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It’s come from nowhere, spawned a million Instagram posts and kept our tastebuds amused during the lockdown, but we have to ask – is the super-whipped Dalgano coffee healthy?
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This article was reviewed by Jennifer May, Clinical Nutritionist. See more about her and our editorial accuracy process here
What is Dalgona Coffee?
If you don’t spend a lot of time on social media, you might very well be asking this, as before we all went into lockdown in March 2020, pretty much no-one had even heard of Dalgona Coffee.
But the short answer is Dalgona Coffee is a whipped-coffee drink.
While whipped coffee is found all over the world, this particular version came from a South Korean TV Show. The presenter tried it at the Hon Kee Cafe in Macau (where it’s a bit of a speciality), decided it looked like the mix used to make a popular Korean sweet called Dalgona and renamed it.
Then, thanks to it becoming a trend on TikTok – where it’s also known as quarantine coffee or TikTok coffee – it exploded into a very bored world twiddling their thumbs in lockdown – and a trend was born.
Now, I do have to admit that Dalgona Coffee is actually a very poorly named drink because it isn’t actually a coffee drink it all. Instead, it’s actually a cup or glass (better for the gram) of hot or cold milk with a topping of whipped coffee on top. So technically it should be Dalgona milk… but maybe I’m just pedantic.
How Do You Make Dalgona Coffee?
The Dalgona Coffee recipe is pretty easy. You add 1-2 tablespoons of instant coffee, 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of water to a bowl (just make sure you use the same number of tbsp for each ingredient – so one of each or two of each) and then whisk it, lots (trust me, you’re going to want to use an electric hand mixer) until it goes super thick.
You then place this goey stuff on top of the milk – which can be hot or cold – and there you have it a super pretty Dalgona coffee.
But is it a super healthy Dalgano Coffee? Let’s investigate.
Is Dalgona Coffee Healthy?
Let’s start with a positive.
Coffee Per Se is not Bad for You.
You see, coffee beans come from plants – and like all plant-based things they contain antioxidants. In fact, one study even went as far as to suggest that coffee might be the biggest source of antioxidants in many people’s diet.
Coffee beans also contain ingredients called chlorogenic acids which are not only antioxidants, they’ve also been shown to have positive effects on the body’s ability to handle insulin and our blood pressure.
It’s also a myth that coffee dehydrates you. When this was actually studied (rather than just endlessly repeated), researchers at the University of Nebraska, Omaha found coffee has absolutely no diuretic effect in regular drinkers. A second study from the UK’s University of Birmingham found the same thing.
The only time it does cause a small loss of fluid is if you are what experts called ‘caffeine naive’ – ie you never drink it – and you suddenly have a mega dose (2-3 cups) in short succession – but most people won’t do that so…
The idea, therefore that coffee is bad for you is basically false. In fact, in 2017 a study of over 500,000 people in Europe found that regular coffee drinkers actually lived longer!
And while the instant coffee that you use to make Dalgona coffee might be frowned upon by coffee purists, there’s some evidence that it actually contains more antioxidants than fresh beans!
If you want to look into the health benefits of instant coffee a bit more closely, you might want to check out our post on whether instant coffee is healthy, once you’ve finished this one.
Dalgona Coffee has a LOT of Milk
It’s basically a glass of milk with frothy stuff on top.
Milk contains a heap of vitamins and minerals – calcium is the best known, but there are nine other essential nutrients in a glass of milk – and all of them are sitting under that frothy stuff on top of your cup.
Dietitians suggest we should have 3-4 servings of dairy food a day to ensure good bone and other health – and while they shouldn’t all be milk (it’s good to mix up your dairy), the odd Dalgona coffee will make a valuable contribution to your calcium intake.
Now the Bad News…
Two tablespoons of sugar. Two.
There’s 3-4 teaspoons to a tablespoon (depending on where you live) – that means every Dalgano coffee has 6-8 teaspoons of sugar in it. A 330m can of Coke has 16 teaspoons of sugar.
Aggggh, there can be half the amount of sugar in an entire can of Coke sitting in that froth!
The UK’s NHS also suggest adults shouldn’t have more than 30g of sugar a day – that’s about 7 teaspoons so, one Dalgona Coffee takes you right up to your limit. Oops!
How Many Calories Are In Dalgona Coffee?
While calories aren’t the only thing that determines if something is healthy, if you’re counting them for weight loss or weight control, it’s good to know how many something contains.
If you use two tablespoon method and 150g semi-skimmed milk, you’ll be looking at about 160 calories a cup.
If you use just 1tbsp of the froth ingredients, that falls to 120 a cup.
If you use full-fat milk, skimmed or swap to an alt milk that will change – but not by much.
You could always try and burn a few off by whipping the coffee by hand – the original makers at the Macau cafe say it takes at least 400 whisks of an old fashioned hand whisk to make it work!
So, is Dalgona Coffee Healthy?
Sadly, the sugar content does wipe out most of the good that’s been done by the coffee and the milk!
Does this mean you should never consume it. No. No it doesn’t.
You might have worked out we don’t like banning yummy things here at The Wellness Nerd – but let’s strip it of its coffee title which makes it sound like it’s okay to have before breakfast, rename it Dalgona Dessert and add it to the once a week treat list!
How to Make It Healthier
The obvious way to do this is to use the lower-sugar recipe which calls for 1 tbsp of each ingredient and immediately cuts the sugar content in half. That takes you to 3-4 tablespoons of added sugar under your daily limit – just watch what else you eat that day and all will be fine.
However, as with every trend, there’s been a lot of people shaking up the Dalgona Coffee idea – and some of the changes have added an extra health twist.
Apparently, you can use granulated versions of the sugar substitute stevia like these ones from Truvia. instead of sugar. The fluff doesn’t last as long but it works.
This is probably a better choice than the coconut sugar I’ve also seen people using. Coconut sugar is touted as healthier than raw sugar as it contains slightly more nutrients than refined sugar does but it’s still highly calorific (there’s also a few other reasons why it’s not the best swap).
Alternative Dalgona Ideas
If you don’t drink dairy, you can swap it for the alt milk of your choice – almond milk or soy would work well if you have a sweet tooth while oat milk would cut through the sugar a bit, but make sure you choose an unsweetened version – we don’t need any more added sugar in the mix!
One thing that doesn’t work though is replacing the instant coffee with freshly ground stuff. Apparently, it’s an additive in instant coffee that causes it to firm and fluff – without that you just end up with paste.
If you want to go completely off-piste, the latest incarnation sees people swapping the coffee for matcha powder – which makes the froth green (find green matcha powder here)
Or, if blue is more you’re colour, then you should try Blue Matcha which is actually a powdered form of Butterfly Pea Flower Tea. This is a very fun tea which starts off blue and turns purple – and it makes very bright drinks!
If you want to try this, you can’t just replicate the coffee, sugar, water mix though. As I said, it’s a magic ingredient in instant coffee that creates the whip so you do need to add some extras if you’re using matcha instead of coffee – coconut cream is a favourite. Check out this recipe from the team over at Wow! It’s Veggie if you want to try it yourself.
So there you have it – the verdict on whether Dalgona coffee can be classed as healthy. Enjoy. and if you want to check out another fun drink that owes its popularity to South Korea, check out this post on Sweet Potato Lattes. They’re Purple and super yum!
We also checked out the health benefits of another TikTok trend – Nature’s Cereal.
Or, maybe you’re a chai fan – in which case, have a look at our post on whether chai is healthy.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.