Why the pastry art has developed more in the Western than in the Eastern countries?

Joined Jan 11, 2002
I always wondered why the pastry art is so developed and sophisticated in the Western countries compared to the Eastern (and generally to any other place in the world). I mean that also in the greatest Eastern cookings, like Chinese and Japanese, when you speak about desserts things become almost primitive. Middle East and India are slightly better...but apart from candies, puddings and fritters there is little or nothing.
So, my question is: WHY?

A possible answer can be the fact that East has not developed the use of leavened doughs, probably because they didn't use ovens...but why they didn't use ovens? Not everywhere in the East weather is so hot:D

BTW, another question:
America was discovered a number of centuries ago;) and the Eastern cookings seem having easily incorporated items like potatoes, beans, tomatoes and so on into their recipes.
But, what about chocolate? I've never heard about a traditional Chinese or Japanese or Indian sweet containing chocolate, why?

Food historians, please answer!

Joined Aug 4, 2000
it appears to me that western civilization also uses more cream that eastern civilization. Our reliance on the cattle industry, prehaps
Joined Dec 30, 1999

kokopuffs is on the correct path.

Why? Because wheat was/is not a major crop, just as cattle was/is not abundant resulting in limited use of dairy products.

You have to consider the resources which are readily available in those countries. In Asian countries, the primary crop and source of flour is rice so they don't have a long history with wheat products - although that is slowly changing; Japan won first place in the most recent World Baking Cup competition.

While we may view their expertise as primitive in your description of "pastry" they have in their own right perfected deserts using ingredients common to their regions, those using ingredients such as rice flour and beans. Many people consider their deserts to be extremely refined. It's all relative.

As for chocolate, especially in Asian countries... if you've ever sampled true Asian deserts, you'd understand why. Asian deserts are simply not as sweet as American deserts. It's all about tradition, what you grow up with, are exposed to, and develop a taste for. They may wonder why American's have not mastered their own deserts.

It is all slowly changing... "Chocolate consumption in China alone has increased by forty percent since 1992." Chocolate developed for those areas are less sweet to accomodate their tastes. There are tidbits of information regarding the issues of chocolate in Asian countries online. Here is one.

Look here for a Timeline on Chocolate.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
Some Asian countries like Japan, desserts are just not as big a part of the meal. Fresh fruits are enjoyed after a meal. Sweet creations are mostly associated with the tea service.
Joined Jan 11, 2002
The wheat theory sounds to me the most convincing. Wheat flour is the only one really suitable for leavened doughs, so it's obvious that countries where rice or corn are the major crops don't have such foods in their tradition.
But in Middle East and Northern India wheat cultivation is relatively diffused, as far as I know, and there is a large consumption of dairy products as well.

As for chocolate, apart from tradition (not necessarily a chocolate dessert must be very sweet...compare European to American desserts) it's likely that in many countries its diffusion has been limited by its high cost.

So, you have fully cleared my doubts about Far Eastern countries like China and Japan...but I need further explanations about Middle East and India.

BTW, when I say that Asian desserts are "primitive" I don't want to judge their value as I agree with you that the taste is relative...mine is a "technical" consideration, based on the wider range and the higher complexity of Western desserts' recipes. If you don't exceed with political correctness, you'll probably agree with me (as a number of Asian cooks do, as I've read;) )

Joined Jul 24, 2001
Hmmmm I think that it depends on what you have in mind by the word Pastry :)

Baclava or galaktompoureko are very sophisticated pastries that needs great art, ask Mbrown and WdBord if you don't believe me!

I think that when it comes it Eastern Mediterranean two are the main reasons.

The Climate is the most important one. Cchiu is wrong. There is an abudance of dairy products but ,because of the heat they have to turn them into most dry forms, as pasta ( an arabic invention ) or trahana.

Have also in mind that middles eastern populations are nomadic.The consumption of pastries seem to be a rather bourgeois habit!

Plus the fact that the countries eastern to Greece ( Greece is included) don't celebrate birthdays :)

PS The timeline of chocolate,kindly provided by cchiu, has some mistakes... According to my limited knowledge, the Olmec language hasn't been deciphered yet...
Joined Dec 30, 1999

Easy there girl! My response in reference to the dairy was primarily focused on the Asian contries as opposed to the Middle East.

When you mention climate, refrigeration (or the lack of it) should also be taken into consideration.

This is all of course based on the beef industry in China in it's increase in the 90's, prior to which was very low but changed due to favorable government policies and increased consumer demand, thus leading to increased dairy goods.

For other sources regarding chocolate in Asian countries, check here.

Joined Jan 1, 2001
The slim use of dairy products in far eastern countries may have something to do with the fact that Asian peoples do not tolerate dairy products well. I read a nutritional study that concluded an average of 35-40% of people of asian ancestry suffer lactose intolerance.

I'm skeptical about the wheat theory. Wheat noodles have been made the same way in China for thousands of years. Also, wheat has been used in the process of making soy sauce in Japan for a long time as well.

