midnight treat.
Avocados play a starring role in Eat Your Greens (RM42.90 for 450ml) which also includes hazelnut, pistachio, milk, cream and brown sugar. The natural fattiness and creaminess of avocados is evoked to the fullest here, with the nuts providing able sidekicks in the form of textural contrast and the ability to sluice through all that richness.
The Sorbet You’re Hot (RM37.90 for 450ml) is – as its name implies – a sorbet fashioned out of mangoes. This creamy creation gives you all the goodness of mangoes distilled in an ice cream, so it’s like eating sweet, voluptuous slices of mango couched in a cold, cold treat.
The only downside is that it’s just a tad too sweet, something that you really start to notice after the third or fourth mouthful when the saccharine quality becomes more prominent.
In just one month of business, Yong estimates she has saved over 300kg of ugly fruits, which is why she is determined to press ahead with expansion plans for her sustainability-driven business.
First up, she will be widening her range of gelato to include an apple pie-themed gelato as well as a lemon cranberry sorbet, both of which will be launched on Dec 10. Further down the line, the ambitious Yong has more wide-ranging plans afoot.
“There are endless possibilities in terms of utilising unappealing-looking fruits, so I want to expand and do cakes and other desserts,” she says.
Yong is so committed to her business that she says while she will eventually resume her studies, she expects to continue to be knee-deep in her little F&B endeavour for the foreseeable future.
“This is what I am passionate about, so I am prepared to pursue my studies after the business is stable, because I believe it is never too late to get a degree.
“No matter what though, I will continue to be involved in the business because it’s what I started,” she says.
Order online from The Unusual Greens at theunusualgreens.com.