Harvard Students Launch Healthy Dessert Startup

The Holistic serves 'guilt-free' cakes without butter, eggs, refined sugars, and wheat.

photo provided by The Holistic for bostonmagazine.com

photo provided by The Holistic for bostonmagazine.com

Sometimes the biggest ideas start out in the smallest places. Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com from his garage. The Wall Street Journal was founded in the basement of a candy shop. Hugh Hefner created Playboy from his kitchen table. And now Alice Han and Nina Hooper, juniors at Harvard University, have created The Holistic, a healthy dessert company, in their dorm kitchen.

As a food startup, The Holistic strives to provide “guilt-free,” unprocessed cakes that are made without butter, eggs, refined sugars, and wheat. Han says she and Hooper, both Australian natives, founded the company after observing a lack of healthy food options in the U.S.

“Coming from Australia, we’re used to finding foods with real ingredients [such as] plain flour without bleach or genetic modification, and sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup,” Han says, “When we came to the U.S., we were shocked by the prevalence of desserts, let alone foods, with artificial and processed ingredients.”

Though they have no formal culinary training—Han and Hooper are history and astrophysics students, respectively—the pair turned to their own kitchens in search of alternatives. Han says they chose to focus on desserts because of their popularity with students as a “quick eat and quick fix for energy.” The goal was, according to Han, to create a cake void of empty calories which would be healthy enough to eat for breakfast.

Several months and more than 100 recipe variations later, Han and Hooper have finally perfected their concoction: an eight-ingredient, individual-sized chocolate cake featuring ground chickpeas, flour, almonds, coconut oil, avocado, agave nectar, apple sauce, and cacao powder. They have also developed a second cake, which features chia seeds and orange zest in addition to the other ingredients.

As their operation grows, Han and Hooper have traded their dormitory digs for a spot in Harvard’s Innovation Lab. They’ve also started catering on-campus events, and have even received a client interest from Harvest Co-Op Markets, a local grocery that specializes in natural foods.

Expanding The Holistic has come with challenges—Han and Hooper are also juggling Ivy League course loads, after all—but so far, the venture appears to be paying off.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from people who support us is what keeps us going,” Han says.