Does brownie mix have more or less calories when it’s cooked?

Its slow around here this time of year and the subject of this post became the topic of a lunch conversation on our team.  It's been suggested that Internet search engines can provide an answer to almost any inane question one could come up with. 

We proposed that perhaps bars should install "Debate Reconciliation Machines" that offer nothing but a blank msn or google search page to solve all sorts of bar disputes.  The problem with this plan occurs when your dispute reaches what some people would call "The end of the Internet" and even the all-knowing wikipedia lets you down.  The machines would have to offer a refund.

Gretchen and I reached the end of the Internet in our hunt for the answer to the following question:

Does brownie mix have more or less calories when it's cooked?

Lets add on to the end of the Internet. I welcome all theories and answers to this question below.


Comments (20)

  1. Rick H says: – Third Question. It’s talking about cookie dough, but she generalizes it to seemingly include all food.

    Now, how do you make a search engine find it? I used MSN and searched for "Marilyn Vos Savant Cookie Dough" ( ), but that required previous knowledge that a related fact was out there.

  2. RonO says:

    This would be a good question for all the test kitchens/analysis labs at Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Pilsbury, etc. If you can get a response from each of them, you can blog it and expand the edge of the internet.

  3. It depends how well done the brownies are. If significant oxydation occurs, the calories are reduced. How much the reduction is would have to be determined in a calorometer. Any volunteers?

  4. My *guess* is that baked brownies would have more calories than eating the same amount (by weight or volume?) of the mix.

    My non-physics/chemistry based reasoning is very simple: you usually have to add something (more than just water) to the mix such as an egg or two, or 1/4 cup of cooking oil.

  5. J Whattam says:

    It depends on several factors – are you measuring the absolute calorie content of one whole brownie before and after cooking, the calorie content per gram of brownie, or the calorie content per gram of dry weight of the brownie. The last method is usually the one used. In addition, are you measuring the total energy available by complete oxidation in a bomb-type calorimeter or the energy available via digestion in the human digestive tract. The former is typically used. Assuming that the two above methods were used, oxidation of the the ingredients during cooking would reduce the total calories per gram of dry weight. However, since people aren’t bomb-type calorimeters, the calories available to human digestion system may actually increase due to break down of the more complex carbohydrates within the flour.

    … I have too much time of my hands…

    Merry Christmas.

  6. MSDN Archive says:

    J Whattam: I would assume that we are attempting to figure out the comparison for the cooked result of an uncooked amount of the dough…. you should see some of the answers we’ve gotten in e-mail form.

    J Daniel: Ah, I should have said dough rather than mix. The assumption is you have the exact pre-oven mixture configured VS the post cooked result.

  7. Peter says:

    I would assume that the caloric content of the baked brownies would be less than the unbaked mix. During the baking process the sugars and starches would be caramelized (burned slightly) which would reduce the total amount of energy available.

    However, I’m not sure to what extent this would reduce the amount of calories since you’re not really burning the brownies, just cooking them slightly.

    I’m not sure about the point that J Whattam makes since I guess we’re assuming that the brownie or brownie mix would be eaten in both cases so the complex carbohydrates would presumably be treated in the same fashion by the body.

    Which leads me to my last point. If you’re eating wet brownie mix it would theoretically pass through your system slightly faster than a cooked brownie so that might tip the scales back toward cooked, but that’s probably over thinking the argument…

  8. Oxidation, carmelization, yes this reduces the caloric content.

    How about evaporation not of water but of alcohol. Many flavoring oils (vanilla) are suspended or dissolved in alcohol. This alcohol would quickly vaporize during the cooking process.


  9. J.P. says:

    First of all, I think I should point out that the google phenomenon "somewhat" defeats the purpose to using the internet to find information on this, as when I searched for information regarding baking and calories, Gretchen’s blog was the 4th result. Funny.

    Now, about the question at hand, there are several points that people assumed but never really declared their assumptions. (I mean if we are talking about an engineering experiment, declaring your assumptions is the first thing you have to do.)

    For instance, I am going to make the assumption that the mass of batter one would eat would be equal to the mass of brownies MINUS the mass of O2/CO2 which has been introduced by the chemical reaction of both stirring the batter and the addition of leavening agents (baking soda/powder). What this means in reality is that to test this, you will either have to test (or eat) much less volume of batter than the volume of cooked brownie. The exact ratio would be different for each batch and would have to be calculated by crushing the baked brownies.

    Based on this, my next two assumptions have to do with the ingredients. I am assuming (since it was never brought up) that the flour used in this brownie mix is lower in gluten (as that will have less of a sponge result in the end) and that there is a chemical (and not biological) leavening agent (such as baking soda or baking powder) added to the mix. The amounts of each of these indivudually should only effect the ammount of O2/CO2 which has to be removed in the end. (Providing there is no biological leavening agent added.)

