Letting Them Eat Cake
We’re only about halfway into the celebratory season, but conversations filled with ‘No more cheat days for me this year’ or ‘I can’t even imagine how many weeks it’s going to take to offset all that sugar!’ and ‘I can’t go see my nutritionist until I work off the mithai’ have taken over. To prevent deprivation from being the only solution to healthy festive eating and give sweets a starring role rather than an insignificant cameo in your diet, many Mumbai sweet spots are whipping up wholesome alternatives that are sure to leave you spoilt for choice.
With organic, vegan and gluten-free offerings, protein-packed or paleo cakes, or the many keto-friendly foods on menus across the city, the aim is primarily to create and encourage beneficial habits instead of diet fads. Laying emphasis on the keto diet, Karishma Boolani — sports scientist and founder, HUMANICS — shares, “In the human body, the sugar burning mechanism is your fuel engine and the fat burning mechanism is your electric engine. It is essentially designed to use the fuel (sugar) energy in emergency situations and live off the electric (fat) engine for the most part. Yet the diets that most people follow have been doing the exact opposite; the majority of calories in our diet have been refined carbohydrate sources. When we eat a lot of carbs, we burn sugar as a primary energy source. The human body is the most intelligent machine, and it’s essential that we do not work against the way nature intended, it is very important to understand the science in order to work with its physiology and allow it to thrive.”
Zaral Shah gets the facts (and fiction) about healthy sweets from the owners of five establishments that focus on unprocessed ingredients and clean eating.
FOUNDER AND CEO
“I developed severe lactose intolerance in 2015, which is when I began looking for dairy-free options. It was during this journey that I became passionate towards creating cleaner, unprocessed desserts with higher digestibility, because of the lack of choice for me during that time.
I think people have always been conscious of what they eat. What’s changed is that more people have begun focusing on sourcing cleaner, organic ingredients to cook with. The biggest myth about healthy desserts is that you can consume them daily. Dessert — whether healthy or not — should be consumed only once in a while. It cannot be a part of your daily lifestyle.
We’ve used almond milk and coconut cream in the gajjar ka halwa and saffron malai ladoos. We’ve done our best to get the consistency and taste as close as possible to what’s already available. They are cleaner versions of the original, but you won’t feel like you’re missing out in any way.
We dissolve the saffron in hot water for its flavour to develop before using it; and we make our own coconut milk which we leave in the fridge overnight so that it becomes thicker in consistency — like malai. These processes ensure maximum flavour and quality.
The Limited Edition Diwali Gift Box which had an organic soy wax candle and organic, vegan and gluten-free saffron malai ladoos, pistachio cookies and gajjar ka halwa were extremely popular. During Christmas, people are more focused on buying our limited-edition vegan and gluten-free pumpkin spice muffins, gingerbread spice cake or spiced plum cake. New Year is all about our savoury healthy food options ranging from beet and quinoa falafels with a spicy harissa dip to our gluten-free breads, dips and crackers.
The attendance we see for our dessert cooking classes is far higher than for our savoury food ones. We’ve always received great feedback because people are happier to be able to eat something sweet without the guilt. Learning to nourish yourself, even if it is dessert, is truly empowering. We also provide an organic resource guide of where to locally source the ingredients that have been used in the workshop.”
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE CHEF
“Having battled obesity for most of my teenage years, I decided to lose weight when I was 18, and the most difficult thing to give up was sugar. Although I succeeded for a couple of years, I eventually started to binge eat sugary desserts. My face would immediately break out and the numbers on the weighing scale also started to go up, so I decided to experiment with healthier dessert options to satisfy my cravings.
Today, people have become more aware and are educated about food and its impact on our health — not just physical appearance, but how it affects our hormones too. It isn’t about starving to lose weight or cutting off a food group entirely because those are all just short term. These days, people are not willing to compromise on their health, and so what they put into their bodies is quite important. The saying, ‘you are what you eat’ fits this generation perfectly. We are a product of what we put into our bodies.
The biggest myth I’ve come across since starting Eat-A-Whey is that people think that ‘healthy’ means calorie- and fat-free. But no food you consume, other than water, is calorie-free. Our desserts are just healthier alternatives to the regular, high carb, sugary desserts. People need to understand that weight loss is all about calories. It’s calories-in versus calories-out…. If you’re exceeding your daily recommended calorie intake, whether eating healthy or unhealthy food, you are going to gain weight.
We’ve replaced the two main evil ingredients that you’d find in a regular almond and orange cake: jaggery for white sugar, and almond flour for refined flour. Both of which spike insulin levels. It took us a while to nail the taste of the cake, as we were trying to bring out the real taste of orange by using fresh orange juice and no added flavouring. And we’ve been very fortunate to have only gotten rave reviews!
Aside from the whey protein powder used in the red velvet protein cake, we add almond flour and skim milk which increases the protein content. The other biggest source of protein is the Greek yogurt in the icing.”
CHUBBY BAKER & CO.
