Mixing rose syrup into milk can instantly recreate a moment of nostalgia for Mansoor Ahmed, who grew up with the rose drink as the perfect treat when others may have drank strawberry milk. Indulging in childhood nostalgia and embracing tradition, Ahmed, CEO and founder of premium ice cream brand Heritage Kulfi, brings unique South Asian flavors to Princetonians familiar with his particular palate.
Heritage Kulfi turns the Indian frozen dessert kulfi into a set of pints available for sale at locations across the tri-state area, including a rosewater option reminiscent of Ahmed’s beloved childhood drink – this swaps what people associate with a romantic bouquet of flowers for a sweet, fragrant taste that captures their essence.
Kulfi is a staple in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia with flavors such as saffron and pistachio. Ahmed took that inspiration one step further, revitalizing the process and ingredients into carefully crafted ice creams with a dense, creamy texture.
“The goal was to really use authentic ingredients throughout the process, and part of the goal was to recreate or ping that nostalgic experience that we wanted people to have when having our ice cream,” Ahmed said. . “I was really, really demanding in terms of perfectly recreating that experience for people.”
The rich and unique consistencies of the ice creams are obtained through a specific process.
“It has a high fat content. It has a higher concentration of milk solids. It’s normally slow-cooked to impart that strong, airy flavor, and it doesn’t contain eggs. It is also churned very little [with a] very little air in it, sometimes no air at all, as it is often just poured into molds and served on a stick or as a dessert,” Ahmed explained.
Heritage Kulfi, which operates from an office in Alexander Road, does not yet have a storefront, but Ahmed plans to have one in the future. All ice creams are sold in various grocers, markets and stores in South Asia and the Middle East. Local businesses offering Heritage Kulfi for purchase include Star Big Bazaar in Lawrence and Patidar Supermarket in East Windsor, but a comprehensive and constantly updated map of locations selling Heritage Kulfi ice cream is available at heritagekulfi.com/connect.
Ahmed is a proud and almost lifelong New Yorker. Born in Manhattan to South Asian immigrant parents, Ahmed was raised in what he called a “very traditional” Pakistani family that helped him cultivate a love for these flavors.
“We ate South Asian food almost exclusively at home, so those kinds of flavors are sentimental to me,” he said. “That’s why flavors like saffron may seem unusual, but they taste like home. I learn from our customers that many other South Asians feel the same way.
Ahmed’s background is in a completely different industry, with the entrepreneur earning a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies at Manhattan College and then pursuing a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies from Columbia University.
“It’s sort of a departure from those interests, but I think they played a big role in shaping my intellectual curiosity around the branding and flavors brought here with Heritage Kulfi,” Ahmed said.
In 2014, Ahmed and his wife, Rebecca Faulkner, moved to Princeton when the latter entered a doctorate. program at Princeton University. Having now graduated, she currently teaches in the Department of Religion, specializing in the study of Islam.
For six years, Ahmed distributed ice cream and frozen desserts with his own Princeton company, Shahi Distributors, where he was introduced to the tri-state markets of South Asia and the Middle East, as well as their various food trends.
“Given how the pandemic has hit New York, as well as New Jersey, I think every small business has clearly suffered a lot and the road to recovery is quite a long one. But it gave me the opportunity to take a step back and spend more time creating something that can be refreshing and engaging,” he said of the change in plans. “It was a turning point, at least for the origin of the ideas.”
“Just being in touch with store owners, customers and seeing what they wanted was where the entrepreneur in me saw an opportunity to bring something new to market. “, he added.
Heritage Kulfi began its research and development phase in 2020, then launched its full line of flavors in October 2021. Ahmed created everything from scratch, spending months browsing flavors, sourcing and finding the best way to use ‘micrograms of ingredients’ like the earthy yet sweet saffron.
“The choice of ingredients was something very, very important to us, and then we took a slightly different approach,” he said. “[We wanted] to really allow a particular ingredient to shine, to really give it that space to breathe, so selecting the best possible ingredient that’s out there and then really letting it do its thing in the flavor profile.
“My brand wants you to just take a moment to really absorb and engage with the particular flavor and ingredient we put in it. That’s what makes it kind of fun and new,” Ahmed continued.