    I am also making the assumption (just because it illustrates the point better) that the brownies used in testing are cooked only to the point of the batter being cooked and no more, such that the inside of the brownies does not start to harden. (The top, or possible edges depending on the baking pan will probably harden no matter what.)

    I am also assuming that sufficient mixing was done when combining the dry elements of the mix with the wet elements. Also that the correct ammount of time had elapsed during the mixing such that the water solluble elements of the mix have dissolved.

    And finally, I am also assuming that for the sake of the problem at hand, the primary source of calories in brownies come from the starches in the flour and the sugars in the ingredients. These usually require the most energy to break the bonds of, so they will make up the most number of calories in the result. As a part of this assumption, any change in the number of initial calories related to other ingredients is assumed to be a lower number of calories due to either evaporation or incineration.

    So now, that I have a bunch of assumptions, lets review what calories are (Its mentioned above). Its a unit of stored energy. How its measured in the past has often led to the name of the unit, but all thats really necessary to know is that its a measurement of stored energy. Note that in my assumptions I declared that mass was the constant in the experiment, and thus volume is not tracked. Provided that the O2/CO2 was removed from each (as I also assumed), then that should get us the density comparison we want (It probably wont be the same since heating the mix will change the structure of the carbohydrates, but it makes the two at least comparable).

    Heat is one way to release energy from something. (Think of fire logs.) Of course we are not burning the brownies (covered in assumptions), but there is some heat which is released (just grab one when it comes from the oven if you don’t think so). So this action alone probably reduces the calories (measure of energy) some. I can’t argue to what scale this is on. I am just sticking with the academics here.

    Also as someone pointed out, and I mentioned in the assumptions, there is going to be some carmelization of the sugar, most likely on the edges as they harden. But I am not sure that this releases any more energy than the argument I made above about heating in general would. This is because carmelized sugar is often just sugar whose chemical compnents have been combined together in different configurations, so I am not sure if that would in itself significantly reduce the ammount of stored energy. (Anyone below is free to comment on the atomic bonding energies before and after heating sugar chains. This was one area I decided to rely on my basic chemistry recallections without looking everything up.)

    Ok, with all these assumptions and observations, I agree with what someone earlier said where there was probably going to be a lower calorie count, but it probably will not be enough to really distinguish the two.

    Ok, but now assumptions aside, I would argue that because the desity of brownie mix is higher, you are probably more likely to consume a higher caloric count simply by virtue of the fact that there are more calories per volume (as someone pointed out) before baking (simply because baking adds gas bubbles). So whether there is "more" or "less" calories in the batter versus the brownie wont matter at that point simply due to the mechanics of eating batter.


    On an interesting note, I was going to make completely different (and incorrect) arguments before I read these two pages and learned more about baking and leavening agents.

  10. MSDN Archive says:

    JP: Of course there are others that pointed out the assumption that the calories we consume are different from the calories that would be burned off by a calorimeter. So there may actually be two questions here. One for the calories that our bodies keep and the other for the raw energy stored in the molecules.

  11. ErickThompson says:

    That would be an excellent idea.

    When I go out with friends, I like to take my notebook for this exact reason. It’s a great convergence of socializing and web browsing. It can be a lot of fun. There are probably some great possibilities in this space…

    We usually go out in the University District in Seattle, which has free wifi. Once wireless net access is a given, doing stuff like this will be much easier.

  12. After running the dietary information down, it makes very little difference whether you cook the batter all the way or not… see:

  13. Eating undercooked brownies is dangerous though… undercooked eggs carry salmonella.

  14. brandon730 says:

    I do not want to come off as a jerk but everyone here is missing the point. The question is which has more calories and the easy answer is yes the uncooked version does have fewer calories just because of the cooking process. But that does not alone answer the question. You have to take in consideration each person’s like or dislike of the brownie, under cooked or cooked correctly. What I mean is that if you like brownies under cooked you will consume more calories having them that way. The same would hold true for those who liked the brownies baked correctly.

  15. bestvnteas says:

    <b>Does brownie mix have more or less calories when it’s cooked?</b>

    If you can identify a single person who would be willing to consume raw or undercooked brownie mix or dough, I might see the validity in this question.

    Secondly, the proper term when it comes to handling brownie mix is "baking", and not "cooking".

    Undeniably, brownies are delicious when baked properly.  They are also very high in calories, as we all know.

    If anyone is so concerned about calorie intake, he/she should stay away from brownies all together.

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