French baguette or Japanese milk bread?  Who can resist freshly baked treats? Little wonder that baked goods sales in Asia are growing exponentially as our tastes keep evolving. A recent report from Food and Hotel Asia (FHA) is projecting a USD 74 billion expansion for Asia’s bakery and pastry sector in the next five years. Distribution channels and manufacturing facilities will also increase in size and number, and yield a plethora of flavors and styles, buoyed by consumer demand for “fresher and healthier products” reports Euromonitor.

An increasing number of Asian brands are currently operating boutique-style bakeries and dessert parlors where you can find shoppers queueing for miles for treats like macarons, cupcakes and éclairs, alongside a wide variety of bakery items, all exquisitely presented and packaged. For the new breed of consumers, it’s not just about taste but also the visual appeal of these products, which can be attributed to the rise in social sharing, namely food blogging spaces such as Instagram and Facebook.

Classically Asian

Unlike the French, who have their boulangeries specializing in bread and patisseries for desserts, the traditional Asian bakeries sell a combination of baked goods and sweet confectionery. They offer a variety of sweet and savory baked or steamed bread buns, with varied fillings and toppings. When it comes to pastries, you can take your pick from an assortment of treats, from decorated sponge cakes and colorful layer cakes, to fried sesame balls and almond cookies, among many other local inspirations. These favorites will never go out of style.

New Sensations

With travel getting easier, people are more eager to discover new textures and flavors, which explains the growing popularity of local specialties. Asia is best known for its exotic ingredients and flavors. Pandan, salted egg yolk, durian and the sweet lychees are commonly used in baked goods and desserts. You can also expect to taste other ingredients like matcha green tea, taro root, yuzu citrus, and azuki beans in the mix. While some flavors may take some getting used to, there’s no stopping adventurous foodies who are always happy to indulge in new sensations.

Healthier Treats

Bakery items and pastry treats were never perceived as “healthy” but this is changing. At supermarket aisles, health-conscious consumers can be seen scanning through the nutritional content on product labels.  At restaurants and cafés, consumers check for healthier options, and don’t shy away from getting chefs to substitute ingredients. Healthier baked goods are all about using better fats and flours and avoiding saturated and trans fats. Lower in sugar, lactose-free, gluten-free are more than passing fads. The inclusion of whole grains and seeds increase the nutritional value of the product(s) without compromising quality or flavor.

Artisanal Bakeries

Artisanal bakeries are increasingly differentiating themselves not just with product formulations, but with design and experience. The niche nature of artisanal bakeries is moving towards more authentic, personalized experiences in locations with a sense of place to keep patrons coming back. Supported by the burgeoning café scene, the aesthetics are minimalistic and understated, giving an air of a high-end boutique or bar.  It’s where you’ll find loaves of sourdough, flatbreads, and buns with unusual fillings, decorated with designs carved into the crust. Sweet delights with floral motifs, and patterned swirls with colors, coming out straight from the oven are just too good to eat!

Whether it’s cakes, doughnuts or table bread that you crave, now is the best time to treat yourself.

Aesthetically-pleasing artisanal pastries (Image: Brooke Lark)