This raw chocolate brownie recipe is so simple to make, using only 5 ingredients and one bowl (or food processor). The combination of sweet dates and creamy nuts give a texture similar to traditional brownies, and most wouldn’t even be able to tell that it is completely raw. With only whole-food ingredients, the use of cacao powder bumps up the antioxidant properties which have been associated with many health benefits (see below).
Health Benefits of Cacao
Cacao is a source of phytonutrients called polyphenols, including epicatechin and catechin, which are known to have beneficial effects on mood and cardiac (heart) health.
In a small randomized controlled trial, outcomes showed that participants who consumed cacao polyphenols had a significantly increased self-rated calmness and contentedness relative to placebo (1). Another randomized controlled trial showed that supplementation of cocoa flavanols had a positive effect on visible facial wrinkles and skin elasticity (2). Some evidence suggests cardiovascular benefits from cacao for those who have a pre-existing cardiovascular disease (3), and a blood pressure lowering effect which is thought to be associated with the formation of endothelial nitric oxide which promotes vasodilation (4).
Which Is The Healthiest Chocolate?
The beneficial antioxidant polyphenols are found in cacao powder, dark unprocessed chocolate, cocoa beverages, as well as in processed chocolate products but in smaller amounts. The more unprocessed a product is, the higher the antioxidant content. The flavonoid content of some chocolate food is shown below:
Type of Chocolate and Flavonoid Content in mg/30g
- Baking chocolate, unsweetened square (1 square) – 61.91
- Cacao beans – 103.4
- Candies, chocolate, dark, 45-59% cocoa solids – 32.61
- Candies, bars, chips, milk chocolate plain (45 mL or 3 tbsp) – 4.51
- Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened (75 mL or 5 tbsp) – 81.45
- Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened, Dutch* process (75 mL or 5 tbsp) – N/A
*Regular cocoa is quite strong and it is somewhat bitter. Its natural acidity makes it preferable for use in baking. Dutch cocoa has undergone alkalization to reduce its natural bitterness and its smooth, rich and mellow flavour is useful for hot cocoa and other chocolate drinks.
The Sustainability of Chocolate
Food-miles, which addresses the distance a food has traveled to reach our plates and relates this to our carbon footprint, is important to consider when purchasing cacao, as well as dates, cashews, and almonds which are all used in this recipe. Though, it has been demonstrated that those who have a smaller intake of animal protein may not need to worry so much as the carbon cost of food miles and transporting food which is small in comparison to the carbon costs of production of animal protein. Harvard University reports that following a more plant-based approach to eating is more effective at reducing our carbon footprint than counting food-miles (7).
Focusing only on carbon footprints can leave us naïve to other important issues surrounding cacao including farmer rights and other fair trade issues. Recognizing the value of purchasing Fair Trade is imperative, and as global citizens, we can vote with our dollar for fair wages and rights for the people that produce our food. Purchasing Fair Trade Cacao ensures fair wages for farmers, and producers generally follow organic farming practices which will have additional sustainability benefits.
How To Make This Raw Chocolate Brownie
This recipe works best in a quality food processor or Vitamix. If you are not confident in the quality of your food processor, try doing it in smaller batches and make sure to process the nuts prior to adding the other ingredients (but do not ground nuts into a flour, leave some chunks). You may find you need to do the mixture in a few smaller batches.
For the caramel icing use, a store-bought cashew butter or make your own using soaked cashews, and don’t forget the pinch of salt which really extends that caramel flavour. With my Vitamix, I need to double the cashew butter recipe for the right volume of mixture to blend properly (1 cup of cashews). Use the additional cashew butter to make another portion of caramel icing to have it with a sliced apple for a tasty sweet treat, or keep the cashew butter as is and use as you would any other nut butter.
Raw Chocolate Brownie with Caramel Icing
- 1 cup walnuts raw
- 1 cup almonds raw
- 1 cup dates pitted
- 1/4 cup cacao powder unprocessed / Fair Trade
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch sea salt
- 1/4 cup water
Caramel Icing (optional)
- 1/2 cup cashew butter (see below for homemade recipe)
- 1/2 cup dates pitted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch sea salt
- First season a small baking dish (about 12 x 12) with coconut oil or line with parchment paper. Process the walnuts and almonds in a food processor until they are roughly chopped. Do not process into a fine flour.
- Add the dates, cacao, vanilla and sea salt. Process until ingredients are well mixed, then add ¼ cup of water, or enough to make the mixture stick together. The mixture should look well blended with no large chunks of nuts. Add more water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Once blended press the mixture into the prepared baking dish and let the brownie sit in the fridge for at least one hour.
- If you want to make the optional, but highly recommended, caramel icing place all of the icing ingredients into the food processor and mix until well combined. Once well blended, remove the brownie from the fridge and layer the icing on top of the brownie mixture before placing back in the fridge to set.
- Once set, cut into 3-inch squares, or 16 serves and enjoy!
Flavour variation: Add 1 tsp of cinnamon to the mixture. Nutrition Information based on one square with caramel icing.
References for Raw Chocolate Brownies
1) Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, et al. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (2013). Journal of Psychopharmacology
2) Yoon HS, Kim JR, Park GY, et al. Cocoa flavanol supplementation influences skin conditions of photo-aged women: a 24-week double-blind, randomized, controlled trial (2016). Journal of Nutrition
3) Sansone R, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Heuel J, et al. Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomized, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study (2015). British Journal of Nutrition.
4) Ried, K, Kakler P, Stocks NP. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure (2017). Cochrane Database Systematic Review.
5) Canadian Nutrient File, 2015 version [cited 2017 Jun 16].
6) United States Department of Agriculture database of the flavonoid content of selected foods. Release 3.1, 2013 [cited 2017 Jun 16].
Kelsey M says
Yummy- looks delicious- I love your addition of the caramel icing! Your Valentine’s Day location looks glorious :)
Thanks Kelsey, it did turn out to be a glorious day! Hope yours was just as wonderful!