Here’s a Healthy Dalgona Coffee Recipe That Everyone Can Love
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Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her healthy dalgona coffee recipe with vegan and dairy-free ingredients, like oat milk, coconut sugar, and maple syrup.
Courtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSDWhat is dalgona coffee?
Whipped coffee became a social media obsession in 2020, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. The concoction ranked number two among most-Googled recipes in the U.S., second only to another quarantine craze, sourdough bread. (Here were the best healthy food trends in 2020.)
While the Instagram-worthy treat may be novel to many, it’s actually not new. Whipped coffee drinks have been popular around the globe for years, including in India, Greece, and China.
The version dubbed dalgona coffee, which became especially trendy this year, got its name from another treat. “The coffee’s caramel-hued foam resembles a spongy toffee-like candy peddled by street vendors in Korea, much like the candied peanut carts all around New York City,” says Maggie Moon, RD, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles.
So why did dalgona coffee suddenly blow up in the U.S.? “We live in an Instagram world, and it’s a pretty picture,” says Moon. “Plus, we’ve all had more time at home to experiment in the kitchen this year. And Korean culture has become trendy beyond its borders.” (Beware of the signs you’re drinking too much coffee.)
Ingredients in dalgona coffee
If you search for dalgona or whipped coffee recipes online, you’ll find that most include instant coffee, sugar, and hot water, whipped together, and poured over ice and milk.
I played around with a number of combinations, and I have to admit—it was a lot of fun! But apart from an appealing photo, my goal was to strike the perfect balance of delectable coffee flavor (without too much bitterness), and include the least amount of sugar needed to give the drink its characteristic sweetness. (Here are 11 natural sweeteners to try.)
Swap sugar with coconut sugar and maple syrup
Many dalgona coffee recipes call for one to two tablespoons of sugar for a single serving. That’s a big red flag from a dietitian’s perspective. “Too much added sugar contributes to chronic inflammation, higher blood pressure, and even a greater risk of dying from heart disease,” says Moon.
Even one tablespoon is half of the recommended maximum intake of added sugar per day for women, and one third for men, based on guidelines from the American Heart Association. (Here’s what sugar does to your body.)
After experimenting with several recipes I found that two teaspoons of sweetener was just enough, and I chose two different types: coconut sugar and maple syrup.
What is coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar is a granulated sugar similar to brown sugar. It’s made from sap extracted from the buds of coconut palms, which is then boiled, dried, and powdered. While it provides the same amount of sugar as white table sugar—four grams per teaspoon—coconut sugar also contains antioxidants and minerals, according to a study in a 2020 issue of Food Science & Nutrition.
This sweetener also boasts a lower glycemic index (GI) of 36, compared to 60 for table sugar, which means it triggers a lower rise in blood sugar, or better glycemic regulation.
Plus, there’s a bonus: coconut palm sugar is also considered to be an eco-friendly sweetener. That’s because the plants require minimal amounts of water, and can produce sap for decades, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
(Here are the signs you’re having too much sugar.)
The benefits of maple syrup
Maple syrup is another sweetener that offers bonus nutrients. A study in Pharmaceutical Biology shows that maple syrup can pack dozens of unique antioxidants. It also delivers manganese, a mineral that supports bone health, collagen production, and wound healing, as well as smaller amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc.
To create dalgona coffee’s signature “fluff,” I found that using all granulated sugar resulted in the most volume. But a mixture of granulated and maple syrup tasted best. And a single teaspoon of instant coffee crystals resulted in the most balanced flavor.
Regular vs. decaf coffee
Both regular and decaf coffee can be healthful in either brewed or instant form. I’m personally caffeine-free, so my go-to is Mount Hagen Organic Freeze Dried Instant Decaf Coffee ($12).
This brand’s freeze-drying process doesn’t use preservatives or additives. And the beans are decaffeinated using a carbon dioxide and water process that preserves flavor and doesn’t utilize chemicals.
In case you’re wondering, both regular and decaf coffee provide antioxidants and nutrients, including some magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. And drinking either type has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Decaf coffee, specifically, has also been shown to protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, one of the most common liver diseases worldwide, according to research published in 2019 in the journal Redox Biology.
(Find out whether black coffee is good for you.)
Swap dairy with oat milk or any unsweetened plant milk
To make my whipped coffee dairy free, I chose oat milk over cow’s milk. This creamy plant option made from whole grain oats provides energy-supporting B vitamins and antioxidants. It is also one of the most eco-friendly options, due to its lower water requirements, according to a study published in a 2018 issue of the journal Science. (Here are other plant-based swaps you can make.)
Dalgona Coffee Recipe
Here’s how to make dalgona coffee. You can trade the oat milk for any other unsweetened plant milk of your choice. And while I delight in enjoying spoonfuls of the foam straight off a spoon (or as a frothy mustache after each taste), I prefer to let it sink into the milk or stir it in–and savor each delightful sip.
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon coconut sugar
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons hot water
5-6 ice cubes
1 cup unsweetened oat milk
Combine the instant coffee, coconut sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and water in a small bowl. Whip, using a frother, handheld mixer, or by hand until it forms a stiff, creamy foam, about two to four minutes (hand whipping may take a little longer). Fill a cup or mug with the ice and oat milk. Top with the foam and sprinkle with the cinnamon.
Also, check out these other whipped coffee recipes:
- Maggie Moon, MS, RD, Los Angeles
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Food Science & Nutrition: "Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) sap as a potential source of sugar: Antioxidant and nutritional properties"
- Michigan State University: "Gone coconuts: New sugar or old hype?"
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: "Overall view on the tradition of tapping palm trees and prospects for animal production"
- Pharmaceutical Biology: "High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Characterization and Identification of Antioxidant Polyphenols in Maple Syrup"
- Planta Medica: "The Impact of Coffee on Health"
- Redox Biology: "Consumption of decaffeinated coffee protects against the development of early non-alcoholic steatohepatitis: Role of intestinal barrier function"
- Science: "Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers"