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  • Writer's pictureKelly

Sweet Spinach Spirulina Apple Muffins (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened)

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Spinach in muffins? For breakfast?! With blue-green algae too?? HECK YEAH!! Now I know what you're thinking. Something along the lines of "Who in their right mind would put spinach in a muffin? Let alone as a main ingredient?" Or "Why would you put a type of algae in anything to be enjoyed for breakfast?" Well I'm here to answer these doubts! Spinach is arguably the most mild leafy green and is among the most mild vegetables. If you add it to a recipe that is sweet enough and has enough flavor (even if it's only mild sweetness & flavor), the spinach won't be the star of the show and you will not taste it. Trust me on this. Still unsure about the spirulina (blue-green algae)? Spirulina comes in different forms, but the type that you bake & cook with comes in a powder. On its own, green spirulina is known to smell and taste fishy. HOWEVER, the fishy flavor is neutralized when mixed with other ingredients, especially sweet ingredients and other flavorful ingredients. Even just mixing spirulina with nut/seed butter is enough to neutralize the flavor (so long as you're not using a ton of spirulina). And don't worry this recipe has nut butter, sweeteners, and ingredients bursting with flavor, so that the only quality the spirulina imparts on these muffins is color (and of course, plentiful nutrients!). These muffins are perfectly sweet with a pleasant flavor courtesy of diced apples, cinnamon, and vanilla. What's more, these muffins look like a mermaid's dream without the use of dyes or artificial ingredients! These muffins are nutrient-dense and are wonderfully fluffy and soft inside. They're also quick and easy to make!



Welcome to The Dimpled Date muffins 2.0!! My OG muffin recipes (like my Healthy Pumpkin Breakfast Muffins recipe) needed some tweaking, particularly in the texture department. These Spinach Spirulina Muffins are the perfect update and are incredibly moist and fluffy as a cloud, unlike my previous muffins. I actually achieved such a great texture by adapting this muffin recipe from an über moist chocolate cupcake recipe that I created and have yet to post on The Dimpled Date. And these muffins taste like a cinnamon apple muffin, infused with vanilla!


I swear I am not lying to you when I say you will not taste the spinach or spirulina. I know, I know it can be scary putting vegetables (and especially sea vegetables) into a sweet recipe. But face your fears, make these muffins, and you'll see that your fears weren't grounded in reality because these muffins are mind-blowingly delicious & crave-worthy.


And what is spirulina anyways? Spirulina is an edible blue-green algae that can grow in freshwater or saltwater environments. It is a superfood and is one of the healthiest foods on this planet. Spirulina is extremely nutrient-dense, containing ample protein, iron, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (I'll flesh out the nutrition & health benefits more below in my "Nutritional Profile" section). Spirulina comes in 2 varieties: green (spirulina in its natural form) and blue (spirulina that's made from extracting only the blue antioxidant pigment from green spirulina). While blue spirulina has great health benefits from the antioxidant that gives it its blue pigment, green spirulina boasts greater nutrients and health benefits, as it has all the nutrients of whole spirulina (and not just the antioxidant pigment, as in blue spirulina). Spirulina typically comes in tablets (to be taken as a supplement) or a powder (which you can bake/cook with). My go-to spirulina powder is Nutrex Hawaii's Pure Hawaiian Spirulina Powder because it is extremely high-quality with a rich pigment and its very easy to incorporate into smoothies, desserts, and other recipes.



These muffins are a great spring or summer treat, as they are light, healthy, and the perfect Insta-worthy mermaid color! Although these muffins haven't been tested by kids yet, I'm sure they would be great for kids and picky eaters due to their sweetness, mild flavor, and fun teal color!


My Sweet Spinach Spirulina Apple Muffins are ideal for breakfast (along with a serving of fresh fruit), as a snack, or even as a healthy dessert. They are rich in fiber, protein, and carbs, ensuring you won't be hungry after eating these. For breakfast, I personally eat two of these muffins toasted in the toaster oven until warmed up, with a small pat of vegan butter on top of each and a serving of fresh fruit (plus a 16 oz glass of filtered water).


Not only is the texture soft and moist, but the diced apples in these muffins lend a delightful chewiness factor. Fun color, fun texture, fun taste? Basically, you won't be bored with these muffins.



