Culinary Creativity with Produce in Desserts

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuI was interviewed recently for an article on opportunities to use more fruits and vegetables in desserts at restaurants‭. ‬Using more fruit is easy‭. Using more vegetables is easier said than done‭.‬

First‭, ‬we have to examine our expectations for desserts‭. ‬Desserts are typically sweet‭. ‬Using fragrant‭, ‬ripe fruit in desserts meets the belief that desserts must be sweet‭. ‬Using vegetables takes a bit more skill and finesse to develop a dessert that delivers on expectations of sweetness‭, ‬texture and appearance‭.‬

National dietary intake data from the‭ ‬“What We Eat in America”‭ ‬survey shows grain-based desserts account for a larger proportion of daily calories than any other food group for people‭, ‬age 2‭ ‬and older‭. ‬So even though diners may say no to dessert in restaurants‭, ‬many enjoy cakes‭, ‬cookies‭, ‬cobblers‭, ‬sweet rolls‭, ‬pastries‭, ‬donuts and other baked goods on a frequent basis‭. ‬There are many opportunities to improve the nutrient profile of these foods‭.‬

But improving the nutrient content doesn’t always drive demand‭. (‬Are you laughing at the irony of that statement‭?) ‬Are there ways pastry chefs can incorporate vegetables‭ ‬into the grain-based desserts we love that will make us love them even more‭?

There are already many classic desserts that feature vegetables‭, ‬including pumpkin pie‭, ‬sweet potato pie‭, ‬sweet corn cake‭, ‬rhubarb pie and carrot cake‭. ‬What about using beets to color red velvet cake‭? With demands for clean labels‭, ‬using a natural ingredient like beets to color cake instead of artificial colors is a good decision‭. ‬This idea isn’t that new‭. ‬General Mills uses beet extract to color some of the new Trix cereal with no artificial colors or flavors‭. ‬If it works in a sweet cereal‭, ‬it can work in a dessert‭.‬

General Mills uses beet extract to color some of the new Trix cereal with no artificial colors or flavors. If it works in a sweet cereal, it can work in a dessert.

Another trend no one can escape during the fall months is pumpkin-flavored everything‭. ‬From lattes and doughnuts to cream cheese‭ ‬and crackers‭, ‬pumpkin flavor appears in hundreds of new products at retail every fall‭. ‬But many ask where’s the pumpkin‭? ‬Instead of using pumpkin flavor or the sweet spices associated with pumpkin flavor to trick the brain into thinking‭ ‬“Gee‭, ‬this tastes like pumpkin‭,‬”‭ ‬product developers and pastry chefs can use more pumpkin‭, ‬squash or sweet potatoes in desserts like ice cream‭, ‬cake‭, ‬panna cotta or crème‭ ‬brûlée‭.‬

Carrots are another vegetable that can stand in for pumpkin in many recipes‭, ‬especially if ginger is used as a spice or fresh ingredient‭. ‬Imagine a ginger-spiced carrot pudding with ginger snaps for dipping‭.

If we shift our thinking from culinary use to botanical classifications‭, ‬we can see items like cucumbers can be used in place of‭ ‬their melon cousins‭. ‬On a hot summer day‭, ‬a cucumber mint sorbet is a refreshing and approachable lighter finish to a meal‭.‬

One issue every pastry chef in America will need to pay attention to in the coming year is added sugar‭. ‬Sugar is the new fat in‭ ‬terms of consumer sentiment‭. ‬Right now‭, ‬dietary surveys show Americans consume 13‭ ‬to 16‭ ‬percent of calories from added sugar‭. ‬The‭ ‬2015-2020‭ ‬Dietary Guidelines‭ ‬for Americans recommend getting no more than 10‭ ‬percent of calories from added sugar‭. ‬The nutrition and public health community‭ ‬is looking for ways to reduce added sugars while ‬promoting the enjoyment of our food‭.‬

Awareness of added sugar will be fueled by the new Nutrition Facts panels we’ll be seeing on retail products‭. ‬The new panel includes a line for added sugar‭. ‬The old panels include total sugars‭, ‬which includes both naturally occurring and added sugars in products‭.‬

Per the Food and Drug Administration‭, ‬added sugars include brown sugar‭, ‬cane syrup‭, ‬coconut sugar‭, ‬corn sweetener‭, ‬corn syrup‭, ‬dextrose‭, ‬fructose‭, ‬fruit juice concentrates‭, ‬glucose‭, ‬high-fructose corn syrup‭, ‬honey‭, ‬invert sugar‭, ‬lactose‭, ‬maltose‭, ‬malt sugar‭, ‬molasses‭, ‬raw sugar‭, ‬turbinado sugar‭, ‬trehalose‭, ‬and sucrose or table sugar‭.‬

A pastry chef who is thinking about ways to reduce added sugars in desserts may want to consider the sweetening power of ripe fruit‭, ‬as well as roasted vegetables like roasted sweet potatoes or carrots‭.‬

So‭, ‬can we put more produce in desserts‭? ‬Yes‭. ‬But like every product and menu R&D challenge‭, ‬it takes some creativity along with‭ ‬strategy to get the flavor‭, ‬appearance‭, ‬texture‭, ‬price point and descriptive language just right‭. ‬I’m up for the challenge‭. ‬Are you‭?‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North
Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. Learn more about her business at Follow her insights on food and flavor issues on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller.