Mid-Autumn Festival. 中秋节. The 15th day of the eighth lunar month (24th September this year). It’s that time of the year again where we indulge in mooncakes. And these days, we’re spoilt for choice. Mooncakes have never quite been considered “healthy”. However, this trend seems to be changing. More restaurants and hotels are offering healthier options, not just in terms of using less sugar, but including a range of ingredients that are considered wholesome and beneficial.
But when it comes to health, we should not just be focusing on the way a mooncake is made or its ingredients. The entire process of enjoying a mooncake can in itself be healthy. This Mid-Autumn, we present a two part special that gives you the lowdown on how you can enjoy these delights without busting your diet and compromising a healthy lifestyle. We then scour Singapore for some of the healthier mooncakes for you to try this season.
Know your Mooncake
Traditional Baked Mooncakes
Traditional mooncakes are baked with fillings such as lotus seed paste, sweet red bean paste, white lotus paste or mixed nuts. The paste varieties usually contain one, two or four salted duck egg yolks. The crust is made using a combination of thick sugar syrup, lye water, flour, and oil or lard. The additional yolks are higher in fat and cholesterol than those without.
The snowskin variety is not baked, just set and chilled, and traditionally served cold. It has a soft and chewy texture made with cooked glutinous rice flour, icing sugar, shortening and food colouring. The lotus paste filling is normally infused with a range of flavours, from fruits to tea to alcohol, to give these a more contemporary feel.
Flaky Crust Mooncakes
The flaky crust mooncakes are Teochew in origin, made by rolling alternate layers of oily dough and flour that have been stir-fried or deep-fried in oil. It typically comes with a yam paste filling. This mooncake tends to contain significantly more fat than the other two.
It doesn’t take a lot to figure out that the flaky mooncakes are the least healthy (even if some of them are divine). Your first instinct might be to head out to buy a few boxes of the snowskin ones. True, given that they are not baked and use rice flour, a healthier, gluten-free alternative to regular plain flour, but these deceptive gems can contain high amounts of icing sugar in the skin. While the addition of fruits may increase their fibre content, it can also elevate sugar levels.
Tip 1: The Secret of the Skin
Here’s a useful tip: the softer, smoother and shinier the mooncake texture, the more sugar and fat it contains. Limit your intake of the flaky types and those with yolks. Try eating a small portion instead of a whole one.
Tip 2: Focus on Ingredients
With most foods, ingredients are listed from the highest percentage to lowest, so have a good read of the labels. Opt for low or no-sugar mooncakes, and those without salted yolks and lard to lessen calorie and sodium intake. Mooncakes enriched with wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, fruits and tea, which increase their nutritional content, are also better alternatives. Watch out for artificial colourings and flavourings though; you don’t want to introduce more junk into your body.
TIP 3: Check the Shelf Life
The longer the shelf life of a mooncake, the higher the amount of vegetable shortening, which contains trans fats that escalate blood levels of “bad” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.
TIP 4: Mind the Sugar
As mentioned, low-sugar and sugar-free mooncakes are better options. Some use natural sweetening agents like isomalt or Stevia – which results in a lower sugar content and a healthier treat. Aside from focusing on just low/no sugar, choose other types of sugar that are more nutritious than refined white sugar, such as coconut or palm sugar, fruit juices, honey or molasses. Fair warning, though healthier than refined sugar, sugar alternatives are still worse than no sugar at all.
Tip 5: Portion Control
A typical full-sized mooncake (i.e. 10 cm in diameter) contains between 700 to 1,000 calories. Limit your mooncake intake to 100 calories, which is roughly one-eighth of an average mooncake. When it comes to mooncakes, caring is sharing. Divide the cake into smaller pieces and share with family and friends in order to prevent excessive intake of calories, fat and sugar.
Tip 6: Variety is Key
Make smarter choices when buying mooncakes i.e. mixing and matching is the way to go. Get a box that has traditional baked, snowskin and even flaky mooncakes, with and without yolks, with a mix of ingredients. You’ll get variety and less fat, cholesterol and sugar this way.
Tip 7: Don’t Make a Meal of It!
A mooncake is not a main course. If you’re in the habit of saving up a mooncake and having it for breakfast or lunch, or skipping out on healthy carbs to have a mooncake for dessert, our advice is STOP. Having a whole mooncake for breakfast leads to a spike of blood sugar level followed by a nasty crash during midday, leaving you feeling more tired and hankering more sugar. Mooncakes should be an accompaniment or savoured in a small bite at the end of a proper nourishing meal.
Tip 8: Drink Tea with Your Mooncake
The sweetness of mooncakes can be balanced by having a pot of strong tea. Oolong or Chinese tea might be particularly beneficial as these comprise acetic acids, a compound which can aid in digestion and prevent the accumulation of body fat.
Tip 9: Make Your Own Healthy Mooncake!
Want greater control over the ingredients that go into a mooncake? Try making your own with some of these healthier cooking cheats!
- Mix rice flour with mung bean flour when preparing the skin. Not does this give the mooncake more texture, mung beans are also high in antioxidants and minerals.
- Substitute refined white sugar for sugar alternatives such as brown sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar or honey, or forgo sugar altogether for Splenda or Stevia.
- Swap out lard and shortening for margarine or olive oil.
- Avoid artificial food colourings and use natural ingredients such as beetroot juice or green tea powder to add colour to your mooncakes.
- Instead of mixing lotus seeds or red beans with syrup or sugar for the filling, sweet potatoes, taros and yams serve as better options. These are inherently sweet and chock full of wholesome nutrients. Consider adding nuts, seeds and fruit bits to give them a real nutritional boost.
- And the best cheat…make smaller mooncakes! This means more concentrated flavour and goodness that will leave you satisfied after just one bite.
The jury is still out on whether there is a truly healthier version of these much-loved goodies. The best you can do for now is to take note of details like the sugar content, ingredients and fat content. Select mooncakes with natural ingredients that have high nutritional value and lower calories.
Still confused about what are some of the healthier mooncakes out there and where to get them? Stay tuned for the next part where we review some mooncakes on offer in Singapore to help you make an informed choice on which ones to invest your health (and calories) in!
Photo Credits: Pexels, Pixabay and Unsplash