Nutritional Profile of Sweet Spinach Spirulina Apple Muffins


Oat flour- oat flour is a great source of healthy carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and iron. Healthy carbs provide long-lasting, high-quality energy, while fiber stimulates digestion. Protein builds muscle and iron forms red blood cells. Make sure you buy certified gluten-free oat flour if you're strictly gluten-free because even though oats & oat flour are naturally gluten-free, they can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing crops. Pro tip: don't have oat flour or ran out? Make your own! Simply place the amount of oats equal to the amount of oat flour you need in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend on high until ground to desired consistency (grind to a fine powdery consistency to make it more like store-bought oat flour).


Spinach- spinach is packed with fiber, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds, while being very low in calories. Fiber lowers "bad" LDL cholesterol, promotes healthy bowel movements, and nourishes the beneficial bacteria that are a part of your gut flora. Iron builds red blood cells, calcium helps build and maintain healthy bones, and potassium regulates blood pressure. Magnesium plays a role in numerous bodily processes, while B vitamins generally benefit energy levels, the nervous system, the digestive tract, the cardiovascular system, and play a role in cellular processes. Vitamin A benefits eyesight, bone health, and it's important for pregnant women to get enough vitamin A in their diet (but not too much), as vitamin A helps the development of a fetus. Vitamin C supports immune health and helps stimulate the production of collagen. Antioxidants help fight free radical damage and beneficial plant compounds generally benefit health.


Spirulina- spirulina is a blue-green algae that is extremely nutrient-dense and is among the healthiest foods in the world. It is typically found either in capsule form (to take as a supplement) or a fine powder (that you can bake/cook with). There are two varieties of spirulina: green spirulina (whole spirulina, its natural form) and blue spirulina (the blue antioxidant pigment extracted from whole spirulina). Green spirulina is a whole food and contains a wide variety of nutrients, is a deep green color, and is known to have a fishy smell and taste on its own (due to its being made of a whole sea vegetable). Blue spirulina doesn't contain as many nutrients as green since it is just an extract of green spirulina, but nonetheless, contains some essential nutrients. Blue spirulina is a cobalt blue/sky blue color and doesn't have a fishy taste or smell. In this recipe I use green spirulina for maximum nutrients and to achieve that gorgeous teal color. Green spirulina is rich in high-quality protein, omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin C, iron, potassium, B vitamins, copper, magnesium, and numerous antioxidants including phycocyanins, chlorophyll, and beta-carotene. Spirulina has a great protein profile, proving 2 grams of protein per teaspoon, including all nine essential amino acids (in other words, all nine of the building blocks of protein that your body can't produce itself and that you must get from your diet). Omega-3s and omega-6s are essential fatty acids that you need to get from your diet (as, again, your body can't produce these nutrients on its own). Both of these nutrients are necessary for your body, but too many omega 6s + not enough omega-3s = a recipe for disaster. Most dietitians recommend a 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, and some experts even recommend a ratio of 2:1. Omega-3s benefit everything from your brain to your heart to your eyes to your skin & hair. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is good for the immune system and that stimulates the body's production of collagen. Iron builds hemoglobin for red blood cells, potassium balances electrolytes & regulates blood pressure, and B vitamins generally benefit energy and overall health. Copper is necessary for proper body function, magnesium promotes bone health, and antioxidants in general fight free radical damage, thus playing a part in helping prevent disease. The phycocyanins (the blue antioxidant pigment, that composes blue spirulina) in green spirulina specifically have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Chlorophyll is the green antioxidant pigment that we're all familiar with for being the compound that gives plants their green color. Well it's in green spirulina too! Chlorophyll is purported to benefit immune health and digestive health and is believed to have detoxifying and potential anti-cancer properties. Beta-carotene helps the body create vitamin A and promotes eye and skin health. Spirulina as a food is believed to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, combat allergy symptoms, detoxify the body, and improve the health and appearance of skin & hair. Spirulina is a great form of detox for Lyme disease in particular, especially when used in conjunction with chlorella (a type of single-celled green algae) on an alternating schedule (meaning taking only spirulina on a given day and every other day only taking chlorella). I can attest that spirulina is a great form of detox for me and my case of Lyme disease, as it makes me feel so relaxed and reduces herxing (AKA a Herxheimer reaction) for me. I typically like to enjoy my spirulina powder in smoothies or in desserts/other baked goods. One thing you do want to keep in mind though is that, because spirulina is a marine plant it can contain heavy metals and other contaminants, so make sure you purchase a high-quality spirulina powder that is third-party tested for purity. I highly recommend using Nutrex Hawaii's Pure Hawaiian Spirulina Powder.


