Sweet and Sustainable: Desserts From Global Winter Holiday Traditions

Sustainable Winter Desserts

The holidays are a perfect opportunity to experiment with new and interesting recipes – and to see how much dessert you can consume in one sitting. In the spirit of sharing, here are three sweet recipes from traditions around the world, along with tips for choosing the most sustainable ingredients for your holiday desserts.



Ris A La Mande
Ris A La Mande via Shutterstock.com

A favorite at Christmas Eve feasts in Denmark, risalamande is a rice pudding blended with almonds and topped with cherry sauce. (It’s also delicious with strawberries, raspberries or any other pureed fruit). Sourcing summer fruit in a sustainable way is particularly challenging in winter. Our recommendation is to head to a local farmers’ market where you can usually find a treasure trove of fruit preserves – the most delicious way to savor locally grown bounty year-round.

For the pudding, there is no shortage of excellent brands of Certified Organic almonds and rice at grocery stores and online. If you’re trying to keep almond consumption low to decrease your water footprint, chopped pumpkin seeds are a great alternative.


Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet Potato Pie via Shutterstock.com

Think pumpkin pie, only with much more natural sweetness and less cans of puree. Sweet potato pie is often enjoyed at the end of a Kwanzaa dinner. Yams hold great significance in many of the ancient African harvest traditions from which the celebration of Kwanzaa derived its roots. Although genetically unrelated to the yam, the sweet potato has become analogous in terms of cultural meaning and culinary use within African American cuisine.

Sweet potatoes are harvested in the fall in the United States and can last about six months in cold storage. You’re likely to find them displayed at farmers markets throughout the winter.


Chocolate Rugelach

Chocolate Rugelach
Chocolate Rugelach via Shutterstock.com

Hannukkah ended a few days ago but a batch of these delicious spirals is an excellent way to keep the festive spirit going. They are often made with jams, dried fruits and nuts, but we’re partial to simple chocolate rugelach.

In light of the social and environmental issues associated with chocolate production, your best bet is to look for brands that carry at least two out of these three seals: Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and Certified Organic.


Other Key Dessert Ingredients

To maximize your desserts’ sustainability, you can explore more sustainable options for your ingredients. The following tips will come in handy for your holiday baking - and for future baking projects of 2016 !


In most parts of the United States, you can find honey or maple syrup that has been produced by local farmers. These and other sugar alternatives, including dates, agave, coconuts and stevia, all offer different levels of sustainable merit.


An easy switch is using three quarter cups of whole wheat flour for every cup of white flour that a recipe calls for. Any time you choose a less processed ingredient you also forgo the excess water and energy used in the processing.


Did you know that the United States is the largest importer and consumer of spices in the world? These include our holiday classics: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and vanilla. As with chocolate, look for Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and Certified Organic labels.

Eggs and Dairy

It only takes a few minutes in the grocery aisle to become overwhelmed by the multitude of animal-product labels boasting environmental stewardship and humane treatment. Seemingly small nuances in phrasing can reflect huge differences across company practices. This labels page is a great source for clarifying the meanings behind claims we see for eggs, dairy and other products.

Your absolute best bet for sourcing sustainable eggs and dairy is to purchase them from a market where you can speak to the farmers in person and ask about their standards. If this isn’t do-able, the best label to look for at the store is Animal Welfare Approved, but you can also feel confident with Certified Organic. For dairy, keep an eye out for “grassfed” labels that have been certified by a reliable auditor such as the American Grassfed Association.


Our Eat Well Guide can help you locate farmers markets as well as stores that specialize in sustainably sourced products.