Obedient Ingredients

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Healthy vegan gluten free chocolate cookie test: maple syrup vs. honey vs. agave

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NOTE: Honey is not vegan. So two out of the three cookie recipes being tested are vegan, just not the one that uses honey.

Here is a recipe for a very healthy and very tasty chocolate chip cookie, and it happens to also be vegan and gluten free!

This post will be examining three different batches of this recipe with a change in one ingredient: the sweetener. Specifically, we’ll make one batch using maple syrup, one using honey, and one using raw agave nectar.

This recipe and test idea was suggested by my friend Margaret. I’m always down for testing anything chocolate for a friend. And for “science.”

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First, let’s look at some basic differences between the ingredients in question: maple syrup, honey and agave nectar. (If you want to skip the boring background and see the recipe, just keep scrollin’).

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Maple syrup, which we know comes from the sap of maple trees, is known for its silky texture and unique sweet flavor. Apparently an agency in Canada (where maple syrup is king…their flag has a maple leaf!) developed  a “…flavour wheel that details 91 unique flavours that can be present in maple syrup. These flavors are divided into 13 families: vanilla, empyreumatic (burnt), milky, fruity, floral, spicy…”. Now you know how to describe maple syrup. Popular for pouring over foods to sweeten the deal (pancakes, oatmeal, fruit, sausages…the list goes on) it is used in baking as a sweetener. Apparently maple syrup has some good nutrients; it has 15 times more calcium and way less sodium than honey.

Honey comes from the nectar of flowers.  If you are interested in how bees collect honey, there is plenty of literature on the web and from your 7th grade biology text book. Honey also has a rich history and even significant ties with religions (Hindus consider it to be one of the five elixirs of immortality…I bet the other ones are chocolate, pesto, New York pizza, and more chocolate). Honey is used in many ways (mead, honey wine, BBQ sauces, and of course on toast) and definitely in baking as well. It’s not necessarily the most nutritious substance out there, but it is used in some medicinal applications (pro tip: to battle allergies in new locations, eat some of the local honey to slowly adjust to the pollen in the air, thereby reducing your allergic reactions).

I really cannot go into the chemical breakdown of honey, because as I was scanning Wikipedia, I came across this:

C6H12O6 + H2O + O2 → C6H12O7 + H2O2 (glucose oxidase reaction)

…and my brain shut down. Honey is tasty and gooey, very similar to sugar. Let’s move on.

Agave nectar is from the agave plant, mostly found in Mexico and South Africa. It is sweeter than honey (apparently 1.5 times sweeter than sugar!) and less viscous. Agave nectar has become very trendy in health food stores and has been used in baking to replace sugar.

There is a spectrum of agave nectar, ranging from light to dark and also raw. The darker you go, the most intense and caramel-y the flavor. Raw agave nectar (which I used for this experiment) has a more mild, neutral taste (according to Wikipedia) yet when I tasted it it certainly had a very sharp sweetness to it. Not a deep, sweet flavor, necessarily (there was definitely more of a sweet flavor explosion from tasting the honey), but it was certainly sweet. If you like the raw food diets, raw agave nectar is for you … obviously.

Enough boring background, time to make cookies!

The Recipe: Vegan and Gluten Free Black Bean Chocolate Chili Cranberry Cookies

EDIT: I found the source of the original recipe: My New Roots blog about healthy recipes. Check them out.

(Yes, these have black beans in them, and you will never taste the black beans. See my post/recipe on black bean brownies)

Makes nine 3” cookies
Ingredients:
1 ½ cups black beans, very soft (or one 15 oz. can)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil (or ghee)
1/3 cup organic cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey or agave (the basis of today’s experiment)
2 Tbsp. chia seeds (or use 2 Tbsp. ground flax seeds OR 2 eggs)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (80% or higher)
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries (optional, or use dried cherries)
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Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix chia seeds, maple syrup, and vanilla in a bowl and set aside. If using eggs, skip this step.
3. Place drained and well-rinsed beans, coconut oil, cocoa, salt and cayenne in a food processor and blend until well combined. Add maple syrup and chia mixture (or eggs) and pulse to incorporate. The batter will be quite liquid-y, but still hold together. Remove blade from the food processor and add chopped chocolate and cherries. Fold to incorporate.
4. Spoon cookie batter onto lined baking sheet. Using the back of the spoon, flatten top of cookies slightly, as they will not spread when baking. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (important!). Bake for 15 minutes until the edges are browning. Cool and eat. Store in the fridge.
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Experiment:

I simply made this recipe three different times with the three competing ingredients.