Medjool dates- Medjool dates (or the "King of Dates") are one of the largest and sweetest varieties of dates in the U.S., and are incredibly soft with rich caramel notes. They are my absolute favorite type of date, and my preferred variety to use on the blog. Dates are antioxidant powerhouses that are also rich in fiber, protein, potassium, and iron. Fiber slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream and aids digestion. Protein builds and maintains muscle mass. Potassium regulates blood pressure and balances electrolytes. Iron builds red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. Antioxidants in general help protect against numerous diseases because of their ability to fight disease-causing free radicals in the body. Dates also benefit bone health, can help regulate blood sugar levels in moderation (believe it or not!), may help alleviate symptoms of PMS, and show potential as a way to naturally induce (or at least shorten) labor, according to emerging research. Opt for organic dates with no added sugar to reap the maximum benefits of the dates (I use Natural Delights' Whole Fresh Medjool Dates that are grown with zero pesticides and have no added sugar).


Cashew butter- cashew butter is an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants. Healthy fats help keep skin and hair moisturized inside and out. Protein is responsible for nearly every bodily process, fiber promotes heart health, and iron builds red blood cells. Potassium balances electrolytes and calcium & magnesium help build and maintain healthy bones. Antioxidants fight free radical damage, thus helping to prevent various diseases. Choose cashew butter that's unsweetened with little to no salt. I personally prefer unsalted/unsweetened roasted cashew butter mixed with an oil like sunflower oil. However, there are brands that sell un-roasted (raw) 100% cashew butter if you want to go that route (I personally find that roasted cashew butter is much sweeter and buttery and is better for baking).


Sea salt- sea salt is better for you than table salt because the former is much less processed than table salt. Sea salt balances electrolytes, may benefit adrenal health, and nourishes the body with various micronutrients. Choose a healthy sea salt like Himalayan pink sea salt, sel gris (gray salt), or Hawaiian red alaea sea salt. My go-to is Himalayan pink sea salt (just make sure you know which type of sea salt is right for your recipe, as some varieties like Hawaiian black lava sea salt or smoked sea salts can add a pungent flavor to your dishes).



Cinnamon- cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds and may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. There are two varieties of cinnamon; Cassia cinnamon (the kind primarily sold in stores, and what we know as "cinnamon") and Ceylon, or "true", cinnamon. Out of the two varieties, Ceylon cinnamon has a lighter, sweeter flavor with more citrusy notes and is believed to be healthier than Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is richer and spicier in flavor.


Flaxseed- flaxseed (and thus flax eggs, which are just flax meal + water) is a good source of healthy fats (including omega-3s), protein, fiber, and iron. Healthy fats are good for the nervous system and cardiovascular system. Protein builds muscle while fiber aids digestion, promotes heart health, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Iron builds red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. Choose flaxseed meal over whole flaxseeds, as flax meal is easier to digest and is better for baking.


Unsweetened almond milk- unsweetened almond milk is chock-full of vitamin E, vitamin D, and calcium (if fortified). Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is good for your skin and hair. Vitamin D and calcium help build healthy bones, and vitamin D is good for the immune system. Choose unsweetened almond milk with minimal additives or opt to make your own!


Coconut oil- coconut oil is rich in healthy fats (including MCTs). Healthy fats are good for heart health, brain health, skin, and hair. Medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), specifically provide high-quality, quick energy for the body. Emerging research is suggesting that plant-based saturated fat (the kind found in coconut) may be better for you than animal-based saturated fat and may even benefit your health. Coconut oil may also have antimicrobial properties. Tip: choose unrefined, cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil when purchasing to get the maximum amount of nutrients. Also, coconut oil can be used as an all-natural hair mask to boost hydration and shine (search online to see how to properly use coconut oil as a hair mask).


Apples- apples are packed with fiber, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Insoluble fiber promotes healthy digestion (one medium-sized apple has 4 grams!). Soluble fiber benefits heart health and nourishes the good bacteria in your gut (one medium-sized apple has 1 gram). Potassium balances electrolytes and regulates blood pressure, vitamin A is an antioxidant that benefits eyesight, and vitamin C plays a role in immune health. B vitamins support the body's energy and antioxidants fight free radical damage. Opt for organic apples whenever possible, and try to keep the skin on when you're eating them or baking with them (a lot of the nutrients reside here!). My favorite apples for baking are honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith apples.



