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Keeping Cool and Changing the World:1982 de Glacée and Justice Ice Cream

2020-7-16
Chen Chun-fang /photo by Jimmy Lin /tr. by Geof Aberhart
 
Infused with idealism and hopes for society, ice cream can also be a medium for positive thoughts and for focusing public attention on food safety. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
Infused with idealism and hopes for society, ice cream can also be a medium for positive thoughts and for focusing public attention on food safety. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
 
Despite each coming to the ice cream industry independently, both 1982 de glacée’s Miky Wu and Justice Ice Cream’s Onion Li have landed on the same approach: using environmentally friendly ingredients free of chemical additives. Infused with idealism and hopes for society, ice cream can also be a medium for positive thoughts and for focusing public attention on food safety.
 
Ice cream is not just a sweet treat that can comfort the soul; it can also be a medium for communicating ideas! 1982 de glacée founder Miky Wu chose ice cream as her medium for practicing environmental sustainability.
 
These farmers grow fruits and vegetables without agrochemicals, an expression of care and gentleness toward the environment.
These farmers grow fruits and vegetables without agrochemicals, an expression of care and gentleness toward the environment.
 
A sweet connection
 
The old house in Tainan's West Central District that is now home to 1982 de glacée was originally an ice-making plant owned by Miky Wu’s grandfather. Helping make ice and playing around in the plant became an indelible part of Wu’s childhood experience, but her parents didn’t want to take on the business, instead choosing to close it down several decades ago. Wu decided to go into accountancy, but while she enjoyed it, she always wanted to work on environmental issues, and so she set off back to her home town and her grandfather’s former plant, to make it a base for experiments in sustainability.
Wu had clear reasons for settling on ice cream as her subject: “The quickest route to a sustainable environment is through agriculture. It takes five to ten years to switch to organic farming, but it takes at least 30 to reclaim arable land from having been concreted over.” On top of this, food is the bridge that connects agriculture and people. What consumers want in ice cream flavors is variety, says Wu. “I can take any food, whether it’s from the seaside or the mountains, and make it into ice cream, as long as it gives me a chance to talk more about environ­mental issues.”
It was this spirit that led to her launching a “jacana water caltrop” flavor. Guan­tian, in Tainan, once saw large numbers of pheasant-­tailed jacanas die from ingesting pesticides, and so the local farmers switched to producing water caltrops in environ­ment­ally friendly ways, giving the jacanas a safer place to live. Touched by their action, Wu was inspired to make a water-caltrop ice cream. It took her a year to succeed, but ultimately she developed an ice cream flavor combining water caltrop with a hint of caramel.
 
Miky Wu has worked hard to develop delicious additive-free ice cream flavors that deepen the bonds between people and the land. Her efforts have paid off in the form of recognition at the A.A. Taste Awards for three years running.
Miky Wu has worked hard to develop delicious additive-free ice cream flavors that deepen the bonds between people and the land. Her efforts have paid off in the form of recognition at the A.A. Taste Awards for three years running.
 
To add or not to add
 
1982 de glacée uses only environmentally friendly ingredients that do not harm rainforests, and unlike commercial brands, which use emulsifiers and thickeners, Wu’s company uses milk, eggs, sugar, and no chemical additives. “My grandfather was making additive-­free gelato back in the 1960s,” she says. Wu recalls her grandfather’s small plant serving as both a retail outlet and a wholesale one, demonstrating that ice cream without additives can also be mass-produced.
Each ingredient has its own different levels of water, sugar, and fat, and even fruit produced on the same plot of land by the same farmer can taste different from year to year because of climatic factors. As a result, the production process requires constant adjustments to come out with delicious, natural, and healthy ice cream. However, as the food industry has grown, ice cream has become standardized, and now as long as you buy an ice cream powder with additives like emulsifiers and thickeners, anyone can make delicious ice cream.
Nowadays ice cream containing additives is considered normal by the public, to the extent that many even mistakenly believe added emulsifiers are necessary for making it, when in reality eggs and milk contain their own natural emulsifying agents. In 2013, a food scandal involving modified starch hit the headlines in Taiwan, with unscrupulous manufacturers adding industrial adhesives to chemical starch and using it to produce tapioca balls, fish balls, and more. Later, agar powder was adulterated with industrial preservatives, with the resulting powder being used in puddings and ice creams. The seemingly endless stream of food safety issues angered Onion Li, who was working at the time as a highly paid project manager. He decided to leave his job and return to Hualien, where he founded Justice Ice Cream and began selling additive-free ice cream, trying to use his small helping of strength to fight back against the domin­ance of additive-­filled commercial ice cream.
 
For their delicious ice creams, 1982 de glacée carefully selects environmentally friendly ingredients like high-welfare eggs, artisanal brown sugar, and free-trade organic cocoa. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
For their delicious ice creams, 1982 de glacée carefully selects environmentally friendly ingredients like high-welfare eggs, artisanal brown sugar, and free-trade organic cocoa. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
 
Additive-free ice cream waits to be sampled at this store located  in an old Tainan house.
Additive-free ice cream waits to be sampled at this store located  in an old Tainan house.
 
