Healthy eating becomes bread and butter for MENA entrepreneurs

Healthy eating becomes bread and butter for MENA entrepreneurs
Obesity across the Middle East and North Africa has become a serious health problem, with new companies coming up with ways to make healthy food more mainstream.
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Updated 25 January 2020

Healthy eating becomes bread and butter for MENA entrepreneurs

Healthy eating becomes bread and butter for MENA entrepreneurs
  • Research shows 88 percent of consumers in the region are willing to pay more for healthier food options
  • A number of start-ups are tackling the Arab world’s obesity and diabetes crisis in innovative ways

DUBAI: An epidemic of obesity and diabetes is prompting Middle Eastern consumers to embrace healthy eating habits.
“There’s a growth in awareness among the region’s health-conscious people who want nutrition-rich food,” said Mitun De Sarkar, a UAE-based nutritionist and founder of Simply Healthy Diets.
“More and more research shows how good nutrition impacts health and wellbeing — what you eat now matters immediately and also later.”
The numbers support her claim — 88 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for healthier food options, according to data by industry trade show Gulfood. Entrepreneurs are also beginning to come around.
From school canteens to homemade lunches, here are five startups taking a healthy approach to food.

* Tusk Bakery

An increasing interest in ancient varieties of wheat and traditional bread-making techniques prompted the launch of Beirut’s Tusk Bakery in 2016.
It makes its bread the slow way, using a natural sourdough culture and long fermentation to break down gluten and other wheat compounds and enhance digestion and flavor.
The bakery also helps support farmers and food producers in Lebanon. Tusk encourages the former to grow peasant varieties of wheat, and guarantees the purchase of their harvest.
Its menu features such intriguing items as sourdough croissants and Salamouni country bread made from Lebanese heritage grains.
The company uses bicycles to deliver its products to Beirut residents. “Delivery on bicycles is part of the environmental image and working in a sustainable way. Just like (using) local products and ingredients, delivering on a bicycle reduces our impact on the environment,” British founder Matt Saunders told

* Simply Healthy Diets

Simply Healthy Diets is a customized meal delivery service aimed at helping manage disorders such as diabetes, insulin resistance, hypertension and food allergies, as well as weight problems.
The catering venture creates dishes across a variety of cuisines from scratch each day, offering what De Sarkar calls an enjoyable way to health.
The approach has proved so successful that she is now considering expansion into other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries and India.

* Mumm

Historically, lunch has been the main meal of the day in Egypt, but as with other countries in the region, today’s office workers do not have the chance to go home for home-cooked food.
Enter Cairene startup Mumm, which connects thousands of consumers with home cooks across the capital.
“The idea came when we realized that the offering on the market is either affordable junk food or expensive clean food,” founder Waleed Abdelrahman said.
“We thought, ‘How can we provide the third alternative of nutritious food that’s really affordable for everyone?’”
The online marketplace for home-based, entrepreneurial cooks was established in 2015. After two rounds of venture funding, it has recently added a premium monthly subscription plan that lets users order a month’s worth of meals for the price of the ingredients and delivery costs.
* Conserving Bounties
Some 795 million people on the planet do not have enough to eat, yet we throw away a staggering $940 billion worth of food each year — about 115 kg each in North America and 197 kg in the UAE.
A Bahraini non-profit is doing its bit to tackle the problem. Conserving Bounties collects surplus food from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and private events, and distributes it to needy workers and underprivileged families.
With an estimated 400 tons of food wasted in Bahrain every day, the project is now lobbying for a new law criminalizing the disposal of untouched food still fit for consumption.
In October, the non-profit signed a deal with Carrefour supermarkets in an attempt to rationalize food consumption and reduce food waste. “Remember that your excess is someone else’s relief,” CEO Thawra Al-Dhaen said.

* Health Heroes

Some might say it is helicopter parenting, but when your child needs help sticking to an eating plan, how far is too far?
Health Heroes, a software solution for school canteens allowing parents to check what their child has consumed and its nutritional value, may be just what the doctor ordered.
More than 20 percent of youngsters are classified as obese in the MENA region, so it is no wonder that the app has proven popular since its launch last year.
Already in use at 45 schools across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, it processes 10,000 transactions per day and has registered over 5 million products.

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 


In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
Portrait of Kuwaiti chef Ahmed Al-Bader. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
  • The Kuwaiti chef and entrepreneur on cheese-melt goodness, the brilliance of butter, and taking inspiration from his dad

LONDON: On a fine London afternoon, Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader sits in Chestnut Bakery. It is one of four successful food ventures he’s co-founded and currently co-manages — the other three being the beef canteen Habra, and Lunch Room — a “social-dining venue” — both in Kuwait, as well as GunBun in Riyadh.