Substitutions


I don't recommend substituting the oat flour with anything else, as I have found it yields the perfect texture for these muffins. Seriously, the oat flour and tapioca flour combination yields a really fluffy, soft muffin (NOT a chewy, tough muffin, as can happen with oat flour sometimes). Like I said this is The Dimpled Date muffin 2.0, I did a lot of experimenting to get the right flour combination that yields a muffin with a good flavor as well as an improved texture, so I recommend using the flours this recipe calls for, if you can. However, for the tapioca flour you may try substituting arrowroot flour/starch OR possibly cornstarch OR possibly even potato starch with varied results (*NOTE: I know the arrowroot flour will most likely work, as I constantly substitute one for the other successfully when I'm baking. BUT I haven't tested the cornstarch or potato starch and therefore cannot guarantee the same results*). If you try a different type of flour(s), let me know how it turned out in the comments!


The spinach is kinda key here, as it's a main ingredient. Possibly, you could attempt to use curly kale in place of the spinach with varied results (*PLEASE NOTE: I have not tried this recipe with kale in place of the spinach and therefore CANNOT guarantee good results. Kale is a mild leafy green, but tends to have a little bit more of a robust flavor than spinach, but it still *potentially* might work). For the green spirulina powder, I don't recommend replacing it as it's also a key ingredient in these muffins. You could try using blue spirulina instead though, if you're fine with more of a blue color to your muffins rather than a teal-green color. Or, perhaps you could use matcha green tea powder instead of the spirulina, so long as you're fine with green muffins instead of teal muffins (*NOTE: this will add a little natural tea caffeine if going with this option*). Alternatively, you could leave out the spirulina, and I think the muffins would still turn out delicious with the same texture. The baking powder and baking soda shouldn't be replaced as they are the leavening agents/leaveners in this recipe.


The Medjool dates can be replaced with any variety of date, such as Deglet Noor dates. Possibly you could attempt to use another sweetener, such as 1/2 cup maple syrup OR 1/2 cup agave OR 1/2 cup coconut nectar OR 1/2 cup date syrup plus more to taste with varied results. Or potentially, you could try using coconut sugar, maple sugar, date sugar, or turbinado sugar with varied results, although I do not know how much of these sweeteners to use in place of the dates, as I've only tried this recipe with dates. (*NOTE: I HAVE NOT tried any of the sweeteners mentioned in this paragraph and therefore CANNOT guarantee good results*). If you try any of these sweeteners, let me know how it turned out in the comments!


The cashew butter can be swapped out with almond butter, walnut butter, softened coconut butter, sunflower seed butter, mild tahini, OR another mild nut/seed butter. The sea salt can be substituted with table salt or may be omitted. The vanilla extract can be replaced with an equivalent amount of scraped vanilla bean, pure ground vanilla bean powder, OR sugar-free vanilla paste/syrup. Or you could try using almond extract, orange extract, sugar-free coconut extract (like OliveNation's), or possibly even lemon extract with varied results. I don't recommend omitting the vanilla or another extract, as most of the flavor comes from the extract. Again, the cinnamon gives these muffins most of their flavor, so I do not recommend omitting it. But you can use either cassia cinnamon or Ceylon ("true") cinnamon. Potentially, you could try substituting the cinnamon starting with half the amount of ground ginger plus more to taste if you're ok with a ginger flavor. If you must, you may omit the cinnamon. The flax eggs can be substituted with 2 chia eggs OR 6 Tbsp aquafaba (chickpea brine) per single batch.


The unsweetened almond milk can be replaced with your unsweetened plant milk of choice OR your sweetened plant milk of choice (if you can have sugar on your diet). Alternatively, you could try substituting fresh filtered water for the plant milk with varied results. The melted coconut oil can be substituted with avocado oil, sunflower oil, or another neutral-flavored oil with varied results. The apples aren't necessary, however I highly recommend using them for a more fun texture & flavor and added nutrition. But you can either leave them out or swap them out with 1 cup your chopped fresh fruit of choice (or 1 cup whole fresh fruit, depending on the fruit). For instance, you could use 1 cup fresh blueberries, 1 cup diced fresh strawberries, 1 cup fresh raspberries, 1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple, 1 cup finely diced fresh banana, 1 cup diced fresh pear, or 1/2 cup chopped fresh dates, to give some ideas (I only say 1/2 cup fresh dates since these muffins are already sweetened with dates). These muffins are really customizable, so feel free to add in other add-ins or flavors! Some ideas: vegan/sugar-free dark chocolate chips/chunks (like my Date-Sweetened Dark Chocolate, chopped!), vegan/sugar-free white chocolate chips/chunks (like my Date-Sweetened White Chocolate, chopped!), 1/2 cup unsweetened raisins/unsweetened dried fruit of choice, 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded/desiccated coconut, 1/2 cup gluten-free whole rolled oats, 1/2 cup raw unsweetened unsalted nuts/seeds of choice (chopped, as needed), etc.



