Healthy Brownie Bake-Off

In my opinion, brownies are one of the greatest confections ever conceived on this green earth. Unfortunately, they don’t generally qualify as a source of balanced sustenance. When I, in the course of editing the Guiding Stars blog, come across one “healthy” brownie recipe after another, I can’t not try them. Brownies that count as a reasonable balanced snack? I am all over that idea.

The problem with healthy brownie recipes is that they are not all created equal. Some require ingredients not many of us stock in our pantries. Many of them don’t taste even remotely like brownies…or like anything any sane person would ever touch a second bite of. As a brownie lover and pioneer in the search for ways to enjoy endless chocolate without destroying one’s health, I personally tested every brownie recipe in the Guiding Stars database. Here’s what I discovered.

Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean & Spinach Brownies

3 Guiding StarsI made the mistake of using adult spinach with these and the flavor was overpowering, so if you try these yourself, use baby spinach. The texture is also extremely mushy–if I made them again, I would try including egg whites (3 Guiding Stars) or flaxseed meal soaked in water (sometimes called a “vegan egg”) to give them a little more bite. I’m also not a fan of the black bean taste, so I might try a milder flavored bean, like navy or cannelini, and sacrifice the appearance for flavor.

Zucchini Banana Brownies

2 Guiding StarsNot one person who tried these brownies liked them for the win, though to be fair, I halved the recipe, which is an iffy proposition when the measurements include directions like “1 banana.” These were intensely chewy, and the zucchini flavor came through as a bit too bitter. I’d take plain zucchini bread over these brownies any day of the week.

Sweet Potato Brownies

2 Guiding StarsThese were my personal favorite. For one thing, they’re packed with fruits and veggies. For another, they have FROSTING. I love frosting. I love this frosting. I couldn’t find hazelnut butter at my local grocer, so  I ended up trying to grind it from hazelnuts…my immersion blender is no longer speaking to me.  You will probably need to let them bake more like 40-60 minutes to not have raw batter, and the end result is a very dark chocolate, fudgy texture with odd (but delightful) overtones from all the fruit & veg.

Black Bean Brownies

2 Guiding StarsAll of my taste testers agreed: if you want a healthy replacement for a box brownie that kids will eat without complaint, this recipe is your best best. I couldn’t find straight-up granulated erythritol, so I used Truvia, and I won’t lie to you: I thought eating these brownies wasn’t much better than sucking on a chocolate-coated black bean in a tinfoil wrapper. I, however, am one of those people who can’t stand fake sweeteners because of the metallic aftertaste, and given the popularity of diet cola, I realize I’m a little weird in that. If you like diet sodas, these brownies will probably delight you.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for butter, sugar, eggs and fudgy chocolate for a treat, none of these is going to take the cake…er, brownies as a perfect replacement. If you’re looking for a reasonable snack to include in your family’s rotation of healthy treats, Black Bean Brownies are your best bet. If you’re hosting a healthy ladies’ night out with dark chocolate fans, the Sweet Potato Brownies are terrific. The other two have some potential, but the recipes need tweaking to make the grade of enjoyable.