Samir and Hemali from Mumbai turned vegans two decades ago and raised their children as vegans. Here’s how they found alternatives to everything, including ice cream
The decision to turn vegan was not easy for Mumbai-based Samir Pasad, the founder of Vegan Bites and Nomou, and his father. As vegetarians, their diet was heavily dairy dependent and since they made the decision to go vegan virtually overnight, twenty years ago, it meant their food choices became extremely limited. Vegans are people who refrain from consuming meat, eggs, dairy products, and any other animal-derived substances.
Milk, buttermilk, ghee, and curd had always formed a large part of the diets of the father-son duo. Now, they did not just have to give up these important sources of nutrition but also had to start resisting foods like their favourite desserts for example. Who in their right minds ever said no to gajar ka halwa?
The family’s vegan journey started at a time when the vegan movement had not yet picked up steam in India. Father and son started by giving up animal products like milk and honey and educating themselves about veganism till it became a way of life for them. Samir’s wife Hemali, the co-founder of Vegan Bites and Nomou, took the animal cruelty-free route a few years later after their first child Svea Aariyeh was born. During her second pregnancy, Hemali stayed off milk completely, opting instead for alternatives like soy milk, and their son Aarav was born perfectly healthy.
The couple’s two kids were raised vegan. They were educated about this way of life by their parents and given the option of consuming dairy, which they decided against. In fact, Aarav could often be seen educating his friends and relatives about the health and environmental benefits of being vegan.
Everything appeared to be going fine until Aarav’s friends began mocking him for not eating ice cream. The youngster tried to convince his parents to make ice cream an exception in his diet plan. However, instead of just looking for a vegan ice cream brand to mitigate Aarav’s FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), the parents decided to launch Nomou, a vegan ice cream brand, in 2016.
“We had considerable experience in the vegan field through Vegan Bites, our meal catering service that we have been running since 2011. We catered for everything except ice cream. Aarav’s demand served as a trigger for our new segment. We thought our expertise and business acumen in the field would make the process comparatively easier but ice cream is a different ball game altogether,” Samir and Hemali told The Better India.
Interestingly, their brand name Nomou comes from ‘No-Moo’, meaning ‘no to cow’s milk.’ But since there is already a registered American brand with that name, the duo played with the words and finally picked Nomou.
No Preservatives, Colours or Artificial Flavours
How does one sell ice cream that does not contain milk, its main ingredient, to ice cream lovers? This question bothered the husband-wife team for a long time. Eventually, they decided to dive straight into the problem and start experimenting.
They purchased a small ice cream-making machine and started to try out alternatives like almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk. Instead of processed and refined white sugar, they experimented with jaggery, cane sugar, brown sugar, and palm sugar.
Their initial guinea pigs were their own children and relatives who gave genuine feedback to help them develop a vegan ice cream closest to a conventional one. They also got reviews from customers who were offered ice creams along with their catered meals.
Once Samir and Hemali began to get a positive response, they purchased better ice cream-making equipment and tied up with distributors from Auroville to source raw ingredients directly from farmers.
For some time, they sold their ice cream under the ‘Vegan Bites’ brand name and in early 2020 they launched Nomou. Entering the market was not easy, given the misconceptions about vegan ice cream like the absence of milk is directly linked to lack of calcium, etc. Even the taste of the ice creams was different.
Therefore, instead of going in for marketing right away, they decided to rely on word-of-mouth and social media publicity. They also started to take their products to farmers’ markets where buyers were usually aware of the benefits of consuming organic foods.
Their efforts paid off because they discovered there was a market, albeit a niche one, for vegan ice creams. Today, Nomou is sold in supermarkets like Nature’s Basket, ice cream parlours, and even directly to customers who order via Swiggy and Zomato.
The ‘guilt-free’ vegan ice creams are made using coconut milk and palm sugar. No artificial colours or flavours are added to enhance the taste, so the flavours are different from those of conventional ice creams.
For example, their chocolate ice cream uses more cocoa than usual, which, when combined with natural ingredients other than dairy, gives it a unique flavour. Likewise, other ice creams to combine non-dairy products with the delightful taste of freshly roasted almonds, pistachios, saffron, figs, walnuts, coconut, and so on.
“It is amazing that they don’t use refined sugar, preservatives, fillers, or vegetable oils, but instead use cleaner whole food ingredients such as cashews and coconut to give a creaminess to their ice-cream. A quick taste note about their ‘Cookies ‘n Cream’ ice-cream − it’s one of the best ice-creams (vegan or not) I have ever tasted. And for an athlete like me, it’s a guilt-free treat that I give myself occasionally,” says Kuntal Joisher, a mountaineer and motivational speaker, who has been vegan for the last 18 years.
Nomou offers several lip-smacking flavours − from choco almond, bourbon vanilla, and mint chocolate chip, to black sesame, espresso, paan, and sea salt caramel. The shelf life of all these ice creams is three months if stored at -18 degree Celsius temperature.
The couple’s Nomou sales have grown steadily and, on average, they sell 600 tubs at Nature’s Basket, 400 tubs via Swiggy and Zomato, and close to 100 tubs via private orders every month, says Hemali.
“The lockdown has given us a great opportunity to expand our operations as people are becoming more health-conscious and opting for natural food items. Our catering service has been affected so we are focusing on Nomou to meet the rising demand. The market is ready for vegan products and we hope to cater in cities like Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata soon,” she adds.
A Life of A Vegan
Samir and Hemali became vegans purely for health reasons like weight loss, reducing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
However, in the process, they also became aware of the other repercussions of using animal or animal-based products and gradually made changes to their lifestyle. For instance, the family now stays away from purchasing leather products, silk, and cosmetics that do not use natural ingredients.
“The condition of animals on farms and slaughterhouses is unfortunate and tragic. They are given bare minimum to survive and are crammed into sheds. Cows are forcibly impregnated and calves are separated from their mothers at birth so that milk can be preserved for human consumption. By opting for cruelty-free products we can significantly reduce the demand, which in turn ensures fewer animals suffer. Every time our family buys packaged foods or other grocery items, we read the labels to ensure what we are buying are cruelty-free items,” says Samir.
Both Hemali and Samir believe today is the best time for people to go vegan, given the wide and easy availability of vegan options − be it vegan recipes online, vegan leather, vegan groceries, or restaurants serving lots of vegan dishes.
Get in touch with Nomou here
Edited by Nishi Malhotra