‘Bowl’ed Over

When it comes to healthy food trends, few have come close to the supremacy of the smoothie —a trend from the 1930s that made its dining debut with the blender-like smoothie in a bowl. While the 2000s’ Acai Bowl-inspired fad might have seemed incongruous to many, it did rule the healthy eating roost for more than a decade, and for good reason. It looked fantastic, was infinitely more versatile than its in-glass cousins and had this amazing satiating quality that comes from the chewing of food rather than just sipping or gulping it down.

Sattu smoothie
Smoothie in a bowl also threw the spotlight onto traditional Indian breakfasts which are designed similarly. Such as chattua (pictured) from Odisha, which is a roasted gram flour porridge with dry fruits on top.

For the rest of the world, it was a trend that allowed by immense creativity as people – both chefs, diners, and wellness influencers – went about creating their very own picture-perfect (and taste perfect) bowls. For over a decade, smoothie in a bowl remained a poster child of healthy, clean eating. The stripes were well earned as smoothie in bowl, says Chef Neeraj Rawoot (Executive Chef, Sofitel BKC Mumbai) allowed the chance of better fortification. One could add nuts, raw vegetables, fruits in their natural state. In addition, the smoothie in the bowl was often thicker and grainier, which made it a better bet not just at taste and texture, but also at satiating, as one had to chew rather than simply glug it down.

Then in 2014, the bowl began losing its sheen as experts began questioning the efficacy of the trend that was now seen more as a marketing gimmick rather than a healthy habit. What spiralled down for the otherwise interesting eating trend, says consultant nutritionist Niti Desai, “was the composition. Unlike the glass that can often help you portion with ease, smoothie in a bowl fell victim to excess. One would simply go on piling without realising the copious amounts of calories that each layer added, not to mention sugar. Naturally, by the time an eye-worthy bowl was ready, calorie-wise, it could be equivalent to a box of sugary donuts without the essential balance of nutrients, especially fibre and protein. Two essential components that get wasted if the ingredient is turned into puree or even pulverised to change the natural consistency.”

Fascinatingly, for India, while the trend never attained the high it did elsewhere, smoothie in a bowl’s second coming, says legacy blogger Alka Jena (CulinaryXpress), “did throw the spotlight back onto some of our traditional breakfasts that were designed on similar lines: Be it the chhatua in Odisha, which is like a porridge topped with seasonal fruit; or the flattened rice and milk breakfast in Assam that gets its sweetness from honey or the dalia breakfast that is often served garnished with handful of ghee-roasted nuts.” These bowls, continues Jena, “are not just based on the nutritional requirement of a person based on the location, but also are low glycemic in nature and hence can keep one satiated through the day.”

Most chefs concur that the beauty of the smoothie in a bowl concept is its versatility. It isn’t limited to any one format and can even give traditional foods a new twist.

Concurs Chef Mandar Madav (Executive Chef, Conrad Centennial Singapore) who finds the very idea of smoothie in a bowl one of the fascinating ways to keep one satiated and energised, especially during summers.

“The beauty of the bowl concept”, explains Chef Mandar, “is that it isn’t limited to any one kind of format and can include as many as one desires, including giving traditional foods such as dahi-chivda a new twist by adding a layer or two of nuts and fruits to make it a filling meal. In fact, it is this minimalist cooking required aspect that makes it one of the popular eating routines to follow during summers when the palate wants lighter, citrusy and soupy food rather than a balanced thali.”

A fact that Chef Pawan Bisht (Corporate Chef, One8Commune) endorses fully, and has dedicated part of his menu to the versatility of smoothie in a bowl, albeit with a twist. “Our smoothie in a bowl is designed keeping in mind the nutrient requirements that would suit lifestyles today and leans more towards the Buddha Bowl in its composition, where more care is given not just to the portion size but also the quantity and quality of toppings that go on each bowl.”

Chef Bisht, who began working on the 2000s’ popular health trend two years ago, decided to change it during his stay in Uttarakhand to explore his own legacy. “It was while reading on the science behind our food that I realised that the benchmark of a good smoothie in a bowl isn’t just a combination of ingredients that are great to taste together but also of the nutritional value. In other words, while walnuts, cashew nuts and almonds are all good, combining all three in one may not be such a good idea given that each comes with a sizeable amount of fat and carbohydrate. Instead, keeping one and adding dehydrated fruits would be worthwhile as the latter can effectively cut the use of sugar.”

“Likewise”, adds Madav, “is the case with vegetables as well. So, while the idea of pulverising spinach and carrot may seem like a good idea for a base, ideally keeping both blanched can bring in much of the nutrients, especially beta-carotene, which makes it good for the eye and skin.”

Similarly, says Desai, “is the use of natural butters that are usually rich sources of protein and fat, both necessary for the effective functioning of the brain”.

Yet, cautions the nutritionist, “all the goodness can layer down to nothing if the portioning isn’t paid attention to. The idea of a good smoothie in a bowl is one that can fit your palm size. Pick a base that is either probiotic-rich like yogurt or is a traditional mix like sattu or ragi and then start the topping. Usually, one tablespoon of nuts and one tablespoon of fruits is a good place to begin with. But if the bowl is a major meal of the day, keep the chew component high rather than the slurpy layer. This would mean one has to chew, which activates the digestive juices and helps the body start the process, giving you that feeling of satiation and energy simultaneously.”

Madhulika dash
Known for her columns on food anthropology, Chefs’ Retreat and wellness-based experiential tables, Madhulika Dash has also been on the food panel of Masterchef India Season 4, a guest lecturer at IHM, and is currently part of the Odisha government’s culinary council.

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