Oh for the good old times when carbohydrate was not a dirty word, when the bread basket was not perceived as an apple in the garden of Eden and cake recipes always began with flour, sugar, butter, eggs… Today’s rule is no flour and more protein, in everything – desserts included. The protein obsession is certainly no novelty, since it has been a topic of discussion since the late nineteenth century, and it could even be argued that it dates back to the Palaeolithic age. The real novelty is that Atkins or Dukan-type diets have influenced consumer purchasing patterns and have become global food trends. As well as becoming the new gourmet food model.
THE DECLINE OF BREAD
Proteins have become a positive value, synonymous with muscle mass and good physical shape whilst gluten is the arch enemy. Market research organizations forecast that gluten-free items are destined to grow between a maximum of 48% and a “more conservative” 38% by 2016. And it has nothing to do with celiac disease. In fact, according to one survey, 55% of Americans state that they are cutting down their consumption of white bread and similar products. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Low-carb and gluten-free are in fact the minimum common denominator of sweets in which 00-type flour and castor sugar have disappeared from the list of ingredients. Together with self-indulgence. The trendiest sweets today are an unleavened combination of oil and coconut flour, almonds, dates, walnuts, avocado, banana, unsweetened cocoa and oilseeds – which completely upturns the very concept of dessert to make it functional and nutritionally acceptable. The new trend from the United States is spreading to the rest of the globe with protein bakeries and paleo restaurants (we've already written about here) offering gourmet experiences which are able to unite under one roof the followers of raw, vegetarians, celiac sufferers and the health conscious - and, above all, to satisfy the omnivorous as well.
THE NEW ERA OF PROTEIN SWEETS
The first to open in New York in 1999 was a personal trainer, Stephen Charles Lincoln. In his Protein Bakery, brownies, blondies and cookies are “delectable, guilt-free bites high in dietary fibre, low in gluten, that deliver up to 5 times more protein than the average baked treats”, and can be bought just a few steps away from 5th Avenue or ordered 24/7, even by customers in the UK. Judged to be “Genuinely delicious” by Oprah in person, they emblemize today’s most sought after ingredient: a wicked treat without consequences. To prove that the phenomenon is by no means limited to the inhabitants of the Big Apple, on the other side of the planet, the nouveau riche of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai are customers of Rai Chowdhary, nutritionist and inch loss expert, with his line of low-carb and, more important still, “guilt-free” snacks.
THE DEATH OF LIGHT FOOD
Light is a nineties word, almost on a par with diet. Labels are now more likely to refer to healthy, natural foods and whoever chooses to follow a paleo or gluten-free diet embraces a whole new lifestyle (and rarely admits to doing so for weight-related reasons) . The market is so vast that functional desserts have now become a thing of large-scale retail channels, where it is possible to find a proliferation of high-protein snacks, ice-creams, desserts and yogurts which, between the lines, promise not to leave after-effects on hips and buttocks.
In London, thanks to a crowd-funding operation, celiac sufferers, vegans and paleo diet followers financed the opening of the first European paleo restaurant in 2014. In Notting Hill, Pure Taste run by chef and nutritionist Holly Redman, offers a menu that is equally rich in protein and devoid of any prohibited ingredient, from the starter to the dessert. You need a key to read the menu because a list of abbreviations accompanies the explanation of each dish: for example, the Vegan tonka bean cheesecake, chocolate & coffee (NE, V, VV, LC), means without milk, grains, refined sugar and with less than 20g of net carbs per portion. The clientele? Of all types and always crowded. In Paris, the address to head for is Pousse Pousse in the 8th arrondissement, a bar/restaurant/shop offering raw cuisine that is gluten, egg and lactose-free. You learn how a raw pizza is made and you sit down for a detox smoothie to wash down your slice of Spicy raw chocolate cake with almonds. The first raw vegan bar to open in Milan was Mantra, where the oven temperature of food designer chef Alberto Minio Paluello never exceeds 45°C, not even for the preparation of cookies, cheesecake and pumpkin pie. A whole new experience: different in consistency, hyper-nutritious yet delicious enough to make you forget your croissant. And to tempt you to a second slice.