We here at livehealthy.ae are shying away from the term “clean” for several reasons: because we believe in moderation, because people are suffering from eating disorders in pursuit of an impossible notion and because we don’t see any food as “good” or “bad.” But the reality is, food intolerances are a growing issue these days and a lot of desserts are laden with dairy or gluten, which makes them off-limits for those who don’t want to leave the cafe or eatery feeling bloated or with a sore stomach. And in the spirit of livehealthy.ae’s #HowSweetItIsnt series on all the physical and emotional repercussions of consuming refined sugar, we put together this list of sweet treats everyone can eat. Our criteria? Natural sugars, dairy-free and gluten-free, vegan sometimes, other times, raw. And all as natural as can be.
Big Chocolate Chip Cookie – Nectar (Abu Dhabi)
There are some great baked goods at this made-to-order juice bar inside Abu Dhabi’s Bodytree Studio, which has a second location at the new Berklee College of Music on Saadiyat Island. But we tend to skip the almond-butter stuffed dates and Snickers bars and head right to our hands-down favourite: a delicious, delightfully crumbly, dome-shaped, grain-free, refined sugar-free chocolate chip cookie, which somehow always seems to be fresh out of the oven. Available in regular size (Dh15) and mini (Dh6), this is the cookie we order from Deliveroo on those days when things aren’t going so great. And on days when they are, too.
Blue Matcha Superkake Donut – Rawkure (Dubai)
The Blue Matcha Superkake Donut (Dh18) is just about perfect: the white doughnut base has the right texture, but just enough sweetness that you know you are having a healthy treat that weighs in at 151 calories. And it’s covered in blue matcha icing with a drizzle of chocolate. Rawkure has so many good-for-you treats that it’s hard to choose a favorite: the sinless cacao-based and pink pitaya doughnuts are great too. All of Rawkure’s snacks and desserts are organic, plant-based, keto, and gluten and refined sugar-free.
Banana Cake – Wild & Moon (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)
It’s really hard to pick a treat from Wild & Moon, particularly with their blueberry scone and a new apple pie scone beckoning from the display case. But the gluten-free, sugar-free reinvented banana coconut cake (Dh28), served with Wild & Moon’s signature vanilla cashew dream cream, takes the, well, cake.
Vegan carrot cupcake — Leen Casual to Gourmet (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)
Carrot cake usually doesn’t get the vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free treatment, so this little bundle of wonder (Dh32) from Leen’s Casual to Gourmet (formerly Surf Cafe) is a welcome addition to the list. We are particularly taken with the cashew nut frosting, raisins and toasted walnuts.
Cashew cheesecake – Sanderson’s (Abu Dhabi)
This comes from the airy, greenery-filled cafe behind Al Seef Village Mall and is everything you want a “free-from” dessert to be – with vegetables! The base for this luscious cake (Dh35) is made from oats, carrots, coconut milk and dates, while the smooth filling is made from cashews, coconut cream and maple syrup, topped with crushed cashew and pistachio.
Vegan Ice Cream Sandwich – Freedom Pizza
We’ll admit it: sometimes if we can’t decide on a pizza delivery joint, we let the smooth, chewy square (Dh25) sway us toward Freedom Pizza. Two chewy, Oreo-style biscuits encase creamy coconut ice cream, available in matcha mint, vanilla and chocolate flavor.
Raspberry Tartlet – Spill The Bean (Dubai)
Not everyone loves fruit and chocolate together but if you do, this is one of the best desserts around. The ingredients include vegan dark chocolate, fresh raspberries and a rich raspberry compote, coconut milk, almonds, raw cocoa powder and honey. This gorgeous offering (Dh30) is so rich it’s perfect for sharing and it’s well worth the drive to the funky Spill the Bean cafe in Sustainable City.
Snickers Pie – Seva Experience (Dubai)
There are loads of accessible desserts at this quaint Jumeirah vegan cafe, which is located in the former Life’n One center. But this concoction by vegan chef Kiki Alvarez (Dh55) is about as gooey and chocolatey as can be and yet is still gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free. It comes topped with goji berries and is definitely not to be missed.
Raw vegan banana pie — Al Meylas, Four Seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi
This dish (Dh60) is better than almost any dessert we’ve had. It’s also raw, vegan and made entirely without refined sugar, gluten or dairy. Chef Christian Buenrostro has created a masterpiece for the raw menu, with a crust made of crushed macadamia nuts, shredded coconut, agave nectar, coconut oil and vanilla extract, and a filling of soaked cashew nuts, mashed banana, coconut milk and more goodies. Available at the popular lobby bar at The Four Seasons Abu Dhabi.
Pistachio almond cake cake — Basiligo (Abu Dhabi)
We’re sneaking this on the list, even though the homemade pista cream icing is heavy on cream cheese, just because it’s so unusual. Basiligo owner Justine Corrado has created a lovely confection (Dh20) using almond flour, homemade pista cream and a layer of cashew butter.
Helado de coco – Dusk, Zaya Nurai Island (Abu Dhabi)
Restaurants have been slow to embrace the “nice” cream trend here in the UAE, and while we love us some Halo Top, it’s often too freezer burnt to justify the price. Enter Helado de coco (Dh45), a creamy and smooth homemade coconut ice cream that you have to take a boat to an island to eat. How exotic.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.