If it tastes good, it must be bad for you,” is one mantra often ignored on the back burner when Filipinos stuff themselves.
In a culture where more is more (think jeepney art), our food has been known to be too sweet, too fat and too salty. In fact, “pile it on” has become a recent theme in cakes, ice cream and pastries, with nuts, choco chips, mallows, candy sprinkles, cereals, queso de bola, gummy bears, and everything else (except the kitchen sink) thrown in as toppings.
Sure, you can use coco sugar, yam and bran to make pastries healthier, but it’s not always Lent, and who needs to be so austere when you’re celebrating?
“But healthy can definitely be tasty,” protests young baker Stephanie Puno whose “healthy cupcakes,” certainly sounds like an oxymoron to most people.
“People have this notion that eating healthy food will somehow deprive them of the joy of eating, but nothing can be further from the truth,” says this graduate of the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York. “The right use of spices and seasonings, and the combination of flavors always adds character and depth to any dish, making it more appealing.”
Licensed nutritionist-dietitian Cristy Marasigan, who also loves to bake, shares the same viewpoint. “Probably the word is not ‘healthy,’ but ‘healthier.’ Yes, it’s possible to make pastries and baked goodies healthier, depending on the ingredients used. For instance, using whole wheat flour and modifying the oils and sugar (in the recipe) can make a difference. Shortening or lard and butter are high in saturated fats, while sugar—even artificial sweeteners—are not really healthy.”
What she does, says this Nutrition Director of Gold’s Gym, is to use healthier alternatives, like natural fruit sugars. “Bananas and apples are naturally sweet and make the dough softer so it’s a better choice instead of sugar.” Then you can add nuts for additional fiber, which can also improve the taste and texture of your baked goodies, says Marasigan.
As if taste and improved nutrition weren’t incentive enough to go wholesome, Puno adds another gem, a little-known diet secret: “The more you make healthier choices, the less your body will crave the unhealthy stuff.”
It’s the principle that fuels her home-based business, says Puno whose online bakeshop is aptly called Silly Goose.
She explains: “Silly Goose is a term of endearment used for someone who did something to make you smile or laugh. It’s something I picked up when I was living in New York. It refers to someone quirky, happy and a little weird—someone who thinks up out-of-this-world ideas to delight and surprise.”
It was, she thought, the perfect name for her goodies “because the products, flavor profiles, ingredients and slew of gustatory delights are meant to delight, surprise, and make people feel good.”
The goodies have apparently lived up to the name, as the Silly Goose kitchen has been humming with orders for its cupcakes, pies, cookies and cakes that, Puno says, would soon include a line of dairy-free goodies. Her bestsellers so far are the Salted Caramel and Lemon Chia cupcakes, which reflect the Filipinos’ continuing love affair with these bite-sized treats.
Says Puno: “Cupcakes have been around for a couple of years and they are here to stay. I guess their size enables people to try a variety of flavors and have a little taste of everything. There are even assorted mini cupcakes in bazaars and malls. From a health perspective, the size is aligned with the wellness concept of portion control. It helps that they’re also cute and very versatile!”
In this very visual age, the cute factor definitely counts, she says, adding that her Appie Pie Pops have also proven to be big sellers because of the novelty. “People are intrigued by the experience of eating what is essentially a ‘pie lollipop.’”
Puno, who calls herself a “late bloomer” in the culinary field, graduated with a Psychology degree from the Ateneo and worked for a bank for five years. “I eventually left when I realized that I wanted to be in an industry that combines my love for baking and cooking with my fascination for health and wellness.”
She has always been interested in the effects of food on our bodies, she adds. “I practice yoga, I meditate, I read and I study a lot of things related to the use of food as medicine. The culinary program I took in New York touched on these things.
Spending time there also enabled me to be exposed to different chefs who advocated a more health-supportive style of cooking.”
The exposure, experience and fascination with the healing aspects of food, she says, have made her more conscious about picking the right quality ingredients and integrating balance in her cooking without neglecting taste, probably the single biggest factor that can convert people to switch to healthier food.
“I do a lot of recipe and taste testing,” says Puno. “My travels, my love for science, my natural curiosity and inclination to experiment have influenced the unique flavors of my offerings—delightful goodies with a touch of what’s better for you and sprinkled with a little silliness.”
Family is another ingredient behind her pastries, she adds, since the Punos are from Pampanga, a province known for its gustatory delights. “My grandmother, who has since passed away, never failed to delight us with her sweet and savory fares.”
And then there’s her ex-boyfriend’s family who has a history of heart disease. “He wanted to fight the onset of this disease through good nutrition so he asked me to help him change his diet. Through lots of research and reading, I discovered a wealth of information about the effects of food on our bodies and was prompted to explore more. This led me to the Natural Gourmet Institute, a one of its kind culinary institute.
“With the school’s program I learned about nutrition, how food behaves in our bodies, how disease manifests itself depending on the state of our nutrition. I learned about healthful alternatives to traditional ingredients, which I now incorporate in my products. Oh, my boyfriend and I eventually parted ways but I’m glad I found my calling.”
She also found out that Filipinos, though perceived to have a sweet tooth, are now open to different tastes and flavor profiles. “People here are becoming more aware of what they are consuming and are making active choices about the food they eat. It’s quite an exciting time for food in Manila right now. There are so many choices!”
Still, she acknowledges that one has to exercise caution in claiming food products as healthy. “The effect of food on one’s health will depend on so many factors such as balance, portion size, etc.,” says Puno.
While the food scene can be volatile, the 33-year-old health buff ventures an educated guess on what the next food trend will be: “Cupcakes, cakes and pies are likely here to stay but more than the form, I think the choice of ingredients will continue to play a huge part in the food scene. People will continue to care about what goes into their food. The push towards local, sustainable and organic, and specific product lines such as gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, will continue to be in vogue.” •
Visit www.thesillygoosegourmet.com for more info and product shots.