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Sweet and raw eco-friendly cake alternatives 

While a Google image search for "green wedding desserts" still yields all things Kermit-colored, "green" wedding features are becoming fixtures, and the demand for eco-friendly treat options is on the rise in Charlotte.

Beverly McLaughlin is one of the local vendors feeding the frenzy. She started Beverly's Gourmet Foods (www.beverlysgourmetfoods.com) seven years ago, but began selling vegan-friendly culinary goods 20 years ago.

"Twenty-something years ago, there weren't a lot of options in Charlotte, but there's definitely a huge improvement now. We have 270 products in our line now, and although we don't do wedding cakes, we have done organic desserts for weddings," says McLaughlin. "Our vegan carrot cake with caramel icing is a favorite, as well as our raw vegan gluten-free brownie."

Newcomers on the vegan dessert scene are finding a market hungry for what they have to offer.

Kiersten Trismen opened Novel Sweets (www.novelsweets.com) a little more than a year ago, and has recently secured the wedding circuit as an outlet for her creations.

Her customers are doing away with cakes and leaning toward options such as vegan cupcake towers, which allow guests several flavors to choose from.

"I name all of my cupcakes after literary characters," says Trismen, "and even though I've expanded my line, they'll always be the primary focus. I'm excited to work weddings because I can be a little more creative. I love coming up with new flavors, and for weddings people are looking for fancier innovations."

Customers are craving creativity and variety in their eco-friendly treats, and it's that appetite for novelty that had Diane Hughes, founder of The Naked Tart (www.thenakedtart.com), recently prepare 50 of her raw, organic tarts for her first wedding gig.

"The bride came to me because the groom's brother had some really serious allergies and so did a couple other family members," says Hughes. "They had a small cake but I made them about 50 different tarts, all different flavors. I decorated them with edible flowers I picked at a local farm, and they served them along with a small wedding cake."

Hughes offered a tasting for the bride and her family, who came over to her kitchen and sampled different wines paired with different flavors of tarts they had chosen.

Hughes uses coconut nectar to sweeten her tarts, which she describes as "a cross between honey and molasses; it doesn't spike your blood sugar, and it's an overall healthier alternative to sugar."

Although she didn't initially plan to make The Naked Tart an eco-friendly brand, exposure to information on the food industry affected the course of her business plan.

"For example, I use biodegradable packaging now, but I didn't at first. I didn't expect to get involved in this movement. It's become something I'm really passionate about."

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