On my first day at pastry school in France each of us was asked what we hope to achieve from doing this course. We were a batch of eleven people, from ten different countries. Some wanted to continue working in specialized fields and the rest wanted to set up patisseries of their own. Only two of us, a girl from Switzerland and I, wanted to merge health with pastry. Of all our goals, I think ours has been the hardest to actualise, for reasons that have nothing to do with skill.
Creating healthy pastries or as I like to call them specialty goods, is a bit of trick and selling them is even harder. Most of what I learnt was already low on sugar, flour and fat. We were taught to use good quality chocolate, substitute sugar with fresh fruit and use different techniques to ensure taste is not compromised while creating a healthier end product. However, I soon realized that most people don’t want low sugar or low fat, they want everything they perceive to be bad to be completely eliminated. This is where the problem begins.
Specialty goods like gluten free bread or sugar free chocolate cake are never as healthy as people perceive them to be. Gluten is a naturally present protein that gives wheat products it’s structure and flavor. Removing it from bread adds no additional health benefit if you are not allergic to it. Sugar is present in almost everything we eat. Found naturally in fruits and vegetables, it’s added in large quantities to packaged foods like sauces, soups, cold cuts and even baby food. Moreover, sugar substitutes like sorbitol, which is used quite commonly in cakes, has the same calorific value as table sugar.
What makes us sick isn’t always what’s in plain sight. We often tend to mistake the lack of something, like in the case of gluten or sugar, to mean the product is healthier. What we forget to check for is what is being substituted for gluten or sugar. Preservatives, additives and stabilizers do more harm to us than we are aware of. These chemicals are not always mentioned on ingredient labels, especially in the case of baked products. By eliminating processed sugar and refined flour, and substituting it with chemicals to ensure similar taste we end up consuming a product that is actually worse for health.
As a manufacturer breads and pastries, I have both a regular and specialty product line. I consider both to be equally healthy, just catering to different dietary requirements. Gluten free options are great for those with celiac disease and a sugar free cake is a good alternative to no cake for a diabetic. However, It’s important to understand that healthy products are first and foremost those that are made with good quality ingredients, in hygienic conditions and preferably without any artificial flavors or chemicals.