Future Recipes Sneak Peek...


It's that time of month again, the "Future Recipes Sneak Peek" with 3 new recipes coming to The Dimpled Date soon! (Or should I say "coming to your kitchen soon?" ;). Here's 3 recipes (either perfected or that I'm working on) to let you in on the inside scoop:


1. 6-Ingredient Dark Chocolate Fudge Truffles

2. Paleo Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

3. Cookies 'N Cream Pop-Tarts


..AND MORE! Stay tuned yumminess in progress...


Thanks for checking out this recipe, feel free to give it a like!


Enjoy!

-K.



Sweet Spinach Spirulina Apple Muffins (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened, Hidden Veggies)


Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 26 to 28 minutes

Total Time: 51 to 53 minutes

Servings: 12 domed muffins


Ingredients:


-1 1/2 cups gluten-free oat flour

-1/4 cup tapioca flour (can sub arrowroot flour)

-1 tsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1 tsp cinnamon

-1/8 tsp sea salt

-1 cup Medjool dates

-2 cups fresh spinach, lightly packed

-1/2 cup unsweetened creamy cashew butter (can sub creamy almond butter OR mild creamy nut/seed butter of choice)

-1 Tbsp high-quality green spirulina powder (like Nutrex Hawaii's)

-1 tsp vanilla extract

-2 flax eggs (check out Minimalist Baker's "How to Make a Flax Egg" recipe!)

-1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (can sub unsweetened plant milk of choice)

-1/4 cup cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, melted & slightly cooled

-1 cup fresh apples, diced (like Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, or Granny Smith // organic when possible)


Directions:


1. Soak dates in hot water for 5 to 15 minutes. Make the flax eggs ahead of time. Melt the coconut oil. You'll probably want to wait to dice the apples until right before adding them to the batter to preserve freshness and avoid browning. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners OR grease the muffin cups with coconut oil, vegan butter, or vegan non-stick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.


2. Combine the dry ingredients (oat flour, tapioca flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and sea salt) in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.


3. Blend the soaked & drained dates in a food processor until a paste forms, scraping down the sides & re-blending as necessary. Add the spinach and blend until incorporated.


4. Add the cashew butter (or nut/seed butter of choice), spirulina, vanilla, and flax eggs to the food processor and blend until smooth & uniform.


5. Transfer the date-spinach-spiurlina mixture from the food processor to the bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir manually until somewhat combined.


6. Add the almond milk and melted & slightly cooled coconut oil to the bowl and stir until smoother and incorporated.


7. Dice the apple now if you waited to dice it to preserve freshness. Fold in the diced apple into the muffin batter using a spatula until combined.


8. Scoop the muffin batter into the cupcake liners/greased muffin tin cups filling each up about 2/3 of the way. Smooth the tops as necessary. Lightly & gently tap the base of the muffin tin against the countertop to remove any air bubbles.


9. Bake the muffins in the preheated oven (at 350 degrees F) for 26 to 28 minutes, or until the muffins have risen significantly, a knife/toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean, and the muffins smell fragrant.


10. Allow the muffins to cool.


11. Serve with an oat milk matcha latte, vegan golden milk, a vegan spirulina latte (yes, that's a thing!), an ube latte, taro milk tea, or a rose latte to make all of your mermaid dreams come true! Also, I like to serve mine when they're still a little warm with a pat of vegan butter on top. I'm sure a schmear of vegan cream cheese, a drizzle of nut/seed butter, or a swipe of refined-sugar-free fruit preserves would be great on these muffins too. These muffins can be enjoyed for breakfast along with a serving of fresh fruit (I usually have 2 muffins for breakfast), they can be enjoyed as a snack, or even as a healthy dessert. To reheat and soften the leftover muffins to get that "fresh out of the oven" feel, simply peel the cupcake liners and pop them in the toaster oven for a few minutes until warmed through (be careful not to burn them though as they can become toasty very quickly). Enjoy!


Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.


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