“I am diabetic and started this journey as a very personal one, and I also needed to control my sugar intake because I was on a ketogenic diet. But at the same time, I generally have the massive urge to eat something sweet during the day, so I knew I had to start understanding the world of keto desserts.
Honestly, people have become more conscious of what they are eating owing to the realisation of how damaging sugar and carbs are in general, especially when consumed on a daily basis. We are open to tonnes of information directly from health consultants and doctors due to Instagram and YouTube. One of the biggest myths about healthy desserts is related to taste; people think they taste horrible, but to the contrary, I have had non-keto customers specially asking for my keto cookies as they love the way they taste. The second comes from bakers who think that if they use wheat instead of flour, jaggery or sucralose instead of sugar, their desserts will be healthy. That’s actually a much more harmful myth. These desserts are probably better than having the desserts made by the former ingredients, but in no way are they completely harmless.
The chewy chocolate chip cookies are suitable for a keto diet as they are made with 100 per cent dark chocolate which means that there is no mixing of milk solids or sugar. We also use almond flour which is the go-to flour for anything healthy…. Other healthy flours being coconut flour, flaxseed powder, cilium husk, pumpkin seed meal amongst others. And we use erythritol and stevia as the sweetening agent which are keto compliant.
There is a mix of preferences — when it comes to people wanting healthier alternatives of their favourite desserts. There are many who do love to go and try the healthier versions by choice and then some have no option but to do so. There are also those who do not want to fiddle with the sinful regular desserts as they can afford to eat them, health-wise. The response to my healthy bakes has been great, especially from customers who are not new to keto and other low carb diets. But those who are trying low carb diets and foods for the first time usually take a while to get accustomed to the taste.”
Tara Bose Kapur
BOMBAY BIZARE BAKER
“I have always been a discerning, passionate foodie; I travel a lot and love dessert. When my son, now 16, was diagnosed with severe food allergies back in 2012, we reacted by stopping consumption of all foods he couldn’t eat. A couple of years later, I wanted to order him a birthday cake but could not find anyone who was ready to make one which was suitable and, in despair, decided to bake it myself. It is still a massive favourite and appears on the Bombay Bizare menu as homemade chocolate cake (vegan).
What do healthy desserts mean? The term ‘sugar-free’ means many different things. It could mean the use of a sugar substitute like erythritol, stevia or monk fruit, or a sweetener like honey or dates which would be very bad for a diabetic person or one on a keto or low carb diet. So whenever a customer asks me for sugar-free, I always clarify what exactly they mean. All vegan and gluten-free bakes are made with raw cane sugar. And we offer customers the coconut sugar option too.
Most items on our menu are created in response to customer requests. The vegan doughnuts came into being as a vegan customer in Delhi asked my partner, Jyotika Kapur, if we made them. And so we did a recipe search and trials, and the doughnuts made it to our menu!
Our substitute for regular flour varies from whole wheat and almond flour to coconut, oatmeal, rice, tapioca or even millet flour. Recipes vary depending on the flour being used. We always have trials for our bakes and If it doesn’t meet our standards, then it doesn’t make it to the menu.
At least 50 per cent of our customers ask for details like the nutrition value or carb content, which chocolates and sweeteners we use or how many servings there are in one cake. I’m self-taught and enjoy meeting the challenges given by clients. I started with vegan baking and added gluten-free, and the range now includes, vegan, gluten-free, vegan and gluten-free, sugar-free, egg-free, dairy-free, keto, non-fat and low carb.”
Radhieka Mustafa Pandeya
“My husband used to compete in physique competitions and couldn’t eat dessert — the regular ones. So I started baking specially for him. That is how I got into creating healthy desserts.
Two things have happened. Firstly, people have become more conscious of what they are eating because there has been a push from the alternate ingredient industry about healthier food options. There has also been a growth in gyms, studios, supplements…all of which are pushing for healthier lifestyles. And secondly, everything is now on social media. You see influencers eating healthy products, promoting them and looking great in the process; that motivates you too.
The lemon and orange muffins are made with almond flour, which is high in MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids), protein, manganese, vitamin E and coconut. It is also high in fibre, MCT and iron. And they are sweetened with raw organic honey which is unprocessed, high in antioxidants and boosts immunity.
Rose and pistachio is a match made in heaven. When you add the white chocolate, it becomes a festival in the mouth. After several trials, we fixed a certain ratio of dried rose petals to pistachio to white chocolate, to attain the perfect amount of flavour from each of these and not make it overly sweet or overbearingly rose-y.
There are a lot of people who don’t always want chocolate or those who are travelling with the cake so can’t have fruit in it. Once you take chocolate and fruit out of the mix, there aren’t too many options left. We thought of coconut — it’s healthy, stays longer and tastes great. Cinnamon adds a lovely flavour to enhance the coconut. Figs just elevate the entire confection by adding a chewy texture and slight sweetness.
People love that they can turn to us for healthier options of their favourite desserts. Many clients tell us that they no longer enjoy regular desserts because they are so used to ours. It also takes guilt out of the equation. Although I still say that dessert is a treat and should be looked at as such — especially if you’re trying to lose weight or are diabetic.”