I really enjoy asian desserts. My favorites are Moon cakes-those little embossed pastries that the Chinese make to celebrate the viewing of the moon holiday. I had some filled with ground almonds and sweet bean paste that were wonderful! Those little fried sesame puffs are a real treat too, though I don't know what they are called.
Joined Jan 11, 2002
I too enjoy Asian (AND Greek, of course ;) ) desserts! As I said, mine was a technical consideration which has nothing to do with my personal taste:)
As for lactose intolerance and dairy products consumption in far eastern countries, it can be hard to determine what comes first. Environmental factors could have limited cattle breeding and therefore dairy products' use, inhibiting the selection of a lactose-tolerant population as it happened in the Western countries where dairy products are largely available.



Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Sugar. I propose an argument based on the sugar industry. While sweeteners and forms of sugar have been around forever, the refined sugars that are prevalent in westernized pastry are a big difference.

But it's not just that there is sugar, it's the economics of the sugar and how that relates to the empires in place at the time that sugar's use rose in prominence.

Until the various plantations in South America and the South Pacific began exporting inexpensive sugars to their liege countries, that's when westernized very sweet fine pastries began. The availalabilty of a fairly standard product without the variability and limitations of past sweeteners drove the western version of pastry, forcing a competitive evolution of the product unseen in the non-colonial countries of the time.

As cocoa was also exporting during this time, the sweet chocolate variation was inavoidable.

Now, consider what sugar does in food. It can be used to self leaven batters by creaming. It can add stability to some emulsions by it's affinity to water. You can use it drive osmosis instead of salt, and so on. Using sugar opens up culinary options not otherwise avialable.

The comparative sweet tooth of the cultures is only a symptom of the reason. Why those cultures have the sweet tooth is a product of their colonial history and comparative wealth at the time commercial sugar was on it's way to commoditization.

An aside and a rant.

I've been dabbling with an essay on food history for the purposes of this forum. It was drven by reading a middle eastern cookbook and being bashed over the head with ethnocentrism on the part of the writer and the supremacy of the cuisine. A horrible argument was made that ignored history to the author's convenience. But reading it and rebutting it in my mind gave rise to the concept that food history is more about the empires and their trade, than the power of a single culture through its food.

The story of food is the story of empires in history.

Joined Feb 14, 2003
This goes out to anyone who hasn't read it. I stumbled across a book called "You Eat What You Are" (can't remember the author) and found it to be an incredible reference on food and its history, and so much more. It is much like an encylopaedia, outlining every country in the world from A to Z in every cultural, ritualistic and traditional aspect as they relate to food. Is anyone familiar with it and if so, what are your thoughts? I would love to find similar books to research such vast unfamiliar territories.


Joined Apr 4, 2000
In Japan you'll find incredible pastries mostly made with bean paste and sweetener.

There is a sweet for just about every occasion. Traditionally on wedding day the couple will receive a wedding bean paste pastry shape like an egg.

During a tea ceremony you would be served a namagashi, a pastry made of white bean paste delicately decorate. Naturally the pastries change with the seasons.

The mould used for pastries are often a two pieces wooden box with a stamp on the bottom which will put a very delicate imprint on the paste.

I believe they are sold in New York, I can't recall the name of the store at this time but if anyone would like the reference just say so and I'll try to find it.

On March 3 just for the festival of the girls, you can find lacquered trays of hard candies in store. Those are made in shape of vegetables, colourful balls, flowers etc.

In Japan The Beauty of Food by Reinhart Wolf, a great book on Japanese food, you'll find pictures of seasonal sweets. For recipes I suggest Japanese Cooking a Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji.
Joined Dec 15, 1999
French have sophisticated pastry, but they learn it from the italian, who learned it from the turks. The real inventer of haute cuisine.
Joined Aug 4, 2000
There's quite some depth to Shahar's post. It turns out the the Turks serve an open face "pie" covered with veggies and perhaps cheese. Some would call it pizza! It's the middle east where coffee stronger than espresso was invented.

It amazes me that western civilization, primarily in America, gives little credit to the mid-east where astronomy and "haute" cuisine were first developed a millenia or two ago.
Joined Jan 24, 2003
i once attended the menu launch of a major hotel chain in my then job as a wine merchant. the entire menu was served as a taster for us to comment on. I noticed that 90% of the dishes had dairy mainly in the saucing. I mentioned this to a scot sat next to me. I also recounted a news article i had read whereby a major French yogurt company test marketed Japan with a view to setting up a factory seving the japanese market. The response was phenomenal & they built the factory & went bust. They didnt take into account that Japanese are very polite & dont like dairy!!!

I asked the scot what % of his hotel guests were Far eastern.
He asked someone who said about 50% (airport hotel).

He soon put 2 & 2 together & instructed the excec chef to lose half the cream..chef was furious & we werent about to become friends.
Later i found out that the scott was chief exec of hotel chain
OOOPS...still i hope it provedes you with an amusing story & an incite into part of your question

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