There’s no shortage of healthy brownies recipes on the web. But which recipe is the best?
That’s what I set out to answer with this brownie bake-off. I tested eight of the most highly reviewed recipes for low calorie brownies in the Kinda Healthy kitchen to find my favorite.
While recipe rankings are highly subjective, I’m confident the results will also inform you about which ingredients are objectively better (or worse) for making healthier brownies.
Update: A month later, I decided to use my findings from this experiment to make an ultimate healthy brownie recipe, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post.
Recipe Selection Criteria
Since my wife is the resident bake-off expert for our sister site, With the Woodruffs, I enlisted her help with this experiment. She’s tested everything from the internet’s best chocolate chip cookies to biscuits.
After scouring viral social media recipes, YouTube videos, and other sources, she’s found the best selection criteria is to use recipes with the most user reviews on food blogs and websites.
In addition to reviews, we made sure to include a few options for a more rounded representation of different ingredient and technique variations. We selected recipes that are low calorie, keto, vegan, and sugar-free, and feature ingredients such as zucchini, pumpkin, apple sauce, and Greek yogurt brownies. Don’t worry, there is a healthy brownie option for everyone!
Despite being the second highest reviewed recipe out of our selection with 2.9k reviews and a 5-star average, these Greek yogurt brownies were a bit of a let down. The flavor was a bit one note (like a chocolate chip), and they were quite dense and rubbery.
This recipe also calls for “sugar of your choice” with suggestions for brown, white, or sugar free. We used granulated sugar, which is not what I’d expect from a healthy brownie recipe. It’s also worth mentioning brown sugar and granulated sugar will bake differently, but maybe that’s being overly critical!
This is one of two low calorie brownies we tested that called for Greek yogurt. Both brownies turned out a bit rubbery, which makes us think Greek yogurt isn’t the best option for making healthier brownies.
While these brownies had a much better texture, you’ll never forget you’re eating a brownie that’s sweetened with apple sauce. Some healthy brownies have a signature first bite flavor that dissipates as you continue eating it, but apple sauce is hard to hide. And Joe’s recipe only calls for 1/2 cup!
These brownies were sweetened with 1/2 cup of honey. I’m not sure if it’s an indictment of honey as a healthy sweetener substitute or a testament to the flavor of apples.
Consider other “fat replacements” like pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchini, or full fat versions to let the brownie flavor shine through.
Vanessa prepared all the brownies and I tasted them mostly blind. I knew one of the recipes called for Splenda, and it was immediately apparent which brownie used it. The artificial sweetener taste is similar to apple sauce—hard to miss.
Texturally, these brownies are dense and brookie-like (crunchy, not fudgy or chewy). I’m guessing the 17 tablespoons of butter have something to do with that. The added sugar free chocolate chips also add to the crunchiness.
These sugar free brownies have 1.2k reviews and a 4.28 out of 5 rating. If you’re accustomed to artificial sweeteners, I think that rating might be about right. Especially if you like brookies.
A high protein brownie with 49 calories per brownie? Sign me up.
Well, maybe not so fast. These brownies turned out a bit dry, rubbery, and pasty (or maybe stodgy is the right word here?). Greek yogurt strikes again!
We also used coconut sugar as the sweetener of choice. I’m new to this ingredient and had high hopes. It resembles brown sugar in its raw form. But I think it (or maybe the sugar free chocolate chips) gave these brownies a unique aftertaste that really sticks with you.
Greek yogurt and apple sauce: Great for toddlers, bad for brownies.
Kicking off the top half of the rankings, we have the vegan fudgy sweet potato brownies from the Minimalist Baker with 427 reviews and 4.88 rating.
Disclaimer: We went slightly rogue and used canned pumpkin puree instead of making our own sweet potato puree. C’mon, we had eight recipes to make!
As the title promises, these brownies were indeed fudgy. Despite having a full cup of pumpkin puree, these brownies did not have any pumpkin flavor whatsoever. I really tried to pinpoint which brownie had the pumpkin in my blind taste tests but couldn’t spot it.
I think you can credit the gourd’s sneakiness to the inclusion of 1/2 cup of peanut butter. Similar to apple sauce, peanut butter almost always stands out. The recipe is also sweetened with maple syrup, which seems to be a great sugar substitute for baking.
This is really a great brownie, especially for chocolate peanut butter fans. What knocked it down the rankings is the topping, which just falls off. I’d be curious to see if the toppings would stay in place if the instructions called for slightly pressing them down into the brownie batter.
If you’re a fan of fudgy brownies and the chocolate peanut butter flavor profile, you won’t be disappointed in these brownies. Just skip the topping or reduce the amount and try baking it into the brownies.
I had a tough time deciding if these brownies were made with pumpkin or zucchini, which is a testament to how well the grated zucchini cooks off and how little flavor it contributes. There’s definitely a slight vegetal flavor that hits you on the first bite, but I personally find it really enjoyable the more I eat. I’d liken it to eating chocolate zucchini bread but with a cake-like texture.
It was a struggle between this recipe and Minimalist Baker’s for third place, but I ultimately settled here because it felt lighter and like I could just continue eating these.
One thing worth noting is the visual difference between ours and the original recipe. The photos for the original version look much more moist and fudgy than ours. Maybe there was a difference in measurements for zucchini or we over baked them slightly. Either way, we were happy!
Zucchini is a surprise hit in the “fat replacement” department. The flavor is there ever so slightly, but it’s hard to spot any other signs. This recipe is also another win for maple syrup as a healthier sweetener.
These low carb brownies have 3.9k reviews and a 4.99 rating, and I think it’s well earned.
