Sugar-free desserts that are as good as sugar

By Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Chef Yashodhan Deshmukh, who rustled up meals for top bureaucrats, rolls out protein-laden desserts that won't make you miss sugar

Chef Yashodhan Deshmukh says all dishes on the menu are below 250 calories

There was a time when chef Yashodhan Deshmukh was bordering on obesity. His weight was inching towards a century, but a health scare turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Today, the lean 34-year-old, who served as a personal secretary to former speaker Dilip Walse-Patil, is the go-to person for several actors and politicians, who want to undergo weight loss in a scientific manner.

"I spent two years researching nutritional food and natural sweeteners because I have an incorrigible sweet tooth. I wasn't ready to deprive my body of its cravings," he says. With an ammo of information that will make you swear off processed sugar, he has done what a chef knows best — opened a restaurant. Located in Vile Parle East, Sollasa — a Sanskrit word that refers to solace for distressed souls — specalises in sugar-free desserts and offers a wide-range of delicacies for diet-conscious Mumbaikars. "When we say diet, you think of boiled veggies and salads, but I say you can eat everything, provided you get the technique and ingredients right," he says.


A plate of gulab jamun has 50 calories as opposed to 170 in the original version. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

The 100-seater café, located inside Prabhodhankar Thakre Krida Sankul Sports Complex, has framed certificates of its food laboratory accreditation from National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). Having been involved in the food industry for over a decade — he was heading the menu planning for government events until 2014 — Deshmukh is well aware that health claims are frequently misused and abused. According to FDA, for food to be sugar-free, it should contain less than 0.5 gm of sugar per serving, and "no ingredient that is a sugar or generally understood to contain sugars."

"There are several loopholes and many brands are misusing it to deceive customers. Just because something is labelled 'low-fat' or 'sugar-free,' does not mean it's a healthy option. I wanted my guests to know what they are eating, by breaking it down," he says. So, for instance, if each ball of gulab jamun contains 170 calories with around 2 to 3 gm of protein, their version has 50 calories with protein pegged at 10.5 gm. "This is almost four times the protein you would get in 100 gm of gulab jamun. You can now replace your protein shakes with it," he jokes, referring to the chart pinned on the wall. Everything served at the café, including pasta, omelettes, sandwiches and pav bhaji, sans potatoes, is less than 250 calories.


Chef Yashodhan Deshmukh

All the natural sweeteners have been derived from eight different plant fibres, including cactus. The team worked on the experiment for a year to ensure the level of sweetness matches the original dessert. "I know how people wrinkle their noses when you say it's sugar-free. The usual grouse is that it's not the same. So, I had to get the taste right," he says.

We try the phirni, made with thickened milk, dried fruit and ground rice, and it's hard to tell the difference. It's only when we polish it off and go for a plate of creamy rasmalai, do we realise the lightness of the desserts. "The trick here is that the so-called sugar rush is limited as long as the food is on your tongue, because I'm fooling your brain by giving you the exact sugar-like taste. But the moment it enters your stomach, it's about absorption and nutrition," he explains.

All desserts here are diabetic-friendly and high in protein, in order to ensure that your energy levels don't dip. Interestingly, it's also the only place that offers a dessert diet, a 10-day course. By the end, we have managed to polish off a portion of rasmalai, kalakand and a bowl of phirni. "If you feel satiated and energetic without feeling heavy, I've achieved my goal," says Deskhmukh.

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