Curiosity, Black Beans & Brownies

As I mentioned, the state of balance and wellbeing I currently enjoy in my life has been years in the making. And in that time there were losses (weight, guilt, food addictions), gains (knowing how to truly take care of myself) and a whole lot of culinary exploration in the mix. Changes were made – less butter, more olive oil. Less refined foods, more whole grains. It has been a journey.

During this time, I began reading up on possible “healthier” versions of my ultimate dessert – and in my humble opinion, the American culinary zenith – the Brownie. Terms like ‘apple sauce’ and ‘prune puree’ were mentioned. I was dismayed – and more than a little skeptical. These are not the sort of things that inspire enthusiasm, even for the healthy-diet minded. And then I stumbled on what can only be described as the paramount culinary offense when mentioned in the same breath as brownies – black beans. (This concept is apparently not uncommon. There are a number of recipes on the web that recommend using black beans as a substitute.)

black beans and chocolate

That discovery resulted in this thought: WHY would you ever do that to a brownie? Black beans and cocoa powder are not meant to co-exist. Ever. Or so I thought. And then, my curiosity got the better of me.

Investigating black beans and their potential role in brownie batter would be no small endeavor. Brownies – those molten, decadent, heaven-on-earth, fudgy wonders – are easily on my Top 5 list for desserts. Research would be required, recipes tweaked and fiddled with, comments and instructions pored over for hours. I will admit to a significant number of eye rolls. How good can a ‘healthier’ brownie be? But I persevered, took notes and created a recipe adapted from the best of what I could find – taking into account what I was willing to live with. And finally, I baked.

Out came the blender, on went the oven – preheating as I lightly oiled a square glass baking pan. I rinsed the black beans – THOROUGHLY – and drained. With breath held, I tossed the beans into the blender with sugar, oil, vanilla, baking powder, instant coffee, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. A quick blitz and there was batter. Thick batter. Canned-cake-frosting thick batter. No turning back now. I tasted it and it was… really very good. No hint of bean, no grit – and shining through it all, the strong, bittersweet hit of chocolate. (I take all the credit for doubling the amount of cocoa powder – clearly a wise move.) I scraped the batter into the glass baking pan, sprinkled a generous handful of chocolate chips on the top, and into the oven went the whole lot.

pan of black bean brownies

Thirty minutes later, the aroma of deep, rich chocolate filling my kitchen, the brownies were done and I was congratulating myself on my bravery. They looked legitimate – not at all resembling the sad, cellophane-wrapped specimens encountered in natural food stores. But the voices of recipe comments past lingered – words like “grainy,” “beany,” and “rejected outright” – flitted across my mind. Still, I jumped in. The promise was too great – this was potentially my new, go-to breakfast food, full of protein and fiber – and only moderately sullied by a bit of fat and a scant dose of refined sugar. I waited until they would be cool enough to eat, then sliced through the gooey layer of chocolate to the dense crumb below.

I took a bite. It should be noted, I wanted to love them. Or, I wanted to love them. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying I outright disliked them – just that I’m not head-over-heels crazy for them either. And it’s not the beans – their taste just disappears into the chocolate. But there was the subtle undercurrent of something else going on in there. Something earthy. Something *too* healthy. Not sweet enough. Moist and chocolately, but not chewy, oozing, do-not-disturb bliss.

So the final verdict. Will I serve them my dinner party guests? No. Will I make them again? Yes – from time to time, if I’m looking for a healthy dessert option or in need of a gluten-free gift for a friend – then yes*.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. With a few healthy reservations, I present:

Black Bean Browniesclose up black bean brownie

16 servings / approximately 125 calories per serving

  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used one of those little Starbucks Via instant coffee packets)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 square baking dish. Combine all ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes (the top will appear dry when done).

Let cool (about 15 minutes). Cut into 16 servings. Enjoy!

*A final note, lest any of the above commentary dissuade you from giving these BBB’s a go. I recently served them up to a group of daring friends, and they were smitten. Asking for more, begging for the recipe smitten. So, my not-quite-love regard for them might just be me. I do, admittedly, hold this particular dessert to an impossibly high standard – so I would urge you to give these a try before drawing any conclusions. As a wise friend once said, if brownies are the dessert equivalent of George Clooney (true!), then adding a little healthy substitution to the mix is like George in Birkenstocks. Nearly impossible to imagine. But, no matter how you slice it (and I really do hope you will), a pretty picture nonetheless.

Bookmark and Share

Tags: , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Curiosity, Black Beans & Brownies”

  1. Emma V. says:

    My goodness you are brave. It can be a hard – and dangerous – task to mess with that kind of perfection. That being said, mad kudos to you for having a strong heart and a willing hand. You took the hit for all of us and on our behalf, I thank you.

  2. Caitlin says:

    I love these brownies! For a healthy version I have to say these are about the best fake-out brownies ever. These will definitely make their way into our recipe book. Thanks Kathryn!

  3. Black bean and cocoa in combination were a rather surprising trend about 4 years ago in Japan. We’ve used leftover osechi beans to make a chocolate ice cream a few times, and the packaged products made with that combination are usually not bad, and occasionally interesting.

Leave a Reply