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes thanks largely to the consistent quality of his food, which is partly down to his systematic approach to cooking and baking. 

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes. Supplied

“This is the core of success,” he says. “Things have to be written down. For the past 10 years I’ve been writing my recipes, not cooking them. When you reach this point, you have to be very experienced and to know exactly what is right. Recipes are written based on the palette — the acidity, sourness, bitterness, and sweetness; that’s how I create the balance.”

Q: What’s one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish? 

A: Butter. It’s has a fatty flavour. It’s soothing and it hits the palette. Sometimes you can have a loaf of white bread and still feel empty. But on other days you can have two or three spoons of peanut butter and some honey and feel happy.

What’s your favorite cuisine?

I love Chinese food, and Indian. Anything that (Wagamama founder) Alan Yau does always inspires me. He’s one of the ‘guru’ concept developers I’ve met. I respect how he thinks and works and I’ve learned a lot from him. The same applies to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (co-owners of six delis and restaurants in London). I have the greatest respect for them. 


What’s the most common issue you find when you eat in other restaurants?

Dining out is never for competitive purposes. Knowledge is always my objective — I want to learn how to do something. But not to compete. My objective is always to build something with value. 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly? And why?

A cheese melt sandwich. Good cheese and good bread. It’s soothing. And you can play with it — you can put pickles, mustard, or roast beef or chicken. And use a good 60 grams of butter; that will give you a solid foundation.

What’s the most annoying thing customers do?

Customers are never annoying. As long as they’re not insulting one of the waiters or insulting us, I’ll respect whatever they have to say. I’m here to serve them. 

What’s your biggest challenge as a restaurateur?

Food handling, especially critical items like protein and fish that need to be transported. I don’t risk having a lot of them in my concept because of the heat and handling. Freshness is very important in these protein concepts. That’s why I simplify things through process cooking or curing, et cetera. That’s what I do to avoid any bacterial growth. 


What’s your favorite dish to cook? 

Grilling and barbecuing reminds me so much of my dad. Prepping instant salsas is also one of many things I learned from him. He’s probably been making chimichurri for 30 years but in his own way, with a lot of coriander and garlic. He’s always been a host. Hosting is very important to me. 

I also love slow cooking. I love cooking tongue — beef or lamb — and this I also got from my dad. I remember he used to slice it and eat it with mustard. And I always loved that. 


Here, Al-Bader offers some cooking tips and a recipe for a tasty beetroot dish (although it requires a sous-vide machine).

Ahmad Al-Bader’s pickled beetroot recipe 



100g boiled beetroot; 100g apple vinegar; 100g white vinegar; 30g honey; 3g roasted coriander seeds; 5g thyme; 3g roasted yellow mustard seeds; 3g whole black pepper; 3g fresh dill; 3g salt; 10g jaggery



1. Set sous-vide machine to 80 C.

2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, adding the beetroot last.

3. Transfer to a vacuum-sealed bag.

4. Cook in the sous-vide machine for 10 minutes at 82 C.

5. Remove and transfer into a bowl of ice.

6. Transfer to a clean container, cover, and store in refrigerator at 1 C to 4 C until serving. It can be stored for up to three days.

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain
Updated 30 July 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

If you want wholesome, nutrient-dense snack choices, try Loqmatain date bars — a Saudi brand that offers healthy tasty snacks made of different types.

Loqmatain is an Arabic expression that translates as eating a small portion of food or snack, which reflects on the concept of the brand, as it offers on-the-go date bars and dip snacks that you can take to work to have with your morning coffee, or on a road trip. They are also suitable for children as Loqmatain’s products are rich in fiber and naturally sweetened.

The bars on offer are an updated version of those popular in the 80s and 90s, filled with biscuits and wrapped with date paste.

Each product is accompanied by different toppings and optional dips, including tahini, pistachio, and chocolate. The local brand deals almost exclusively with local farmers, to ensure good quality.

You can find them in supermarkets and coffee shops in many cities in Saudi Arabia. For more information visit their website: or Instagram account @loqmatain

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand
Ketish, launched by former Huda Beauty product developer Eman Abbass, is the first brand to be launched by HB Angels. Supplied
Updated 27 July 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

DUBAI: Iraqi-US beauty mogul Huda Kattan has announced Ketish as the first brand to be launched by Huda Beauty Angels — which falls under HB Investments, Kattan’s venture capital firm. Ketish, a feminine care label, is being spearheaded by Eman Abbass, a former Huda Beauty product developer.

“I’m really excited on a deep level about Huda Beauty Angels and being able to reveal to you guys very soon the first project we are investing in with an amazing founder who has such an amazing mission and purpose and we know they’re going to change the world,” she said in a video shared with her 49 million Instagram followers.


