2020 may have been a year of plenty of terrible things, but among the few things that actually improved were an appreciation of climate change as skies cleared and whales returned as our constant commerce and globetrotting momentarily ceased. Another thing was the realisation of all the changes in our bodies caused by all the junk food we have been putting in, whether a bag of chips during a commute or a hasty, oil-slicked lunch during work breaks.
If it was the year of sourdough, it was also the year of cooking more at home, and cooking healthier. It was learning to qualify our calories and not just quantify them, and now as the virus wanes yet again, more of the vaccinated step out to dine in at restaurants while others continue to order in from cloud kitchens, that newly learned knowledge is coming to good use, as diners increasingly turn to healthier, more climate-conscious eating habits.
“Veganism or a plant based diet/lifestyle is gaining momentum the world over as it’s better for the health of our planet and is more sustainable. This pandemic has proven that we, as a race, need to make a shift in the way and rate at which we are using/abusing the natural resources, otherwise it’s not just more pandemics but other natural calamities may be waiting for us in the near future,” reflects Dietician and Nutritionist Kanupriya Khanna, who also runs Karamele, a healthy, bakery-alternative.
“It is the need of the hour to not only stay fit and healthy, but also heal our planet. Adopting a plant-based diet reduces the incidence of lifestyle diseases and individual carbon foot prints. It’s a clear win-win,” adds Khanna.
Indeed, bakery brands and home bakers in particular are going increasingly vegan with their wares. Readers of this page are all too familiar with what restaurants across the Capital and beyond have been doing with their menus, from concentrating on plant protein-alternatives to infusions of immunity-boosting herbs in everything from aperitifs to appetisers, and all in between; but now your favourite baker also probably has alternatives to your favourite guilty pleasure.
“It’s a myth that one cannot get all their favourite dishes with healthy ingredients. Thanks to growing awareness among our audience, people are ready to try healthy ingredients to make their favourite food. It’s an era where people understand the importance of alternative flours as well, and the best part is that these make zero difference to baked goods,” points out Gunjan Batra of Comfort Bakehouse, who like Khanna and her other compatriots, uses alternatives to everything from the flours to the sweeteners and eschew chemicals and other preservatives as much as possible.
“The flours (quinoa, sorghum and oats) that we use instead of maida are not only more nutritious, but also add variety to the daily flours used in Indian households. The organic jaggery provides sweetness and minerals, while refined sugar has no health benefits at all. To be heart-friendly, we use rice bran, canola or olive oil instead of traditional butter. And lastly, normal milk is replaced with either almond milk or coconut milk both of which are lighter and healthier,” explains Khanna.
And it’s not just the breads and cakes. “Even while indulging in dessert that are traditionally considered sinful, some people look for vegan alternatives. At L’Opéra, we have a range of vegan products that consist of macaroons, tarts in chocolate and almond flavours, and two kinds of vegan verrines, all priced around Rs 250 to 300. Apart from these, we recently developed a sugar-free pastry,” says Pragati Mitta, Chef at L’Opéra.
And it’s not just restaurants or bakery deliveries. From our ice-cream and chocolate to our namkeen and meal mixes: everything has a healthy alternative, something which had been slowly been happening anyway, but is now witnessing explosive growth. But that doesn’t mean everyone is going all healthy, all the time. Restaurateurs are noticing that while the new, more nutrition-oriented dishes are doing well, there has not been too much of a drop in sales of all things greasy.
“We have about 20 per cent healthy items (like salads and lighter non-fried foods) and 80 per cent indulgence food, like say our Lasagne or our Juicy Lucy Burger, and both perform well,” says Vikrant Batra of Café Delhi Heights, referring to his restaurant chain’s all time bestselling burger behemoth. “So earlier if you were eating out twice or thrice a week, as many people did before the pandemic, and now you are only eating out once a week, you are going to be coming back for that Juicy Lucy burger; because you have eaten healthy and at home for the rest of the week, so when you go out, you are going indulge.”
As Mittal concludes, “Notwithstanding the trend towards ‘healthier’ products, the top selling items at L’Opéra remain classics such as the famous Opéra cake, the Royal Chocolate, the legendary Lemon Tart, and the range of Eclairs, particularly the coffee, chocolate and salty caramel flavours. In France, the patrons have found the way to healthier consumption of pastries, not by entirely abandoning their favourite products but by modulating the portion sizes and the frequency of their consumption.”