By Adam and Larry Mogelonsky
Whereas fat was the scourge of dieting in decades past, today’s nutritional plans and trends such as keto or paleo espouse low-carb and low-sugar regimens as the foremost method for weight loss and maintaining insulin sensitivity. In particular, refined or added sugar has been singled out as the one food to eliminate to achieve a wide array of health benefits.
Adding to this is the science around circadian-based eating, wherein consuming sugar at night compounds the ill effects of a sugar rush on the body by potentially disrupting sleep. Fashionable dietary systems such as intermittent fasting or mantras such as ‘don’t eat within three hours of going to sleep’ reinforce the awareness for the health benefits of not consuming dessert or curbing evening sugar intake.
All this leaves restaurants and hotels in a predicament. If these trends continue, the entire dessert course may be on the chopping block, along with a good portion of the digestif or post-meal alcohol sales. Psychologically speaking, meal satisfaction is largely a product of the time spent at a table; any reduction here due to the modern customer’s distaste for dessert may impact how an overnight guest eating in-house perceives their overall hotel stay.
Ultimately, this is a challenge to be treated like any other, and hotels will persevere by adapting just as they’ve done countless times before. Undoubtedly the low-sugar trend is already on the minds of every pastry chef. What we can offer is a simple framework or operating territory for healthier indulgences that are lower in sugar through which to focus the team’s attention. Just as artists of previous eras often produced their most seminal work when commissioned by a patron with a very specific agenda, by limiting your chefs’ field of view onto just a handful of ingredients, they will deliver masterful results.
The five dessert components that we’ve singled out based on our own nutritional and wellness research are fruit, nuts, honey, dark chocolate and cheese. The first and third may at first glance contradict our low-sugar creative brief, so best to read on.
In describing what you can do with each of these, one other characteristic of note with the low-sugar craze is that it overlaps with a steady increase of customer knowledge and curiosity around specific compounds within certain foods. As an example of this progression, recall the word ‘anthocyanin’ which is now commonly known to denote a prominent class of antioxidants found primarily in dark berries (and promoted as such), yet this level of awareness was hardly the case a mere five years ago.
Therefore, it’s our belief that alongside your restaurant’s adaptation to healthier times comes an opportunity for enhancing the meal experience through customer education about why you selected a given ingredient. On this front, we will throw in a few pointers to show you just how far down the wellness rabbit hole you can go.
Fruit: Otherwise known as nature’s candy, numerous restaurants already do brisk business off of simple sliced varieties artfully arranged for a dessert platter. Importantly for intact fruit, their insulin-spiking effects are buffered by the presence of fibre, water, polyphenols and flavonoids.
One way to get creative here is to opt for sourcing more exotic, regional or seasonal species — ones that guests may see in the grocery store but are too intimidated to sample or learn how to prepare. This hints at culinary classes, giving guests expertise that they can bring home with them. Another way to proceed is by focusing on those fruits lowest on the glycemic index, advertising it as a slow carb alternative.
Finally, one matter to note is that any form of mechanical processing, such as blending into a smoothie or purée, dislodges the fruit’s sugars from its fibres and antioxidants, spiking blood sugar levels faster as a result. As a sciency aside, this processing can also increase food waste by releasing the fruit’s own polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme in bananas, apples, avocados and others that causes quick browning and spoilage upon contact with air.
Nuts: As the natural yang to fruit’s yin, this sweet and savory combination stands the test of time, albeit nowadays with far more substitutions for those with allergies. Besides scavenging for rare breeds from across the globe or making your own house-made nut-butter blends, the one term we will add to this conversation is sprouting. That is, nuts being the seeds of a tree often contain mildly toxic molecules on their coatings such as phytic acid and tannins in order to ward away would-be predators. Soaking nuts for a full day then dehydrating them helps to remove most of these. And while this extra step is laborious, adding the term ‘sprouted’ on the menu will command guest’s attention and justify the surcharge.
Honey: The fruit of the bees comes in near-endless varieties based upon whatever flowers the insects happen to be pollinating. Tastings are thus the name of the game, where the emphasis is not on delivering a large serving of each type but on the more experiential aspects — pairings, presentation and some sage tableside guidance from the server.
While honey may appear to violate the low-sugar rule, in its raw, unadulterated (and non-counterfeit) form it is the exception due to its high minerality, anti-microbial contents and diverse array of modulating types of sugar such as trehalose.
Chocolate: To curb insulin spikes, dietitians might recommend sticking with 85 per cent cacao or above, but this is perhaps a bit too prescriptive; lowering the cutoff to 70 per cent dark chocolate will allow your team to introduce more flavours, especially from the aforementioned fruits and nuts. This also hints as chocolate tastings, while much more can be said about dark chocolate and wine pairings. And lest we forget that chocolate fondue is always incredible.
As another sciency aside, cacao has more recently come under fire for its heavy metal content, but this too can be solved by adding a pinch of chelating agent such as activated charcoal or food ash (which can be made from parts of plant ingredients that would normally go to waste) to bind up those harmful atoms and prevent their absorption into the bloodstream.
Cheese: Many of us forget that dessert need not be sweet. Anyone who has experienced real French cuisine knows the unbridled bliss of the post-entrée cheese course. Bringing it all together, a cheeseboard with fruits, nuts or honey as accoutrements may typically appear on the appetizer end of the menu, but a curated selection of cheeses for desserts can be a great upsell when given the right marketing panache.
As our final sciency aside, while blue cheeses are often detested for their stinky qualities, certain compounds made by the mould used to turn the dairy that colour are now being studied for eliciting more vivid dreams when consumed closer to bedtime.
Bon appetit et fais de beaux rêves!