A post shared by HUDA KATTAN (@hudabeauty)

“When we first started our brand, nobody wanted to invest in us. Nobody wanted to really believe in our cause and what we were doing,” she added, revealing what prompted her to start the $10 million female entrepreneur seeding initiative, HB Angels.

Specializing in female wellness, Ketish aims to launch its first product in August 2021, although Abbass has been tight-lipped on the sort of products that will be offered, telling The Industry Fashion website that the brand will focus on “targeted body care products.”

The new brand was inspired by Abbass’s own health experience. When she was 21-years-old, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer during her first-ever gynecologist appointment. Coming from a conservative background, Abbass felt ashamed to talk to her American-Egyptian family about her health during the diagnosis and treatment process.

Huda and Mona Kattan pictured with Eman Abbass (M). Supplied

Following a nine-year healing journey that she had to go through alone, Abbass was inspired to launch the luxurious female wellness brand that aims to reform feminine care products in the Middle East and is named after a female ancient Egyptian deity.

“A lot of those brands and products that we find now are in the pharmacy and the pharmacy is traditionally a place that you go when you are sick or something is wrong,” she told The Industry Fashion website. “We want to take feminine wellness and care out of the pharmacy and put it in the places that women shop… when I’m having a bad day I go to Sephora or I hop on to Cult Beauty. It’s those spaces that we want to be playing in to really elevate that experience and give women products that they can incorporate into their overall beauty and self-care routines.”

“Ketish is a movement,” Kattan said in a press release. “It’s about taking power back and being fully comfortable with yourself. When people start to become part of this community, they’re going to feel liberated. I realized very quickly that this was a topic that so many people had so many issues with. The more I started talking to Emaan, the more I was convinced that she could change the category.”

What We Are Buying Today: Club Cake

Updated 24 July 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Club Cake

  • Fillings include dulce de leche, and raspberry compote, and all the cakes are decorated using buttercream piping

Club Cake is a Saudi brand offering creative mini vintage cakes decorated to suit a variety of occasions.
Products come in sizes ranging through four, six, eight, and 10 inches and can incorporate special messages for birthdays and other celebrations.
Customers can choose different buttercream frosting color combinations, and add decorative items such as cherries, strawberries, or chocolate in special molds and sprinkles.
Fillings include dulce de leche, and raspberry compote, and all the cakes are decorated using buttercream piping.
For more information visit @clubcakesa on Instagram.


Philippines launches program to promote Mindanao’s halal cuisine

A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2021

Philippines launches program to promote Mindanao’s halal cuisine

A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
  • “Globally, the halal industry is about $2.3 trillion”

MANILA: The Philippines has launched its Halal culinary tourism program, which aims to attract more tourists to Mindanao and experience the region’s unique culinary heritage.
The program was introduced by the Department of Tourism (DoT) on Tuesday, coinciding with the celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, through a video series that can be viewed by the public on the DoT’s social media platforms.
The campaign is designed to promote not only Mindanao’s cuisine but also its people and culture, and consequently tourism destinations in the southern part of the country. As such, it is expected to help spur economic development in the region.

Sinina kambing, a Maguindanaoan delicacy, is stewed goat meat cooked using local spices.

“Food is an important part of a tourism experience. It gives us a glimpse of a place’s culture and heritage. Through the development of Halal culinary tourism, we are encouraging the discovery and familiarity with the traditions of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
“Halal is not exclusive to Muslims. It is for everybody. This is what we want to introduce through this project,” she added, expressing optimism that it will attract both Muslims and non-Muslims.


‘We are encouraging familiarity with the traditions of our Muslim brothers and sisters,’ says tourism secretary.

The project also aims to document Mindanao’s culinary practices, create experiences and attractions by local government units and private enterprises for tourists, and promote the region’s halal tourism industry through culinary and heritage mapping.
The DoT’s video series showcases halal-certified and Muslim-friendly establishments across Mindanao island.

Bay Tal Mal restaurant’s tiyulah itum, a stew dish with braised beef or goat, originating from the Tausug tribe.

May Salvana-Unchuan, a director at the DoT, said “the aspects of halal cuisine, the halal way of doing things, and Muslim-friendly tourism were unknown before” but are “becoming a popular concept.”
Jamal Munib, commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said “Muslims are not the only ones who advocate halal food” because non-Muslims “can see how clean halal cuisine is.” He added: “Globally, the halal industry is about $2.3 trillion.”
Gurlie Fronoza, a tourism officer in Cotabato City, said halal culinary products are healthy because they are basically organic.
“If you’re looking for more adventure in your food than the usual menu that’s being given to us in establishments, you have to try halal,” Fronoza added.
The Tourism Promotions Board, an agency of the DoT, has said it will ramp up its support for the establishment of a complete halal ecosystem through initiatives that will further develop and promote Muslim-friendly tourist attractions and services in the country.