Vancouver’s first organic, 100-percent plant-based gelato shop has arrived in the form of Umaluma (235 East Pender Street), a dreamy dessert parlour in Chinatown that will make a believer out of non-dairy sweets skeptics.
The 1,200-square-foot space, which serves as both a gelato production facility and scoop stop, has been open for just over a week. It serves between 18 to 20 flavours of non-dairy, plant-based gelatos, the majority of which are made from a cashew nut butter base combined with coconut milk or hemp-seed milk. (Sorbettos are crafted from fruit bases.) All gelatos are prepared fresh onsite and sweetened with either maple syrup or Vancouver Island–sourced honey.
Flavours include classics like Hazelnut, Vanilla Vanilla, and Sicilian Pistachio, and unconventional varieties such as Umaluma’s signature Drunken Cherry, which combines bourbon-soaked Amarena cherries, candied pecans, black pepper, and lemon-pepper salt, and the Saffron Orange, which uses candied orange bits.
“The idea was very simple,” Umaluma owner Ian Bruce tells the Straight during an interview at the shop. “It was basically to create an Italian-style gelato but better.”
Strawberry Malbec, Lavender Dream, Durian, and Salted Caramel Sea Foam are among the other flavours available. Some varieties even incorporate superfoods like E3Live, a nutrient-rich blue-green algae obtained from Oregon’s Klamath Lake, and baobab, an African fruit that’s a good source of vitamin C.
The gelatos are served in housemade waffle cones, cups, or to-go pints. Caffeinated beverages, like soda floats that use Yerba Mate, a traditional South American tea, are also on hand.
Bruce and his team, Derek Rohde and Andy Kieselbach, worked for 18 months to ensure their gelato achieved an ideal texture and sweetness. Flavour development was also important to the trio: they wanted Umaluma’s gelatos to taste as advertised and not like the non-dairy alternatives listed in the recipes. “My obsession was, really, to have each flavour really come out,” says Bruce, who comes from a background in the software industry.
The men seem to have hit it out of the park: flavour profiles were strong—and delicious—in the nearly 20 gelatos this writer sampled. (Standouts include the Black Sesame, Lemon Poppy Seed, and Coffee Toffee, the last of which is crafted from house-brewed espresso.)
Describing himself as “health-conscious”, Bruce also takes care to employ quality organic ingredients whenever possible. In fact, six of the gelato parlour’s flavours are approved by Ecocert Canada, which ensures that all ingredients come from certified-organic suppliers and are produced in a sustainable manner.
“We’re really conscious of the source of our ingredients, of our suppliers,” says Bruce. “We want to work with ethical, fair-trade suppliers as much as we can.”
Flavours at Umaluma rotate on a bi-weekly basis. Single scoops start at $6, double scoops at $8, and triple scoops at $9.50. Come fall, Bruce hopes to introduce a selection of housemade hot chocolates and elixirs. As for the name of the shop, it’s a word that the owner made up. “I liked the way it sounded,” he says. “And the domain was available.”
Check out the images below for a peek at Umaluma before you visit IRL.