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.”
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’).
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:
…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)
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).
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.
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.