Welcoming the rise of healthier and guilt-free desserts

Naimita Jagasia and Priyasha Saluja talk to us about meeting the growing demand for healthy desserts and spilling details on their most hilarious experiments

Welcoming the rise of healthier and guilt-free desserts

All our promises for a healthy regime and fitter self seem to be washed down with just the tempting idea of a red velvet cupcake with a cream cheese frosting. And if you are a sweet tooth like me, let’s be honest, that healthy-salad-diet and less-sugar regime was just destined to fail the moment someone propped a dessert in our sights. However, times have changed and in today's day and age, there is no excuse under the sun to not make healthy choices. What began with a revolution of organic produce has now evolved into all sectors of food and beverages. Which means, right from the beverage you choose to sip on, to the dessert you devour at the end of your meal, there is a healthy alternative to every course of the meal. Yes, you read that right, even desserts can be healthy!

If your immediate questions was ‘how on earth can desserts be healthy?’ then let this article answer all those questions. From millet based cakes and savouries to tofu ice creams, the world of desserts is also experiencing a major shift. With consumers on the lookout for goods that can help satiate cravings along with a boost of nutrition side by side, the trend (which will soon be the norm) seems to have reached numerous bakeries and patisseries, resulting in innovative desserts and recipes that do not compromise on taste. Take a look at how Naimita Jagasia—Founder of Ode to Gaia, a plant-based patisserie—and Priyasha Saluja—Founder of The Cinnamon Kitchen, who also went on to Shark Tank to present her pitch for TCK—studied the currents of changing dietary patterns, only to make waves in the business of healthy and guilt-free desserts.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

What inspired you to venture into this niche sector of healthy snacking or healthy desserts, incorporating ingredients like millets and whole grains into your products?

Naimita Jagasia: This journey began with an attempt to make desserts without eggs and dairy for myself long before 'vegan,' 'millets,' and 'gluten-free' were buzzwords. Back then, finding options beyond dates or nutrition bars was tough. I mean, all I wanted was for being able to enjoy snacks or dessrts every day without it affecting my skin, hair, or overall health. And it just so happens that millets are a big part of that since I avoid gluten. But I also believe in not being too strict with myself. While building Ode To Gaia, I realized many people like me want to enjoy desserts without compromising their health. Millets are amazing because they’re good for you and the environment, plus they bring great flavours and textures to our treats.

Priyasha Saluja: I was 13 when I was diagnosed with PCOS, so I had to pay extra attention to my diet. Finding ready-to-eat snacks that fit my needs was a struggle in itself so I started experimenting in my own kitchen. I used healthier ingredients like millets, nuts and good fatswhile cutting out sugar, gluten and dairy. As I shared my journey on Instagram, I found that many others had the same challenges as well. Soon after that, I started receiving request for orders from followers who wanted snacks that matched their dietary plans. For me, it was this scenario that led to the creation of The Cinnamon Kitchen, where I now offer healthy, delicious options for those with specific dietary needs.

How has consumer interest in healthier options influenced your recipe development and product offerings?

NJ: so, when I release new products, I get tons of questions about whether they’re gluten-free, refined sugar-free, or what type of flour I use. People are really curious about the quality and variety of ingredients and this made me realise that making most of my desserts gluten-free would save a lot of time and help customers make quicker decisions, now that they know what to expect. Plus, in my pastry school, the most popular courses are all about healthier options, gluten-free baking and sugar-free baking. It's clear that people are super interested in healthier choices

PS: Consumer interest in healthier options has really shaped what we do at The Cinnamon Kitchen. It all started with my own need for better snacks due to PCOS, so we began focusing on healthy ingredients like millets, nuts and good fats, cutting out sugar, gluten and dairy. As more orders and feedback came in, we saw that lots of people wanted snacks that fit their dietary needs without sacrificing taste. This pushed us to keep innovating and creating delicious, healthy products. By using ingredients that don’t spike insulin levels or cause inflammation, we make sure our snacks are both nutritious and enjoyable.

How do you educate your customers about the potential health benefits of using millets and whole grains in baking?

NJ: Most of the time, I don't have to do much educating because customers are already asking for these ingredients. But I do share a lot on my social media about the ingredients we use and why we choose them. For instance, I explain why we use amaranth instead of sorghum, or raw banana flour instead of whole wheat flour. We have a brownie made with raw banana flour, which is lighter, easier to digest and adds a beautiful flavour. We prefer raw banana flour over finger millet or pearl millet because those have stronger flavours that can overpower the chocolate in the brownie.

PS: Educating our customers about the benefits of using millets and whole grains in baking is a big part of what we do at The Cinnamon Kitchen. We use social media, especially Instagram, to share tips and information on how these ingredients are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, which boost digestion and energy levels. Our posts, stories and videos break it down, making it easy to understand. Plus, during our workshops, we dive deep into how to incorporate these ingredients into everyday baking with live demos and explanations.

How do you see this trend for healthy-desserts evolving in the future?