Taste takes teaching
 
Justice Ice Cream’s products are divided into four categories by price and rarity of ingredients: premium, top, select, and classic. For example, their “Milk Wine” flavor requires first brewing some coffee, then adding cocoa and whiskey to create a liqueur which is made into ice cream. Their using this complicated process rather than just flavoring it with commercial liqueur is what places this variety in the premium range. Meanwhile, more common flavorings like peanut, taro, and passionfruit come under the “classic” umbrella. While the cheapest of the classics might be just NT$50, some people still find that a bit pricey, says Onion Li. “This is about 50% more than similarly flavored commercial brands, but the ingredi­ents cost five or ten times as much as those the commercial brands use.”
The difference lies in the concentrated flavorings that commercial brands use. For example, commercial pineapple ice cream can be made by adding just a few drops of concentrate and no actual pineapple, whereas Li’s ice cream uses as much as 300‡500 grams of pineapple per kilogram of ice cream.
Li says that such flavorings have slowly pervaded the whole industry, making it difficult for businesses using authentic ingredients to get by and forcing them to get on the bandwagon. When concentrated flavorings replace the products of farmers’ hard work, farmland falls into disuse and is ultimately snapped up by developers. As people have become accustomed to artificial flavorings and flavor enhancers over time, they have gradually become numb to nat­ural flavors. The cumulative impact of these drips and drops is something the public has never ­really contemplated.
To address this, Li travels around holding “taste education” sessions, explaining the potential impacts of artificial additives on human health. For example, overseas research has found that some additives have a positive correlation with hyperactivity, allergies, and even gastrointestinal cancer. “Natural flavors have layers to them,” says Li. He has children try ice cream made with real fruit, teaching them to appreciate the subtleties: “At first there’s a sourness, followed by sweetness. Then there’s a milky flavor, and after you swallow, a fruity flavor lingers in the nasal cavity.” This kind of aftertaste, he says, is key to distinguishing natural foods. While artificially flavored ice cream may taste fruity while you eat it, once you swallow, there’s nothing following it. Planting the seeds of educated tastes, Li believes, will mean that “one day, we’ll be able to buy truly safe foods all over Taiwan.”
 
Justice Ice Cream holds flavor education sessions around Taiwan to teach children to distinguish between natural and artificial flavors.
Justice Ice Cream holds flavor education sessions around Taiwan to teach children to distinguish between natural and artificial flavors.
 
Children eagerly chow down on additive-free ice cream as the seeds of an educated palate take root.
Children eagerly chow down on additive-free ice cream as the seeds of an educated palate take root.
 
Telling more tales
 
Miky Wu founded 1982 de glacée in 2011. Since then, she has worked on developing truly Taiwanese flavors, through which more people can learn about Taiwanese produce. For example, her “Ruby Black Tea” flavor uses the distinctively Taiwanese Taiwan Tea No. 18, while “Rice Wine Jujube” uses dried jujubes in place of raisins, and rice wine and its brewing mash in place of rum, to create a uniquely Taiwanese take on rum and raisin. These two flavors have both been awarded Three Stars in the A.A. Taste Awards, held by the international Anti Additive Association, helping Taiwanese tastes find a place on the global stage.
After many years of exploration and observation, Wu has come up with what she calls the “cornfield theory”: “Just supporting organic farmers isn’t enough—we also need to encourage reduced pesticide use in neighboring fields if we are to improve the overall environment.” To this end, she has plans to launch another brand, PariPari, which will use not only environmentally friendly produce, but also traceable agricultural products. The brand is named for a Taiwanese-language term meaning “fashionable,” and with flavors all taking Taiwanese-­language names, Wu hopes to use this new brand to tell even more tales of Taiwanese culture.
Despite being burdened with debt, Onion Li insists on staying open during winter. While this might eat through his summertime profits, it helps his staff enjoy a stable income. This determination speaks to Li’s founding mission for Justice Ice Cream: to be a just and upright man who makes ice cream in a just and upright way. He hopes to build a brand that can benefit small farms, the business owners, staff, and customers.
When they talk about ice cream, these dedicated special­ists’ eyes twinkle. They have invested their ideals into every scoop, full of the real deal in terms of both ingredients and commitment.
 
Justice Ice Cream is not only concerned about food safety, but also looks after stray cats and holds seminars on issues such as the anti-ELAB demonstrations in Hong Kong, doing their part to advocate for causes they care about.
Justice Ice Cream is not only concerned about food safety, but also looks after stray cats and holds seminars on issues such as the anti-ELAB demonstrations in Hong Kong, doing their part to advocate for causes they care about.
 
Onion Li (right) and his girlfriend Jenny (left) run Justice Ice Cream together. While it can be hard work, they are committed to their ideal of enabling customers to eat with peace of mind.
Onion Li (right) and his girlfriend Jenny (left) run Justice Ice Cream together. While it can be hard work, they are committed to their ideal of enabling customers to eat with peace of mind.
 
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama
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