When it comes to food, I have a simple rule: I will have anything at least once.
When people (well— to be specific— my parents) watched in horror as restaurants introduced Charcoal Bao Buns (which were pitch black in colour), I offered to take a bite.
When I attempted to sneak in a few prawn tempuras at a friend’s wedding, I had to be reminded that I actually have a shellfish allergy; I had to stop.
When food purists said the idea of having mac n cheese in a burger sounds ghastly and is basically like waiting for diarrhoea to happen — you guessed it, I happily got myself some.
This was all well and good until I came across the Lotus Biscoff.
Did I want to try it? I tried to have prawns when I knew I was allergic, but this was a spread made out of caramelised biscuits. Of course, I wanted to try it... and yet I could not shake off the feeling that it would somehow be like committing a grave food sin.
The first one obviously being the betrayal of Nutella as the ultimate go-to spread for all things desserts, toasts, parathas and rumours have it, even biryani (I can see you rightly shaking your head) and the second —giving into a trend that seemed too 'mainstream'.
Biscoff goes viral
The thing is, Lotus Biscoff, which was sneaked in as a harmless cookie butter spread in some people’s grocery list, had very quickly acquired this potential to turn any dessert into a massive Instagrammable moment for restaurants and thereby, a likely crowd puller.
Thyme, a high-end restaurant, that opened at Khayaban e Ittehad was amongst the first few ones to use the spread in a dessert and bring it to a fine dining menu. This dessert was the Lotus Cheesecake.
Following Thyme, a few other bakers talked about introducing Lotus Cheesecakes in hushed tones in their restaurants but they didn’t want to be seen like they were “copying” it.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter. Lotus Biscoff was by now being seen as a coming out of “molten lava”, being stuffed into cookies and also being poured all over a stack of pancakes. It was everywhere.
Right now, it’d be hard to pick up a menu of any eatery and not find a dessert that mentions Biscoff in some form or the other.
Caffe Praha has its Lotus Pancakes, Coco9 its Lotus French Toasts, Delina, a dessert shop in Khayaban e Bukhari has a dessert called Lotus Hot Mess, where a milk concoction topped with Lotus crumbs oozes over a layer of sponge cake, so much so that a restaurant which wanted to cater to serving healthy food, Pesto, now has a Lotus Tres Leches on their menu.
Rameez Jokhio, who owns Yoshi’s, says he came across Lotus based desserts five years ago when he was at a food and culture festival in Dubai.
“I knew then this was going to get viral in Pakistan at some point too,” he says. “It is one of those things people universally seem to love —just like in the case of Nutella.”
Race to the taste
One would think that when restaurants were ordered to be shut during the lockdown that followed covid, that people would have given up on the trend of consuming this seemingly addictive biscuit and its spread —but apparently not.
Farmaish, a service that emerged during the lockdown, to bring hard-to-find products to consumers’ doorsteps and describes itself as a “personal procurement service” says that the demand for products like Lotus, Nutella and Hershey’s actually increased.
“The lockdown has turned people into hoarders,” says Hamad Dawood, owner of Farmaish.
“If you have a three-year-old at your house who is addicted to any of these products, you are not going to be able to explain to him why their favourite jar of dessert is suddenly out of stock and that’s why people are ordering these in bulk.”
He also credits the increase in demand to the rise in the number of home-based bakers during lockdown.
“People found themselves with a lot of free time on their hands and so they were ordering desserts from home-based bakers,” explains Niha Tariq, who is an owner of a home-based dessert business that started during lockdown, called Cookie Krumble.
Tariq said she didn’t want to create another “Lotus Cheesecake”, so she came up with a stack of cookies, or a “cookie tower” as she calls it, that had the Lotus Spread all over it.
“It quickly picked up and is now one of the best-selling things on the menu”, says Tariq.
One thing that strikes you immediately about any Lotus dessert, is the amount of Lotus that goes into the making of it. Considering a jar of 400g of Lotus Biscoff Spread is currently priced at Rs1200 at a local superstore, one wonders how are home-based bakers able to pass these prices onto the customers?
“I keep my margins very low,” says Tariq, explaining that it’s more important for her to meet the expectations of her customers than to pocket a higher profit.
At this point, it is clear that having Lotus desserts on the menu may not even be getting the profits that the food places hope but they help in getting the word out about the businesses.
Neha Yusuf, who is a food blogger and a Lotus fan, says how the Lotus desserts are presented may have a part in influencing people to try them out. For her though, it is the taste.
“I was done with chocolate when I first tried Lotus Biscoff,” says Yusuf. “I don’t mind Nutella but I definitely prefer Lotus.”
Areesh Imran, who is a self-proclaimed Lotus fan agrees.
“The flavour is unique with its caramelised undertones and it is not sickeningly sweet,” she says. “Nutella has 21 grams of sugar per serving while Lotus only 11. This makes it just the perfect amount of sweet for me.”
Not everyone is a Lotus Biscoff fan
One of the criticisms levied on the food trend is that it gives undue importance to a processed product and subdues creativity and originality in bakers. Others say local products and biscuits are better and cheaper.
“Whenever we get a Lotus dessert, my dad calls it Candi,” says Yusuf. “but I can definitely differentiate between the two.”
There are also restaurants that have made a conscious decision to not include any Lotus desserts on their menu. Pinch&Co is one of them.
“We don’t like using too much processed food as a brand. We focus a lot on fresh ingredients and unfrozen foods,” says Samar Husain, owner of Pinch&Co. “We don’t use MSG at all or any taste enhancers and I think it’s just become a natural part of who we are. I love using fruits and seasonal stuff.”
Husain does say that this might also mean Pinch&Co may not be a full-house every time but at least it’s original.
Meanwhile, Mufaddal Durbar, who owns Bingsu says not including any Lotus dessert in their Korean Shaved-Ice menu was a financial decision.
“We tried working with the biscuit and spread in R&D initially but weren’t happy with the final product and eventually it all came down to cost,” says Durbar. “The price of the spread and biscuit was quite high which would make the price of our final product high as well, so we decided to not go for it.”
What’s next then for the Lotus Biscoff trend in Karachi?
Jokhio says it might stop trending at some point but it will still have a solid spot in the background.
“My restaurant does not focus much on desserts, but with so much demand I'm pretty sure we would end up with something Lotus flavoured as well. It's unavoidable at this point,” he says.