When Mariam Hourani was growing up in Canada her family gave her an Arabic nickname that translates into “girl with appetite.” At university, where she studied marketing and human resources, she was the only one of her friends who would cook meals instead of ordering them in.
She moved back to Dubai 13 years ago and when her brother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease two years ago, she started looking for organic, plant-based and gluten-free sweets and snacks.
“I couldn’t find anything that met my standards,” she says. “I mean, snacks and treats made from real ingredients, with no hidden nasty stuff but which tasted good.”
Her company Rawkure was born out of a desire to help people who wanted to lessen or eliminate inflammation in their body by eliminating preservatives, colourings and other problematic ingredients.
Hourani started with an Instagram page, where she would share information about inflammation and food. Within a few months, she had an entire menu of anti-inflammatory, plant-based, organic, gluten-free sweets and savory items. The business officially launched just over a year ago and has grown to include a keto and nut-free range, as well as treats including Sinless Cacao Donuts and superfood Kreamy Kupcakes.
How did you get into baking?
I was always interested in science, in how food and herbs are our natural medicines. So, I read and taught myself about herbalism and healthy cooking. I have a passion to help people and I’ve had many issues with my own gut health which I was only able to resolve by eliminating certain foods and eating better. Although I’ve been cooking since my teenage years, I got into baking only in 2018. I take pride in being able to provide guilt-free food, snacks and treats that people can enjoy, no matter what diet they’re on.
What did you have to overcome to do it?
I love to cook. However, I hated baking because of all the measuring, because I don’t usually measure when I cook. It’s a natural talent and skill I got from my mother who got it from her mother, so baking was a challenge for me.
How did the business grow?
Rawkure, at first, was a one-woman show. I was in charge of recipe development right the way through to organizing deliveries. I never did any advertising or marketing; it just grew by word of mouth. I believe the business took off within months because many people were impressed that healthy snacks that were free of refined-sugar, gluten, eggs and any animal-based products could actually be tasty. It took a lot of work from my side and a lot of trial and error to really perfect each recipe and overcome the typical stereotype of vegan and gluten-free food.
I would like people to know that Rawkure is a homegrown start-up business that wants to make a difference in our society by providing healthy and wholesome foods, snacks and treats for all ages that are prepared with conscience and love.
What do you mean by ‘conscience baking’?
I only work with certified organic and top quality ingredients. I have turned down many business opportunities with investors who thought my ingredients were too good and too costly and didn’t make sense financially, but I wouldn’t accept using anything less than the best. I use the word conscience baking because at Rawkure we bake with a conscience. We use superfoods as coloring rather than artificial coloring, organic dates from farms as sweeteners, certified gluten-free flours from a facility that doesn’t produce any gluten flour; we use psyllium husk in our products to add natural fiber, turmeric to help reduce inflammation, etcetera. I believe it is important to feed your customers as you would feed your own family.
What are the challenges involved in this baking?
Baking without butter, eggs and gluten means it’s a challenge to hold the dough together and keep it soft. My biggest challenge is my keto range, which uses almond or coconut flour and dairy-free milks and butters. There are at least three trials before we can get it right.
What advice do you have for people trying to make their diets more healthy?
I think the most important thing is to acknowledge that what works for one person may not work for another. For example, while cutting out eggs and gluten reduces inflammation in the body, someone might be intolerant to nuts, which means they can’t have nutty milks instead of regular dairy. Everyone needs to eat clean and in moderation, whether it’s food or sweets. Never eat to be full – always leave room in your belly. The first thing anyone can do is cut out any refined sugar.
Is the healthy baking trend here to stay?
I believe people are trying to be healthier and are more health-conscious in the region now than ever before – not only because it’s a trend, but also because diseases are on the increase. I believe people just want to avoid anything that’s preventable live generally healthier lives.