Ahmed has a background in graphic design, so packaging and marketing materials are also his job. The founder calls it a “really fun and creative process” where he was involved in every step of the ice cream unveiling.
Heritage Kulfi’s packaging is also certified sustainable by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to not only be pleasing, hopefully, to the taste buds, but also to the environment.
Princeton is known as a popular place for ice cream, and more importantly as a means of creative expression – just in Palmer Square is the Bent Spoon and the Halo Pub, with Thomas Sweet Ice Cream and other local businesses nearby. Before moving to the area, Ahmed had no idea how famous Princeton was for ice cream.
“I was new to this as well, so it’s really exciting to represent Princeton in this way,” he said. “It’s important for us to not only represent trends, like building on what something like the Bent Spoon does, being creative, but also being traditional and different.”
While ice cream bases vary in egg incorporation and churning techniques, creators typically use a pastry cream base or a Philadelphia-style base, the latter being what Ahmed chose. The style is a “regionally relevant” choice for Heritage Kulfi and its aim to remain community-focused.
Another important thing for Ahmed is that Heritage Kulfi’s flavors are also “representative of the growing South Asian population”, as he put it, this inclusivity making Princeton “the right place” for his dreams. .
“When I share this with other South Asian customers, they feel like there’s an aspect that they feel represented in terms of the food that’s available to them. Plus, it’s very exciting to introducing these brand new flavors to people who are not familiar with these kinds of ingredients was also very interesting and exciting,” he continued.
“The flavors that I brought don’t really exist in the ice cream world, I would say. They are really new that way. These ingredients that I use are very commonly used in Middle Eastern South Asian cuisine,” Ahmed explained. “You’ll see them, whether it’s pistachios on desserts, saffron on rice dishes, or almonds the same way. It was really about bringing those ingredients and having them represented in the ice cream world as well.
Although Ahmed said it was “difficult to choose” between his favorite flavors, his affinity for pistachios is too great to ignore. Rather than just chunks of salted nuts accented with almond flavoring or plain sweet cream, Heritage Kulfi makes pistachio cream with chopped and roasted pistachios for the ultimate experience.
Another flavor Ahmed has capitalized on is saffron, a luxurious spice typically used in savory cooking. As elusive as it is expensive, saffron is harvested by hand-harvesting only the three stigmas, the female reproductive part of a flower that receives pollen from the plant.
The flavors of cardamom chai and earl gray are brought to life by steeping the respective black tea leaves in sweet cream. Never to be forgotten as a staple in any line, Vanilla Bean Flavor uses Madagascar vanilla and ground vanilla beans.
For texture adventurers, the coconut contains real fruit flakes, while the fruit in the ice cream showcasing Alfonso mangoes comes straight from India.
“These are known for their ripeness and sweetness, and they are simply known as the king of mangoes. So we only focus on this ingredient. That’s kind of what we plan to do with all of our flavors. You have these authentic ingredients and you make them modern and accessible,” he added.
Two new flavors are coming out in May, almond blossom and Malai sweet cream. The former works California almonds into a cream that’s then topped with orange blossom water, while the latter is based on “cream that rises to the top when you cook the milk slowly,” Ahmed explained. Malai Sweet Cream’s soft profile echoes the simplicity of classic options like vanilla, but with a different nuance.
To further diversify their market, a vegan and plant-based line is also planned for the indefinite future. Already making waves with the eight currently available, Heritage Kulfi was featured in a March 28 edition of The New York Times for selling pints of ice cream at Kalustyan’s, a specialty food store in Manhattan.
Ahmed’s goal is to constantly expand his brand so that the stories of South Asia can be savored in a single spoonful.
“We really want to introduce people and constantly introduce them to really, really good ice cream with a light twist. I think that’s something we plan to do. I see there is so much room for us to grow in this area. It’s really about taking flavors that people have loved for so long, and I do too, and seeing how we can use different ingredients and add a modern twist to them, make them a little bit differently. Each time, the goal is to allow a particular ingredient to be put on a pedestal,” he said. “The proof is in the pint.”
More information: www.heritagekulfi.com