Guilt-free desserts

Not so naughty, but still nice – the trend to guilt-free desserts

It’s every pudding lover’s dream: a truly sumptuous dessert that won’t ruin the waistline and won’t up your odds of cardiac arrest… a growing number of chefs are not just slaving away to produce fabulous, exciting food, but are also trying make it healthy.

“Everywhere I go I think desserts are too sweet,” says Aggi Sverrisson, Icelandic chef at the Michelin-starred Texture in London. “We just don’t need to use that much sugar, we can get it from other sources. My desserts are not totally healthy. There will always be something that is not good for you, but by bringing in other ingredients, such as spices and vinegar, we can significantly reduce the sugar.”

He is one of a growing number of chefs who are not just slaving away to produce fabulous, exciting food, but are also trying make it healthy. His repertoire of sugar-slashing tricks include bigging up the spices (ginger, lemon grass and lemon verbena) and using a fruit base so the fruit’s natural sugar means you can drastically reduce the added sugar – that granulated stuff known as refined or table sugar. Vinegar is another favourite, swirled into his fruit soups (passion fruit and lemongrass, or strawberry, made with very little added sugar). “It minimises the sugar you need as it brings out the flavour. You need the best quality vinegar, however,” he says.

Healthy puds, it seems, may well be the next big foodie trend. “So many people are becoming conscious of healthy eating, they are really looking for alternatives, but there are so many that people don’t know about,” says Claire Ptak, a former pastry chef from Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, renowned for its fresh, clean Californian cuisine. Together with Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the quality fast-food chain Leon, Ptak has written a book about healthy desserts (Leon Baking and Pudding: Book Three) to help to spread the word.

Sugar, in particular, she says, is becoming less popular. A recent New York Times article branded sugar as “toxic”, linking it not just with obesity and diabetes, but with heart disease, hypertension, and – somewhat controversially – even cancer.

The problem is that a healthy sugar alternative is hard to find: most healthy-leaning chefs shun the chemical kind and turn to natural sugars found in fruit and plants, though some sugar-haters say we still need to watch how much of these we consume.

Besides, can you really sacrifice refined sugar without losing flavour? “Yes,” says Ptak……

The Independent: Read more