Whether it is Western style chocolate cake, or traditional Indian desserts like jalebi, ‘yum’ is the first word that comes to mind! What then would you say to a sugar less chocolate cake? Sounds unappetising? Yet, with rising obesity and diabetes, as well as a growing interest in unconventional sweet eats, sugar free desserts are on the rise in India.
India is fast topping the global list of countries with the most obese and diabetic people in the world. With this in mind, people are also trying to take control over their lives – a growing interest in healthier food is part of that attempt. For instance, one of the most googled for diets in 2013 was the Paleo Diet, a diet that advocates eating a diet that resembles that of our Paleolithic ancestors.
As part of this rising interest in healthy foods, people are also making lifestyle changes like opting for artificial sweeteners or alternative, natural sugar substitutes like honey and fruits. These choices are being made even by people who may not be suffering from any disease, purely as a preventive measure. While artificial sweeteners can keep sugar levels in check, they also make foods more palatable for people who avoid sugar out of weight concerns or who are genetically at risk for diabetes. Another reason for people opting for sugar free desserts could be the evolution in the Indian food market owing to international shows like Top Chef or Master Chef Australia that encourage us to experiment with previously unknown or untried ingredients.
But what does the term sugar free really mean? The first and most obvious kind is the artificial sweeteners widely available in the market. In 2013, the artificial sweetener market in India was estimated at Rs.300 crore. Sweeteners are used in making sugar free beverages, desserts and other bakery products. This scenario has come a long way from 2003 since the government first allowed the use of artificial sweeteners in 25 food items.
While artificial sweeteners can help with controlling both the sugar and the overall calories in your diet, the excessive usage of artificial sweeteners is considered potentially risky.
Second, natural sweeteners like honey can be used for desserts or other purposes too; for e.g. honey can be added to lime water instead of refined sugar. The advantage of using honey is that while it is also a kind of sugar, it is a much more complex sugar, and breaks down in the blood slower, leading to lower calorie absorption. On the other hand, it is sweeter than sugar and therefore, not really a good substitute as far as diabetics are concerned.
Third, fruits can be added as a substitute for sugar, and this is probably one of the healthiest options to add to your dessert. There is a plethora of options available to use for their natural sweetness. Pumpkin and watermelon not only have ample sweetness, but also the much required vitamins. Flesh of coconut is another component, which can give the taste buds an illusion of sweetness. Cinnamon water or adding cinammon powder to food can also give a hint of sweetness. Of course, fruits like apple and pineapple are popular as ingredients in pies. While fruits contain sugars as well, the sugar in fruit comes along with a host of other goodies (minerals, vitamins, fiber) – fruits in moderate quantities are safe for diabetics too, besides being delicious for everyone!
The rise in the trend of using artificial sugar substitutes and other natural sweeteners has not left the dessert market untouched. Today, even small scale home bakers use artificial sweeteners in combination with natural sweeteners.
Deepti Chabbria Chandnani, Owner at Cocheta, a Mumbai based catering firm, has been baking for one and a half years and it has been six months since she started baking sugar free bakery products because of requests from some of her clients. She says that approximately 3 out of 10 clients today prefer sugar free products. Some of the sugar free products she offers are sugar free cookies, chocolate truffle and cranberry cream dessert jars, cakes and chocolates. She uses dates, figs, honey and artificial sweeteners too, as per the client’s needs.
While sugar free desserts are becoming popular, they are not a license for unlimited indulgence or ignoring one’s health. As Dr. Anil Ohri, Professor, Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC), Shimla, says, “Sugar free products or desserts do not mean that the medication and regular check-ups are to be missed. Diabetes and obesity are lifestyle diseases, which if left unchecked, despite a sugar free diet, can lead to serious complications in the future.”
While most of us can never entirely get over a sweet tooth (and don’t want to!), alternatives to sugar can be incorporated into our daily lives with a little bit of creativity.
Here are some interesting recipes I found to share. These recipes are pretty easy to make, and the ingredients used all easy to access for most of us. Happy Experimenting!
Sugar Free Date Rolls, By Tarla Dalal
Dates are one of the most underestimated fruits, but are also nutritious and natural sweeteners. These date rolls are not only innovative, but are also easy to make. All the ingredients they use are easily available. However, it comes with one red flag – though healthy, it can be heavy if you eat too much at one go. So, indulge, but cautiously.
Sugar free Chocolate Cake, By Sanjeev Kapoor
A basic, sugar free chocolate cake recipe is a must for every kitchen, isn’t it, especially when it comes from one of the most famous kitchens of India? It uses nuts and artificial sweetener as a substitute for sugar.
Instant Coconut Laddoo
Coconut is such a widely used item in Indian households and especially during the festival season, as it holds a religious significance as well. This recipe uses coconut, which also has a natural sweetness to it.
Whole Baked Cinnamon-Cardamom Apples
Apples are already in season; what better way to utilize these than transforming them into a dessert! This recipe also uses cinnamon, which can easily trick the taste buds into believing in the presence of sugar.
Raspberry tarts pic via Shutterstock