Thursday, June 8, 2017

Gluten-free, Nut-free, Flourless, Vegan Cookies with Chemistry

Between my S.O. and I, our usual menu looks a little weird.

I can't have nuts, and he doesn't like eggs. We both try to eat a lot of protein, and I try to avoid cooking high-saturated-fat, high-cholesterol dishes because he eats out pretty often. Neither of us are vegan, but I look for vegan recipes when I need something that doesn't require eggs or butter. When I found this recipe for chickpea blondies from Ambitious Kitchen, I was stoked. I'd made black bean brownies before that turned out really good, so I thought these were worth giving a shot.

I was totally right.

I used honey and sunflower butter, left out the chocolate chips since we didn't have any, and added a scoop of coconut milk ice cream for a little extra indulgence.

They smell delicious baking, too. The batter comes out pretty stiff -- I find that, if you're using a blender to make them (like I did), you're best off adding the honey or syrup, then the chickpeas a bit at a time, then the nut butter. The batter was thick enough that, for my next go 'round, I thought I'd see how it did as cookies instead. I mixed up a batch with chickpeas, maple syrup, and sunflower butter according to Ambitious Kitchen's recipe, and, instead of spreading the batter in a baking dish, I dropped it by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.

They turned out just as delicious as before.

Also, considerably greener.

I didn't notice the green at first. My S.O. and I each had a cookie, and everything seemed fine. When I went back to put the rest away, they were green. I panicked -- had we eaten some kind of contaminant and just didn't notice? Was the can of chickpeas at fault? I know copper or other metals can turn things weird colors, were there suspect metals in something I'd used? I scraped all of the cookies into the trash, just in case.

An hour or so later, I was elbow-deep in a Google search for "green cookies," "cookies turned green," and "can green cookies kill you."

As it turns out, my baking had fallen victim to something the sunflower seed industry has been struggling with for basically ever -- sunflower seeds are weird. There's a huge demand for sunflower seed oil, but virtually no demand for the sunflower seed protein produced from its manufacture. This is because sunflower seeds are pretty high in free chlorogenic acid, as are a lot of other things (green coffee beans, for one). When in the presence of heat and a certain pH, sunflower protein turns things green. It's a purely aesthetic thing, but, since the appearance of food is kind of a huge deal, sunflower seed protein has never quite caught on as a consumer good. It's trans fat free, vegan, low allergen, a "clean" food, and a good source of protein (though a bit low in lysine). It just looks a little funny sometimes, so nobody wants to buy it.

So that put my fears to rest, at least. Green cookies are not poisonous. Whew.

My next question was, "Why didn't the honey batch change?" followed immediately by, "Can I get it to do it again?"

As for why it happened with maple syrup and not honey, the answer probably lies in the pH. Much like adding lemon juice to raw apples or avocado prevents browning, the pH of honey may inhibit the development of the green coloration. Honey's pH ranges from about 3.4 to 6.1, but averages out at around 3.9. I'm no apiarist, but, from what I've read, this low pH is because of enzymes in bee saliva. The pH of maple syrup, by contrast, is much closer to neutral at around 5.15-7.25. With the addition of baking powder and baking soda as called for in the recipe, it makes for a pretty basic environment.

It also makes for some weird looking, albeit extremely tasty, cookies:

I mean it. They're surprisingly soft and cakey for a recipe with no eggs or flour. They'd be ridiculously indulgent with chocolate chips. They're also reasonably healthy for a dessert.

They do look super weird if you're not expecting them, though.


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