This is not a blind taste test (by myself today…more cookies for me).

Results:

Before I compare the maple syrup, honey and agave nectar batches, I just gotta say that these cookies are really yummy! Supremely chocolaty with a good fudge-like quality.

I tasted the cookies at different stages after they were complete, writing down my thoughts. Specifically, I tried the cookies a) when they came out of the oven, b) after they cooled for a while, and c) after they spent an hour in the refrigerator. I concentrated on many qualities of the cookie, such as texture, sweetness, flavors, how well it held together, and so on.

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Here are my thoughts:

Right out of the oven:

Maple Syrup = Strong cocoa taste, not much sweetness. Cranberries a nice taste. Very soft, almost airy texture, but also fudge-y. Can something be airy and fudge-y at the same time? Holds together pretty well.

Honey = Definitely smell the honey, and also taste it. The flavor of honey is more present than the sweetness of honey, less of a cocoa taste. Really soft. Liked this one better.

Agave = Not much sweetness. The salt sticks out more. Not a big fan. The little bit of cayenne is more prominent, like the salt. Not the biggest fan.

After they cooled for a bit:

Maple = deep chocolate flavor. Balanced flavor.

Honey = sweetest. Too sweet?

Agave = detect the spices the easiest, still not that sweet.

Finally, after the cookies spent some time in the fridge:

You know, they were all really delicious, and the differences are pretty much negligible. I still think that the honey cookies have a more distinctive taste and are sweeter. I am still able to pick up more of the tastes of the cayenne from the agave batch.

I recommend using any of these sweeteners when you bake cookies, but if I had to rank them according to my personal preference, my rankings would go as such:

Honey > Maple > Agave

Factors to Consider and Final Thoughts:

I tested three different types of sweeteners, but it is very important to know that within each type of sweetener, there are many more sub-types! For example, with honey, I used organic Mountain Forest Honey – Amber. That sounds very specific, and it is. I could have purchased a lighter amber or a completely different flavor, like clover honey or orange blossom. Here is a very interesting link that talks about the different kinds of honey: http://www.bjcp.org/mead/floral_guide.pdf

What if I used dark agave nectar? Would that have produced the sweetest cookie? Plus, is it even HEALTHIER compared with sugar? Not necessarily: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-agave

Is Grade B maple syrup better than Grade A (which I used)? This article suggests so: http://www.thekitchn.com/good-question-maple-syrup-grad-46292

This is a very healthy cookie, yet the sweeteners are still all simple sugars, and it is the opinion of those concerned with our health that we need to reduce all sweeteners. For the purpose of this experiment, however, I was focusing more on taste, because when I enjoy a cookie, I want that cookie to be sweet.

In the future, I (or you) can perform a test using different types of agave, honey and maple syrup to determine which of each type of sweetener is the best. I do think that these three sweeteners, regardless of the grade/darkness/origin of the sweetener, are different enough to warrant an examination into a cookie taste test.

In the future, if I am baking cookies, I am confident in using any of these three ingredients to replace sugar.

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5 thoughts on “Healthy vegan gluten free chocolate cookie test: maple syrup vs. honey vs. agave

  1. I’ve heard about black bean cookies and am definitely going to try these! I think I’ll use the honey option :)

    • Just had them again a few hours later. The honey is definitely the most noticeable sweetener. The maple syrup is most moist. And if you ever want to add more spices to your cookies (like pumpkin spice or cinnamon or if you want to chili to stand out more) use agave. Happy cooking!

  2. There’s only one problem. Honey isn’t vegan. Vegetarians will eat honey, but vegans won’t. (Look it up. Honey is an animal product, for example, like milk.) So you should change the title of your blog. No actual vegan will bother reading further than the word “honey.”

    • You’re right. Thanks for bringing this up. I am not a vegan myself but I should have considered this more carefully. I will add a note in the beginning. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Gluten Road Test Nyc | my gluten free diet

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