With the Year of the Tiger kicking off on Feb. 1, appetites are naturally drawn to the traditional treats that accompany the holiday. Mooncake biscuits, Taiwanese pineapple cake and other adorable pastries have, over the years, won over even those who didn’t grow up celebrating the Lunar New Year. As the Bay Area’s affinity for Asian sweets grows, we’re seeing new tweaks to the beloved desserts, often to accommodate dietary restrictions. For Annie Wang, who founded Annie’s T Cakes in January 2021, her recipe adaptations have global implications — it’s all about the environment.
Wang’s vegan treats reimagine Chinese and Taiwanese classics with brown rice flour, olive oil and soybean, avoiding animal products altogether, and not for health reasons alone. “The vision for Annie’s T Cakes was born out of my own journey to positively impact the climate through my diet and work,” Wang told Nosh. A vegetarian for almost a decade, and now a vegan, she speaks of a hardship finding “plant-based versions of the foods I grew up enjoying with my family at weekend dim sum and other celebrations.”
Prior to starting her business, Wang has had plenty of opportunities to explore the connection between veganism and environmental issues, namely climate change. When she was a child and a teenager, Wang’s family moved a lot, spanning the East Coast, Midwest and U.S. South. In “some of those towns I inhaled fumes from pig and chicken farms nearby my elementary and high schools,” Wang said. “We would eventually move from those areas, but a lot of people have to suffer the health and psychological consequences from that for decades, if not their entire lives.”
As a Princeton in Asia Fellow, she was part of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, on their Environmental Law and Policy team. She also participated in the student-run Georgetown University Fossil Free Campaign, and has worked on grassroots environmental campaigns and in nonprofits focused on environmental policy in the U.S. Then, she says, she “was fortunate to work at a couple of different food tech companies in the Bay Area,” name-checking the fruit protein start-up Joywell Foods and the molecular spirits brand Endless West.
Her newest career path seems like a natural, delicious progression. Annie’s T Cakes specializes in boxes of traditional cookies, which, in the past, have included Taiwanese pineapple cakes, mooncakes, and tangyuan soup kits. This year, those will be joined by new offerings — almond cookies and mooncake biscuits.
Wang intentionally uses environmentally-friendly ingredients that go beyond the surface of veganism, like upcycled flour from the Oakland-based Renewal Mill, made from soybean fiber, a byproduct of making tofu.
“In the coming year, I’m also looking for ways to incorporate more biodiverse ingredients into my snacks and reduce food waste,” she said, “by finding ways to use the edible byproducts of my production like pineapple juice and lemon peels.”
Since launching Annie’s T, Wang has received orders from all over the U.S. Has anyone expressed dissatisfaction with the vegan angle? “I’m not sure that we’re quite to the point of most people preferring vegan options,” she said, “but more folks are definitely seeking ways to incorporate more plant-based options into their diets. I haven’t gotten any feedback yet that the snacks aren’t traditional.”
Wang is aware, of course, of the growing popularity of traditional Asian snacks — and highlights that accommodating dietary restrictions has certainly added to the buzz.
“From my customer base alone, I’ve had people that weren’t AAPI reach out wanting to try Annie’s T Cakes’ snacks,” she said. “I’m excited to get a chance to share these sustainable, culturally relevant staples with people from all walks of life.”
Annie’s T holiday boxes are available for preorder online. Pickups are in Uptown Oakland (specific location to be given after checkout). Shipping is also available (California residents only).