Wholesome Rhapsody, a Chennai-based bakery, makes customized desserts for people with cancer and other diseasesBy Rosy Jose
Chennai-based Abhay was determined to celebrate his mom’s birthday with great pomp this year. Over the last year, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone surgery and chemotherapy. “In spite of the pain and hardship, she was unfazed. She definitely deserved to celebrate her rebirth,” says Abhay. He contacted his siblings and extended family to plan a surprise birthday party. The biggest conundrum, though, was practical. How does one have a birthday party without a birthday cake? That would be unfair, especially for someone like his mom who has a sweet tooth. So Abhay reached out to many well-known patisseries and home bakers, for a cake that his mom could have. He found a host of organic cakes, gluten-free cakes, and cakes for the lactose-intolerant, but nothing specifically for cancer patients. It was then that a friend suggested the newly-opened Wholesome Rhapsody in Anna Nagar. Abhay got in touch with Senthil Kumar Balu, the molecular cancer biology researcher-turned-home baker. After understanding the medical history, Balu suggested his The Mammary Love brownie, which has green tea, turmeric, butterfly pea, citrus pectin, almonds, and Brazilian nuts, along with a plethora of other healthy ingredients known for their cancer-fighting properties. These brownies were the perfect dessert option because of their low-estrogen content. Initially a bit skeptical about the taste of the brownie, Abhay was pleasantly surprised that it was as yummy as the one he would buy from his favorite patisserie. Abhay’s mom had two slices of the brownie, and the smile on her face clearly showed how absolutely ecstatic she felt. Another happy customer, another feather in Balu’s cap.
Senthil Kumar Balu, Founder, Wholesome Rapsody
“BAKING IS ALL ABOUT CHEMISTRY AND CORRECT MEASUREMENTS. IF ONE FOLLOWS THE BASIC PRINCIPLES, IT ALWAYS WORKS. INITIALLY, MY BAKED GOODS OFTEN ENDED UP WITH A DISTINCT FLAVOUR OF A CERTAIN COMPONENT DOMINATING THE ORIGINAL TASTE.”
Wholesome Rhapsody, in its very name, reflects the core philosophy of this quaint home-bakery, which offers a range of desserts that satiate every sweet craving minus the guilt quotient. The mission this bakery follows is: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Healthy baking is not a new concept, but custom-made healthy desserts with temperature-guided phytonutrients as part of recuperative therapy is rarely heard of. Balu conceptualized various palatable treats with special attention to the nutrient content of ingredients and a holistic balance between macro and micronutrients for a healthy gastronomic delight. The ingredients used by him predominantly have a low glycemic index and are rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Every cake order is completely customized based on the recipient’s condition and follows the prescribed restrictive diet pattern. He uses data from evidence-based research, ethnopharmacology, and the science of baking to shortlist the ingredients. “Customisation for any dessert involves a thorough understanding of the ingredients,” says Balu. It is a tricky situation when he gets requests for a combination of disorder and disease such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD). Foods high in fiber, sodium, phosphorus, and potassium can be harmful to CKD. However, a high fiber diet is beneficial for diabetes. Hence the ingredients that are selected—flour, fat, sugar and flavor— have to be compatible for both malfunctions. For cancer-friendly desserts, he predominantly uses organic low glycemic flour, wood-pressed oil, omega-3 rich nuts, low-glycemic sugar and cancer-fighting ingredients such as turmeric, citrus pectin, green tea, butterfly pea, and tomato. He selectively chooses fruits and vegetables whose phytonutrients do not get damaged by heat.
For example, cancer-fighting flavonoids such as anthocyanins from blueberry, black grapes, and lycopene from tomato are heat-resistant and get enriched upon cooking. He always uses ingredients such as chocolate or jackfruit to mask the bitterness or distinct taste of a spice or herb. Wholesome Rhapsody not only makes customized desserts but also serves plain cakes, cookies, and brownies, which can be consumed by those who are vegan, or allergic to gluten, casein, lactose, and nuts (as long as they are not allergic to orange or flaxseed). It also serves up desserts based on specific dietary requirements such as keto or low-fat diets
For the longest time, Balu was unaware of the existence of his culinary skills. It was when he was a visiting faculty at Curtin University, Perth, Australia, that he baked for the first time: a fudgy chocolate cake for a potluck dinner. “I had never used an oven until then. It was an instant hit, and I could not believe I could bake,” he laughs. “The artistic and deliverable aspect of cooking intrigued me and I started my journey, transferring the translational knowledge through food.” After mastering the basic skill, Balu began experimenting with healthier alternatives.“Baking is all about chemistry and correct measurements,” he says. “If one follows the basic principles, it always works. Initially, my baked goods often ended up with a distinct flavor of a certain component dominating the original taste.” He then treated his baking escapades with the same reverence a researcher would his experiments. He noted all the variables and repeated each recipe thrice to ensure that it worked and was reproducible. Balu started Wholesomely Rhapsody in 2015, and the most popular (and Balu’s personal favorite) remains the Mukkani cake, which is a multigrain jackfruit cake topped with mango cream cheese, jackfruit cream cheese, and banana caramel.
His suggestion to home bakers is to develop a general awareness of the science behind ingredients before promoting it as healthy. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to gluten, low-carb, low-fat desserts. Gluten is not bad unless one is sensitive and has celiac disease. Gluten comes under the same radar such as nuts and dairy, as a potential allergen. Hence, a complete understanding of the diet and ingredients is a must, especially as a dessert. Another important aspect that Balu feels is important when it comes to eating right is that not only is it important to eat healthily but also to eat in appropriate quantities. Anything that is consumed beyond a limit is equivalent to poison. His long-term goal is to develop Desserts For Any Disease, therapeutic sweet treats with recommended daily allowances of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients as an auxiliary for a healthier lifestyle. He is currently working on a book with a comprehensive diet plan for all types of cancer with ingredients easily available in the Indian subcontinent