I tried a Blue Zone dessert recipe for brownies packed with protein and fiber. It had an unexpected secret ingredient.
- I tried a recipe for black bean brownies based on Blue Zones longevity diets.
- The brownies look, smell, and taste great, but they aren't quite as satisfying as the real deal.
If you're trying to eat healthy but can't bring yourself to love legumes, a simple dessert with a secret ingredient may help you learn to enjoy eating beans.
Research consistently shows that beans have major health benefits, and may even add years to your life as part of a healthy diet. Beans are also a staple food in areas of the world known as Blue Zones, where people have the highest rates of living to 100.
To see if eating for a long life can also be delicious, I tried a recipe for black bean chocolate chunk brownies based on the traditional diets of some of the longest living people on the planet.
While the black bean brownies didn't quite hit the same as regular brownies, I thought they were a delicious and chocolatey treat anyway. They're not going to replace a more typical brownie recipe when I want to indulge, but I'll definitely make them again as a fun and sneaky way to enjoy more protein and fiber.
Beans are a great way to add protein and fiber to your diet
A fair question before I get into the process here, is why on earth anyone would want to add beans to their dessert?
But the humble bean is a surprising superfood, according to Dan Buettner, the author who pioneered research on Blue Zones and developed the recipe I tested.
Beans are cheap, accessible, and repeatedly show up in the diets of Blue Zones regions in Japan, Costa Rica, Greece, and Italy.
They're also a good source of both protein and fiber, nutrients that can help you feel full and promote balanced blood sugar, healthy digestion, and muscle growth.
I've long been a fan of beans, but was skeptical of whether they belonged in sweet treats, and this recipe quickly convinced me.
The healthy dessert is simple to make, but you need a strong food processor
The recipe for Blue Zones brownies is straightforward and doesn't require any special cooking techniques. You just preheat the oven, grease a pan, combine the banana, almond butter, cacao powder, agave syrup, vanilla, and beans and blitz in a food processor. Then, you add the oats and chocolate chips, stir to combine, pour into a pan, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean.
Easy — except all I have in my kitchen is a very old, very small blender that tries its best, so I had to do my blitzing in batches. The process got quite messy, and I managed to get cacao powder on my cat, who was lurking around in case I dropped anything (prompting a frantic Google search for "cats can have black beans?!?")
The full ordeal brought my poor, ancient appliance to its absolute limit, but together, we got the job done.
By the time I finished, I was having a full Augustus Gloop moment with chocolate batter on my shirt, pants, and face (from dedicated quality control sampling).
While the mixture wasn't perfectly smooth, the addition of the oats and chocolate chips helped to cover up the remaining black beans that survived my blending attempts.
And I didn't mind the resulting rustic texture, and thought the recipe lived up to its "chocolate chunk" name in a way that was very enjoyable.
In total, it took about half an hour to prep — though it would certainly be much quicker with a proper food processor — and another 45 minutes in the oven since I made a double batch in a larger pan.
The result didn't smell like baked beans (thank goodness!). In fact, it smelled like any other brownie you might make from a box or a cookbook.
The final product also didn't look any different from ordinary brownies, so the beans were successfully disguised with the other ingredients.
The brownies tasted great, but weren't quite as satisfying as a typical dessert
My favorite part of making the recipe, obviously, was tasting the brownies, and I wasn't disappointed. They were soft but just crumbly enough, with a nice gooey texture from the melted chocolate.
However, the strongest flavor was banana, which was a major hint that the brownies weren't a typical recipe. I couldn't tell from eating them that there were beans, or that they were vegan, but my partner said these were definitely not a replacement for brownies.
I agree, but I'm not mad about these as a black bean dessert, and would definitely make them again and even serve them to friends and family.
I also really enjoyed eating them. I finished my first one quickly, then immediately decided to taste another just to be sure my reporting was thorough.
Doing some math via MyFitnessPal, I calculated that each 1-inch square serving of brownie would have about 255 calories, 8 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein.
In comparison, a similarly sized brownie from a boxed mix has roughly 250 calories, 37 grams of sugar, and about a gram or less of both protein and fiber.
The ingredients are a bit expensive, but it would be easy to swap in cheaper versions
I made the recipe as-written for the purposes of scientific rigor (which here means the full taste-testing experience).
However, it would be simple to sub in less fancy ingredients without compromising the health benefits.
If you aren't a strict vegan, the agave syrup could be replaced with honey, which is another sweet Blue Zones ingredient linked to longevity. Ordinary dark chocolate is also loaded with evidence-based health benefits, so opting for that instead of dairy-free could help you save money on your grocery list.
Similarly, unsweetened cocoa powder is cheaper and full of antioxidants called flavanols (although it may be slightly less nutritious than cacao, which is fermented and not roasted at a high temperature).
Finally, while almond butter has more healthy fats, peanut butter is a good, inexpensive alternative.
When it comes to the vanilla extract, though, you shouldn't skimp, since good vanilla is worth the cost.
Besides that, you're left with only the budget-friendly ingredients like bananas, oats, and beans, so with the substitutions above, the brownies are relatively low-cost and easy to make from ingredients you probably already have at home.
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