Food & Drink Sin azúcar

El Sol, San Antonio’s only bakery for diabetics

It’s easy to drive right by Southtown’s El Sol Bakery without noticing it. It’s located outside the frenzied First Friday zone, and the Romero family hasn’t tarted up the building with splashy graphics. But, once inside, Mauricio Romero will treat you to the verbal equivalent of flashing signs and colored lights. The topic: heart-healthy whole-grain Mexican breads and pastries.

Jenny Romero (left) helps a customer with her order at El Sol Bakery. The Southtown bakery features heart-healthy, whole-grain versions of traditional Mexican baked goods. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

The Romeros have el único pan para diabéticos in the city. According to a study released from the National Diabetes Education Program in November, Mexican Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes than other non-Hispanic whites in the same age group, and Bexar County’s incidence of diabetes is 12 percent, compared to 6 percent in the nation. So a bakery that serves “the only bread for diabetics” is notable, and City and County officials have recognized the Romeros’ contribution with proclamations, duly framed and set beside the cash register. El Sol’s recipes, which are copyrighted, were developed with the aid of local physician Roberto Treviño, a diabetes specialist. They contain no animal fats—Treviño uses vegetable oil—or artificial sweetners, and “sólo un poquito de azúcar.”

Developing the recipes was the easy part. “It’s hard to find good bakers,” confides Romero, “they often like to drink.” But, he adds, “tengo suerte con dos buenos panaderos.” (“I’m having luck with two bakers.”) Considering the overwhelming preponderance of mainstream bakeries in town, developing an audience may prove equally difficult for El Sol, which has been open just under two years. But the proof is in the pan. Here’s one perspective.

Bakery owner Mauricio Romero (left) talks with customer Eloisa Hernandez at El Sol Bakery.

El Sol makes 35 breads and pastries. I was ready to eschew El Sol’s more-virtuous version of the empanada, but soon discovered that whole grain is an especially effective complement to full-bodied fillings such as spiced sweet potato and pumpkin. Apple and mango weren’t bad, either. The sweet-potato filling was also a winner with the regalo, a new-to-me treat consisting of a lightly sweetened filling sandwiched between gingerbread-textured pastry. The Bavarian cream filling was not as successful—whole-grain pastries are less neutral wrappers than their white-flour counterparts and need full-flavored fillings. In the guava-paste-stuffed “taquito,” the filling dominated, banishing any residual reluctance to go for the grain. A raisin-filled oatmeal galleta was perhaps the best of all possible worlds: It was crumbly, melted in the mouth, and was just sweet enough to say cookie convincingly. A pineapple-laced, low-sugar tres leches, so pudding-like it was packaged in a plastic cup with piped cream on top, passed for conventional without a second taste. Though I took several more.

El Sol Bakery

728 S. Presa
6am-6pm, Tue-Sun
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

But as good as they may be for you, in moderation, whole-grain breads and pastries aren’t always as immediately desirable as their competition. The whole-grain cuernos are well-meaning approximations, but a little dutiful; frankly I prefer the lighter, butterier version from Mi Tierra. And I found the raisin and pecan renditions of the semita wanted a slathering of butter and jam.

El Sol does produce a few “regular” pastries and cookies, and the flaky, jam-filled campechana and the chocolate-chip cookie, good as they were, tasted almost cloyingly sweet sampled after all the others. This might be the comparison the Romeros need to encourage, and promotion of their products may become easier when, on January 2, El Sol opens its new breakfast-lunch room, which will serve sandwiches, specialty coffees, and the like. Order a cappuccino, choose a few pastries from the glass case, and make your own comparison on the spot. Then spread the word.

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