Guilt-free Gluttony: solution or illusion?

By Mathilde de Gooijer


Fitness influencers tell us on their blogs that refined sugar is pure evil and gluten and animal products are to be blamed for any physical or mental inconvenience. They share creative recipes for baked goods and desserts without sugar, fat or dairy, claiming these alternatives taste just as good as the real thing. That way you can sin and don’t have to feel guilty, they say. But are these so-called healthy versions really just as appetizing and worth the sacrifice?

Gluttony is one of the seven sins mentioned in the Bible, but what is life without a little treat? Just take a look at Instagram or the cooking section of any bookshop and you’ll see: baking seems to be more popular than ever. The Great British Bake-off, a smash hit TV-show with numerous spinoffs all over the world, has inspired us to put on our oven mitts and battle the batter. At the same time, we want to be healthy by trying to avoid eating too much fat or sugar.

Banning certain ingredients forces us to be creative. On rare occasions this can lead to good: Pietro Ferrero created Nutella when he tried to find a tasteful alternative to chocolate in times when cacao was scarce. Many creative minds now share recipes for baked goods and desserts without sugar, fat, dairy or anything else they want to ban, claiming their versions to be just as good and much healthier compared to the treats we all know and love.

Spilling the beans

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, so we gave it a try. Classic recipes for brownies, blondies, chocolate mousse, and cake were competing against so-called “healthy versions”. I organised a blind tasting with the editors and made black bean brownies, cake with applesauce instead of butter and avocado chocolate mousse. To put things in perspective, I also served the traditional treats. Do they really taste the same?

Traditional brownies contain flour and are full of chocolate, sugar, and butter. Sounds good, right?
Calories per 100 gr: 439
Score: 4,8

“These are really rich in flavour.”

“I like that they’re fudgy and crunchy at the same time.”

The internet offers plenty of healthy recipes for this scrumptious treat. A mixture of pureed black beans, cacao, honey and eggs supposedly provides a tasty alternative.
Calories per 100 gr: 174
Score: 1,5

“The structure reminds me of a yoga mat.” “So does the taste!”

“It doesn’t really taste like anything. It’s just a weird piece of gloop.”

Chocolate mousse
Classic chocolate mousse only consists of dark chocolate, sugar and eggs. The egg whites are beaten until stiff and the mixture of chocolate, yolks and sugar is folded in. This makes for a rich and frothy mousse.
Calories per 100 gr: 321
Score: 4,5

“This is soooo good. It’s creamy, yet still feels light.”

“This is like a luscious chocolate cloud.”

The vegan avocado alternative uses cacao, melted chocolate, agave syrup, and coconut milk. Combining it in a blender creates a smooth mixture, but it will never get light or fluffy. It turns out avocado chocolate mousse is something you either hate or love – there is no in-between.
Calories per 100 gr: 246
Score: 2,0

“This avocado mud is an insult to all desserts. The flavours just don’t combine.”

“This isn’t mousse, it’s mush.”

“I like the one with avocado. The other one tastes so normal; this one is a little fruity.”

“I liked that it had a fruity flavour to it! It wasn’t sickly sweet but super creamy and delicious.”

Vanilla cake is usually made from the same amount of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, plus adding a dash of vanilla extract.
Calories per 100 gr: 399
Score: 4,0

“This is a nice basic cake with a rich flavour. It’s clear we need butter to enjoy the finer things in life.”

In order to achieve a fat-free cake, butter can be replaced with applesauce. The cake then definitely has a more dense structure and will be less moist than a classic cake.
Calories per 100 gr: 245
Score: 3,1

“The taste is not bad, but you definitely need to work more on this cake.”

“It’s as if a brick and a sponge decided to have a baby together.”

“The taste is fine, but I feel like I’m chewing on a tire.”

The way the cookie crumbles

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The same goes for sin-free desserts. The healthy version might have less calories, but they definitely don’t compare to the real thing and are not worth the sacrifice. Don’t deny yourself a treat every now and then. When you do indulge in scrumptious bakes and desserts, make sure you enjoy it!