By now we have all heard nutrition advice, in tune with the Mediterranean diet, to enjoy desserts not more than a few times per week and on special occasions. Those special occasions are here…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Satisfy your sweet tooth over the holidays with tasty Mediterranean desserts. Mediterranean treats often add healthy ingredients with delicious results. Many feature nuts, either folded in or sprinkled on top, or fruit, fresh or dried, for example.

Studies have found that the more whole fruits you eat, the lower your risk for diabetes. Ripe, seasonal fruit can add more flavor and color, and reduce the amount of sugar required in your desserts. If you like dried fruit, pick up a panettone, a classic Italian holiday sweet bread made with raisins, dried apricots, and other dried fruits.

Many desserts in the Mediterranean use spices and flavored sweeteners like honey and dates to build flavor instead of adding extra sugar and butter. With more flavors tantalizing your palate, you’ll be satisfied with less. Baklava, a classic eastern Mediterranean treat (pictured above), is made by layering philo pastry and chopped nuts (usually pistachios or walnuts) and drizzling with honey and flavored syrup. For lighter fare, biscotti, Italian cookies usually served with coffee and tea, also feature nutty flavors and spices.

Try using whole grains in place of or in combination with refined grains in your recipes. Bakers can typically substitute up to 50% of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour without making other adjustments, and still enjoy a comparable taste and texture. Or, use a recipe specially designed for whole grains, and eliminate the refined grains entirely; you’ll benefit from the extra protein, fiber and higher levels of important vitamins and minerals. In Lebanon, a pudding-like dessert made with sweetened, soft wheat berries, nuts and dried fruits is traditionally made when a baby’s first tooth appears – a special occasion for something sweet, healthy, and easy to eat.

Like other dishes in the Mediterranean, dessert is an expression of the season. Try poached pears or baked cold-weather fruit to warm up, or a fruit-flavored cake for a big celebration. Bake a cake with olive oil, instead of butter, and flavor it with oranges or lemons for a delightful Mediterranean twist.

For more Mediterranean dessert ideas for your special occasions, check out the recipes below.

(Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.)


Holiday Mediterranean Dessert “Sushi”

Dessert SushiThese Mediterranean-inspired dessert “sushi” incorporate traditional Greek dessert ingredients like yogurt, honey, cinnamon, and orange zest. Rolled up in a sesame seed outer layer, these flavors provide just enough sweet flavor for a light treat.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Mediterra and Diane Kochilas. 

Sultana Yogurt Cake

Mediterranean Yogurt CakeReminiscent of a cheesecake, this light and airy Turkish dessert features a number of healthy Mediterranean ingredients, including Greek yogurt and dried fruit.

Recipe adapted from Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Photo:

Sweet Pumpkin Soufflé

Pumpkin SouffleSoufflés can be a little tricky to pull off, but when successful, they make delicious, light desserts. Make sure all of the ingredients are at room temperature, especially the eggs, before you start, and resist the temptation to peek in the oven while they are baking.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the Egg Nutrition Center.


This article was originally published as part of Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:   Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)

Oldways ( is a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Simply, we advocate for the healthful pleasures of real food. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. 

Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being.


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