Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? That's us being funny, but also asking a really basic question that vexes us. How did a simple preparation of real butter, sugar and flour get to a place where the core ingredients have morphed into something often unrecognizable at the back of a packet?
How did a simple preparation of real butter, sugar and flour get to a place where the core ingredients have morphed into something often unrecognizable at the back of a packet?
Cookies as the Americans call it or biscuits as the British call it, have been part of our snacking culture in India for a very long time. The humble shortbread biscuit, core to tea and coffee times for adults and snacks for children has local variations by geography. Most Indians will recognize at least one of these variants - nankhatais, Shrewsbury or khara biscuits.
Somewhere between trying to maintain a magically low price point while creating cookies that taste and look attractive, nutrition has been cut from the equation. We seem to have collectively landed in a place where the shelves are laden with cookies made of refined flour, refined sugar or invert syrup, palm oil or dalda (more elegantly called hydrogenated vegetable oil), soy lecithin and an astonishing array of legally permitted emulsifiers (e-numbers), preservatives, synthetic colours and additives. As buyers and parents we are equally to blame for not voting with our wallets.
So why do we feel the good old cookie has disappeared? What is in the modern day biscuit?
First, the butter replacement -- often palm oil. While it is better than partially hydrogenated vegetable oils which are high in trans-fat, palm oil is high in saturated fats linked to heart disease. It is used in baked goods primarily to provide a longer shelf life and better "mouthfeel".
Second, the other fat that is commonly used is edible vegetable oil. The labelling does not make it clear which oils are in the mix. Quite often, the vegetable shortening used is hydrogenated and contains trans-fat -- the biggest villain in the fat family. So it's just plain old dalda. The stuff most of us would think several times before using anymore in our actual kitchens.
Third, soy what?! Soy lecithin is an additive that is used as an emulsifier (used to keep ingredients from separating). It is found in most processed foods in small quantities and the evidence is not clear on its long-term effects.
It's actually really easy to put a real cookie back in the jar -- just make it at home!
Fourth, invert syrup is used for baked goods because of its ability to increase shelf life. It is a mixture of glucose and fructose -- basically, it is an added refined sugar (which is typically added in addition to refined sugar in most cookies!). This makes it harder to work out what the actual percentage of sugar is in the ingredients. There is increasing consensus in research which highlights the importance of limiting sugar consumption.
Fifth, refined flours like maida which results in the loss of valuable nutrients and fibre. In some instances, this is then corrected with "added vitamins and minerals".
Lastly -- our favourite bugbear. There are some ingredients that we cannot even pronounce. And they feel like they belong in the chemistry lab, and not in my child's food.
It's actually really easy to put a real cookie back in the jar -- just make it at home! Turns out that new research supports what your grandmother said, a bit of butter in moderation is good for you. You'll discover that most children love to bake, especially if the result is things that they like. You can make cookies once a week, and keep them in an air-tight container and ration them out for the rest of the week. Be good and don't eat them all on the first day!
Recipe: Chocolate Ragi Cookies
(These are an Indian take on the German Christmas cookies (Lebkuchen) that Shauravi's colleague used to bring to work; recipe created by Mandakini Gupta of Smitten Bakery)
Ragi flour: 100gm
Wholewheat flour: 100gm
Palm sugar: 60gm
Canola oil: 60gm
Cocoa powder: 5gm
Baking powder: ½ tsp
Cinnamon: ½ tsp
All Spice: ½ tsp
Nutmeg: ½ tsp
Sift all the dry ingredients together.
In a bowl, mix the butter, canola oil and palm sugar and whisk it well till creamy, and then add the applesauce.
Add all the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Knead it into a dough, and roll it out till it is ¼ inch in thickness. Place between two baking sheets and put the dough in the freezer for a short while. Once it has chilled, take it out and cut into the shapes you like with a cookie cutter.
Place in a preheated oven at 160°C. Bake until they look dry and matte on top and if touched, don't feel sticky; they should be firm. Let them cool on the tray till they are at room temperature. Enjoy!
Tip: The quality of cocoa used will vastly impact the taste of the cookies. If your child does not like the hints of spice, you can omit the allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.