According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 3% of Americans identify as vegan.
What’s the best part of celebrating a simchah? The sweets!
Sure, there’s family getting together and marking important milestones, but in the end, don’t we all make a beeline toward the sweet table?
And in the last handful of years, those sweet treat options have expanded to become much more inclusive — particularly for those following a vegan or gluten-free diet.
The word “vegan” was coined in the 1940s as a statement against vegetarians who ate dairy products; today, that includes any animal product, including eggs. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 3% of Americans identify as vegan, up 1% from 2012.
Though people with celiac disease require a diet free of gluten (proteins found in certain grains, such as wheat, rye and barley), the advancement of testing for gluten sensitivities and intolerance has opened the door to a billion-dollar business.
Party planners, caterers and sweet makers have noticed more requests for both vegan and gluten-free options for celebrations from birthday parties and bar and bat mitzvahs to weddings, whether to accommodate guests or the hosts themselves. And though some of these treats get a bad rap in the taste department, bakers and concoction-makers have come a long way in satisfying sweet teeth.
Jodie Polk and her husband, Jim, launched Culinary Combo Bakery (theculinarycombo.com), with a focus on catering and pastries, in 1989. After Jim died in 2018, the couple’s daughter, Jessica, joined her mom to open the business’ first retail location, scheduled to open this summer in the Claymoor Apartments in Southfield. They’ve also expanded their offerings to gift boxes and baskets, and individual orders.
“We have not always offered vegan or gluten-free items,” Jodie says. “But the request has increased over the years.
“We wanted to make sure these were great products, and not just settling for something to offer,” she says. “So until we liked it, we would not sell it.”
In addition to the boutique business’ variety of hand-crafted cookies, scones, mini pies, cakes, toffees, rugelachs and more, Culinary Combo offers plenty of gluten-free options and are working to create more for vegans. Among their gluten-free treats:
Funfetti Cake Pops, Chocolate Baked “Donuts,” Oreo Peppermint Patty Sandwiches and Meringue Pops, chocolate-chip cookies plus vegan Morning Glory Muffins. “We strive to accommodate our customers whenever possible,” says Jodie, adding she will work with them to come up with new creations.
Jennifer Ajlouny, an event manager with Star Trax Events, has also seen an increase in vegan and gluten-free dessert requests.
“It’s important to us and to our clients that we offer options for all of their guests and any dietary restrictions they may have,” she says.
One of her favorite go-to recommendations for clients are the vegan mini cupcakes from Baked By Melissa, based in New York City but available to ship.
Another Star Trax favorite: Rollow Bar (rollowbar.com), a Metro Detroit rolled ice cream catering company.
“Rolled ice cream is a truly unique concept that is super new to Michigan,” says Austin Yaldo, the company’s founder. Rolled ice cream is crafted on a party-friendly cart by pouring freshly made ice cream on a cold pan, then using metal paddles to quickly chop and smash the ingredients together and spread into a thin layer.
“The types of ingredients are endless,” Yaldo says. “You can literally turn your favorite snack, fruit or dessert into ice cream.”
The vanilla base is available with or without dairy, can be vegan (with coconut or oat milk) and gluten-free. Among the dozens of flavors, many are vegan and gluten-free, including fresh ground coffee, fresh strawberries, cotton candy, Fruity Pebbles (gluten-free), coconut and more.
At a recent bat mitzvah party, Julie Herman, owner of Annabel’s & Co. Catering, says the family wanted to do something a little different — “but not strange. So for dessert, we did a cereal bar. The bat mitzvah girl picked a few of her favorite cereals and the parents picked a few.
“We had milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, hot fudge, caramel sauce, candy,” says Herman, who adds that she loves to eat cereal with ice cream. “It was really fun watching people of all ages going crazy over old cereals that adults don’t normally eat. Some even asked to take the empty boxes home.”
Herman adds that she can create a similar cereal bar with almond milk, oak milk and coconut ice cream, plus gluten-free cereal options (Fruity Pebbles and Lucky Charms among them). “We also make our own granola that’s gluten-free and vegan,” she says.
According to Polk of Culinary Combo, “These requests definitely reflect the overall movement toward a healthier lifestyle. I think as people become more health-conscious, it will be our responsibility as your go-to bakery to offer these types of products.”