NJ: Looking ahead, I see a strong evolution in the trend for healthy desserts. With the widespread availability of information on social media, more people are shifting towards better-for-you options. Recipe development has also improved significantly; what used to be bland gluten-free desserts before, now rival traditional treats in taste and texture. My gluten-free macarons, tarts, cheesecakes and brownies are top sellers, with many customers not even realizing they're gluten-free. Desserts are unique because they're a choice, not a necessity, making them a perfect starting point for embracing a healthier lifestyle.

PS: The trend for healthy desserts is likely to continue evolving, driven by increasing consumer awareness and demand for nutritious, clean-label products. As more people become conscious of the impact of their dietary choices on their health and well-being, the market for healthy desserts will expand. Innovations in food technology and ingredient sourcing will play a significant role, enabling the creation of even more diverse and appealing healthy dessert options. In the future, we can expect a greater emphasis on transparency, with consumers seeking products that clearly state their health benefits and ingredient sources. Additionally, there may be a rise in personalized nutrition, where desserts are tailored to individual dietary needs and preferences.

What’s the craziest ingredient you've successfully snuck into a dessert that no one would believe?

NJ: I want to say tofu. While it's not the craziest ingredient in general, it is unusual to make a cheesecake with tofu that's high in protein and carbs and contains no gluten. Yet, the majority of our customers, who were not vegan or lactose intolerant, loved our cheesecake and had no idea it was made with tofu. I could literally eat the cheesecake as a whole meal and get over 45 grams of protein.

PS: There was a period in my life when I became absolutely obsessed with miso. I was putting it in everything I made—miso crackers, trail mixes, soups. Then I had a brilliant idea: if miso adds such umami flavour to everything, what if I paired it with chocolate? Miso, a fermented soybean paste, is extremely savoury, so pairing it with a sweet dessert seemed almost counterintuitive. However, I was excited about the challenge and had a vision for the end result. I ended up making miso chocolate chip cookies filled with chewy bits and a touch of sea salt and the result was absolutely gorgeous. Safe to say, I ate a lot of miso cookies during that period.

If you could turn any guilty pleasure snack into a healthy treat, what would it be?

NJ: I’m a huge sucker for ice cream and cookies. I make an ice cream in the summer as a post-workout meal by blending 2-3 cups of frozen berries, one scoop of plant protein powder and a whole block of silken tofu. You can add a splash of maple syrup or stevia if you want it sweeter. This can be an entire high-protein, antioxidant-rich meal with over 60 grams of protein, with no carbs and fats. It’s the perfect post-workout meal or treat that tastes like creamy gelato or ice cream. I’ve also made a keto chocolate chip cookie that tastes just like the real deal, made with almond flour and coconut. These two are my holy grail guilty pleasures turned into healthy treats. I wish I could make macarons a healthier dessert, but because texture is a crucial factor with macarons, I continue resorting to the traditional recipe, which makes use of sugar. This is an indulgence I allow myself to have because macarons are such a weakness.

PS: If I could turn any guilty-pleasure snack into a healthy treat, it would be the classic chocolate chip cookie. By substituting traditional ingredients with healthier alternatives such as almond flour, coconut sugar and vegan dark chocolate chunks made from high-quality cocoa, we could create a version that retains the beloved taste and texture while offering nutritional benefits. And at The Cinnamon Kitchen, we've already made them a reality.

Have you ever had a baking experiment go hilariously wrong? What happened?

NJ: My initial experiments were some of the worst-tasting products I’ve ever had. My dad, very sweetly, would try all the desserts and give me genuine, honest feedback. For his birthday, I made a lemon cake that was as hard as a rock and tasted nothing like lemon or cake, but he still ate a slice, analysed it and gave me feedback. Today, that same lemon cake recipe is one of my best-selling workshops on my online school and a widely celebrated recipe too.

PS: The first cake I ever baked was in high school for my first boyfriend. It was my first time baking, and I carefully followed the recipe, mixing the dry ingredients with the wet. However, I didn’t understand the difference between an oven and a microwave back then, so I microwaved the cake for 60 minutes. And, obviously, it came out rock hard. Although it was a funny experience, it made me realise that I enjoyed the process despite the unusual outcome. That's how I got into baking.

As more consumers seek out healthier options, how do you plan to innovate and stay ahead of the curve?

NJ: One of my greatest strengths and reasons for continuous growth in my patisserie and pastry school is my penchant for innovation. I’ve been a self-taught pastry chef and throughout my career I’ve relied solely on my intuition and R&D. Being gluten and dairy intolerant, and having a plant-based pastry school, pushes me to continuously innovate. My students give me incredible ideas of what they would like to learn, which encourages me to experiment and come up with fun and innovative ways to incorporate millets, nuts, vegetables and other non-conventional baking ingredients into recipes.

PS: To stay ahead of the curve as more consumers seek healthier options, we plan to continue innovating by staying attuned to emerging health trends and advancements in food science. We will focus on developing new recipes that incorporate superfoods, adaptogens (plants or ingredients that help regulate stress), and other nutritionally dense ingredients. Additionally, we plan to expand our product line to cater to a variety of dietary needs. Investing in research and development, collaborating with nutritionists, and seeking feedback from our customers will be crucial to ensuring we remain at the forefront of the healthy dessert market. Moreover, we aim to enhance our sustainability practices and transparency, offering products that promote health and support environmental well-being.

Natasha Kittur

Natasha Kittur

Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.

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