Panna cotta, which translates to “cooked cream” in Italian, is a simple, slightly sweet dessert that is somewhere between pudding and Jello. Like both of those desserts, panna cotta can come in many flavors and is often garnished with fruits and sauces.
In this episode of Eating by Heart, chef Colombe Jacobsen makes a heart-healthy coconut panna cotta that is a bit healthier while still tasting like a treat. Using coconut milk not only creates an irresistibly tropical flavor, but it is also better for lowering cholesterol than cow’s milk. In place of refined sugar, this coconut panna cotta uses maple syrup (the real stuff!) or agave for a more natural sweetness.
Another trick to lowering the sugar in this dairy-free panna cotta is using a real vanilla bean. (Learn the trick to deseeding a vanilla bean here.) Opting for a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract is an easy way to amp up the flavor of a dessert, so you can go easier on the sugar and save on calories.
This coconut panna cotta recipe contains two unique ingredients you may be less familiar with: agar-agar and arrowroot starch. Although less common in the United States, agar-agar has long been used in Asian desserts. It’s a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. Arrowroot starch works just like cornstarch, and it’s gluten-free. When used as a thickener, it creates a very silky mixture—perfect for this healthy panna cotta!