This was my favorite flavor profile of the bunch, and I loved the touch of salt. (I think every brownie or sweet could benefit from a pinch of added salt, but this one is perfect as-is.) Combined with the almond flour and coconut oil, you get a really complex flavor while still tasting like a classic chocolate brownie.
Texturally, these brownies are soft and cake-like, albeit a little crumbly. They’re a joy to eat.
I really struggled between this recipe and the ultimate winner, but this recipe got pushed down for a couple reasons. First, the recipe is a little confusing with 1/4 cup cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of dutch cocoa both listed on the ingredients. We ended up using 6 tablespoons of dutch processed cocoa powder, and I’m still not sure if that’s what was intended.
The recipe also calls for erythritol as the sweetener. I’ve made a ton of healthy desserts with Swerve (erythritol) but we finally realized our tummies don’t agree with it. So we used regular granulated sugar for this recipe. Maybe not the healthiest healthy brownies on the list.
Being keto, I assumed these brownies would be much higher in calories than the other recipes, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that is not the case. If you cut the brownies into the traditional 16 pieces that you get from an 8×8 pan, each serving is only 80 calories (with the erythritol).
Despite only having 27 reviews, Erin’s healthy brownies recipe was the best of the bunch. And surprisingly, these paleo brownies have no flour, oil, or refined sugar, making them gluten and grain free as well.
They were on the money with a flavor profile that’s close to classic brownies but with an interesting twist. Similar to Katie’s second place brownies, the almond in these brownies (this time from almond butter instead of flour) gives them a more complex flavor.
The almond butter also creates a slightly chewy, grainy texture that I really enjoyed. Grainy doesn’t sound like the best trait of a stellar brownie, but it’s grainy in the best way. The brownies feel healthier and very wholesome. And with the fat from the almond butter and added chocolate chips, you still get plenty of melty chocolate bites.
Also, bonus points for a very thorough, well written recipe.
Is flourless the way to go for a healthy brownie? Cocoa powder, coconut sugar (which I didn’t notice in this recipe), and a bit of leavening agent are the only dry ingredients in this recipe but the nut butter seems to give it plenty of bite and texture.
If you’re a fan of chewy brownies, you won’t be disappointed with these brownies. And we didn’t even try them with the optional fudge frosting in Erin’s recipe!
Final Thoughts on How to Make the Best Healthy Brownies
Whew, let’s try to wrap things up neatly and give you a few tips for making the best healthy brownies.
High Fat vs Low Fat Brownies
Our results seem to lean towards the higher fat brownies with either natural sweeteners or sugar substitutes (if you’re good with them).
I think it’s better to make brownies with healthier, whole food ingredients and eat smaller amounts than make a huge batch of low fat brownies that are dry and rubbery.
Cakey > Fudgy for Low Calorie Brownies?
Making a low calorie fudgy brownie seems borderline impossible. The ingredients like Greek yogurt and other fat replacements inevitably turn to rubber. If you’re going for low calorie, cakey brownies are probably the way to go.
The exception would be zucchini. I’d be interested to try more low calorie brownies based around zucchini. Especially if they had some added texture from nuts and chocolate or maybe even nut butters.
Our favorite brownies were all sweetened with maple syrup. It’s not the lowest sugar or calorie sweetener of the bunch but man, it’s tasty. I’m assuming other sweeteners like honey and agave also work well with the right ingredients and provide some additional nutrients.
Chopped Chocolate > Chocolate Chips?
I’m surprised more recipes didn’t call for chopped extra dark chocolate instead of sugar free chocolate chips and things like that. I’ve yet to find an enjoyable sugar free chocolate chip, but I love a lightly sweetened high percentage (85% or higher) dark chocolate.
Almond Butter > Peanut Butter?
I think it’s worth mentioning that I don’t even really like almond butter. If you handed me spoonfuls of almond butter and peanut butter, I’m taking the latter 99/100 times.
But in healthy brownies, I think almond butter might be the better choice. It adds some complexity and texture to the finished product, whereas peanut butter just tends to dominate other flavors and act as a fat source.
Skip the Toppings
Shift the calories you would spend on toppings to ingredients inside the actual brownies. I want a rich, moist brownie, not a walnut and chocolate chip topped sponge.
My Ultimate Healthy Brownie Recipe
After mulling over the results of this bake-off for a month, I decided to take a shot at making an ultimate version. I’d say it’s a hybrid between my top two selections above.
To my surprise, they’re flourless low sugar brownies. You could even make this a dairy free brownie recipe by using dairy free chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.
I hope you enjoy them!
- 1 cup (225g) Almond Butter
- 1/4 cup (20g) Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- 1 double shot (45g) Espresso or Brewed Coffee, room temperature*
- 1/3 cup cup Maple Syrup
- 1 Large Egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt**
- 3/4 cup (3 oz bar) Chopped Dark Chocolate (at least 70%)
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prep an 8x8 brownie pan by lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Pull the espresso shot and place it in the freezer to cool it while preparing the other ingredients.
- Add all of the ingredients, except for the chopped chocolate, into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cooled espresso or coffee and mix everything together until a smooth brownie batter forms.
- Fold in the chopped chocolate pieces.
- Pour the brownie batter into the prepared brownie pan and evenly press the batter across the pan.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
*Make sure that the freshly brewed shot of espresso is at room temperature or at least slightly cooled before adding it to the batter, to prevent the hot liquid from scrambling the egg. Freshly brewed or instant coffee can be used in place of the espresso.
**If you are using regular salt, use half of the salt listed above.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 brownie
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 150Total Fat: 10.5gSodium: 38mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 2gProtein: 4.5g
And I think that’s everything I have to say about low calorie and healthy brownies. I hope this was helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any go-to brownie recipes I need to try or have thoughts about our breakdown here.