As the October 1 Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, shoppers are seeking must-have mooncakes to round out the celebration. As dietitians sound their annual warning not to overindulge in these iconic treats, given many versions contain high levels of sugar and cholesterol, savvy suppliers have developed more healthy offerings.
Based in Guangzhou, in mainland China’s southern Guangdong province, Pure Vegan recently launched a new line of vegan mooncakes – free of butter, milk and eggs – for those who love the festive delicacy but are also health conscious, company co-founder Ran Lau says.
The gluten-free mooncakes come in four flavours: black truffle with lotus seed paste; orange peel with red bean paste; coffee with chocolate and cashews; and Yunnan roses with black berries.
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The pastry shell, or “skin”, is made of green beans and white kidney beans without any flour, Lau says.
“The skin has the texture and flavour of traditional Guangdong-styled mooncakes, but without their oil and high sugar content. It is first frozen, then roasted at low temperature. The white-sugar substitute maltitol has a gelling function which stops the mooncakes from collapsing. Unlike snowy mooncakes (which need to be refrigerated), which are not easily transported, ours can be kept at room temperature.”
The company’s employees all come from Guangdong and are familiar with southern Chinese people’s preferences, Lau says.
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“The mooncakes are made in the kitchen of a five-star hotel in Guangzhou. The flavour of orange peel with red bean paste is to cater to the taste buds of Cantonese people who love the dessert of orange peel red bean soup. The skin of the orange peel mooncake is pink, which comes from beetroot juice.”
Hong Kong-based Green Common, a retail grocery chain which promotes plant-based eating, has launched two new vegan mooncake flavours for this year: figs with pistachio and oats, and mixed nuts with blueberry and purple sweet potato. Both were chosen for their high nutritional value, says David Yeung, the chain’s founder.
“(For the first mooncake), dried figs are one of the top dried fruits, known for their high calcium content. Oats contain a high amount of fibre. Pistachios provide high-quality proteins and polyunsaturated fats. Such a combination of ingredients creates a soft, yet crunchy, texture.”
The pastry for the second low-sugar mooncake is made from sweet potatoes.
“Purple sweet potato has a rich content of super antioxidants … For this mooncake, six kinds of nuts and seeds are mixed with blueberries in the stuffing.”
Over at The Cakery, a bakery with four outlets in Hong Kong, its new collection of vegan mooncakes are packed with “superfood” ingredients, says owner Shirley Kwok.
There are four new flavours: black sesame and sweet raisins, which comes with superfood pumpkin seeds; red date and mixed nuts with dried apricots, which contains pink pitaya powder, made from a freeze-dried superfruit grown in tropical regions of South America and Southeast Asia; oolong and dried peach, with added white bean paste and coconut oil; and lemon and yuzu, which contains turmeric powder, prized for its anti-inflammatory benefits.
The mooncakes’ skin, which is mostly made from almond flour, contains superfoods including pink pitaya, matcha and pumpkin powder, says Kwok, who gave up her high-flying finance job to open the bakery chain so her two daughters could enjoy healthy pastries.
“We have offered (vegan) mooncakes since the Cakery was launched (in 2016). I hope people can enjoy the tradition but in a guilt-free way. I added the four new flavours (this year) so people have more varieties. We are definitely seeing an increase in popularity in vegan desserts.”
Foodcraft, an online organic food store with a factory in Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town neighbourhood, is offering vegan mooncakes in two flavours: matcha and chocolate. Soy milk, coconut oil and cocoa butter are used in place of eggs, milk and oil, says Foodcraft chef Shima Shimizu.
“The mooncakes have zero cholesterol. They have a cookie base with a chocolate or matcha exterior. The gluten-free cookie base is made of a mix of rice, tapioca, potato, maize and buckwheat flour. Only coconut sugar or raw cane sugar is used.”
Pure Vegan’s Lau says people are more conscious about their health in the midst of the pandemic.
“Our customers include listed companies on the mainland. The concept of healthy mooncakes is taking off in China as people are fed up with the traditional mooncakes like lotus paste ones with double egg yolks. Just eating one can make you feel very full.
“People are looking for creative food inventions. As mainlanders are willing to pay more for quality food, vegan mooncakes will surely grow more popular.”
A gift box of Pure Vegan mooncakes, with eight mooncakes in four flavours (black truffle with lotus seed paste; orange peel with red bean paste; coffee with chocolate and cashews; and Yunnan roses with black berries), sells for HK$280 (US$36) in Hong Kong vegan shops and 198 yuan (US$29) from Taobao, the mainland Chinese e-commerce site owned by Alibaba (which also owns the South China Morning Post).
A gift box with six mooncakes (half figs with pistachio and oats, half mixed nuts with blueberry and purple sweet potato) costs HK$328 in-store or HK$288 for a pre-order voucher.
A gift box of four mooncakes in four flavours (black sesame with sweet raisins; red date and mixed nuts with dried apricots; oolong and dried peach; and lemon and yuzu) costs HK$428.
Stop panic buying: healthy food to last you through a crisis
A gift box containing six chocolate-flavoured mooncakes and six matcha-flavoured ones, each with a freeze-dried raspberry at its centre, costs HK$348.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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