The internet’s most tawdry brownies have always been stuffed—but they haven’t always been “slutty.”
Maybe you’ve seen recipes on Pinterest for “Slutty Brownies,” an Oreo that’s sandwiched between a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie. The brownies surged in popularity around late 2011, according to analytics from Google Trends, and they’ve been steadily popular ever since. Interest has dipped over the past few years, but people have continued to make and tag posts with #sluttybrownie as recently as yesterday. Versions of the brownies still circulate on food blogs and YouTube videos. A quick Google search yields 718,000 results, plus over 24,000 posts on Instagram. For every tweet expressing confusion over the brownies’ name are seemingly five more lusting over them.
As with all recipes, the formula has been updated many times over. Some recipes add caramel, shape the brownies into cups, or turn them into s’mores. As bloggers riff, they add new names—and as they up the ante in edginess, all of them are decidedly unwelcome at your next school bake sale. One blogger gave her chocolate-heavy version the name “Chocolate Suicide Slutty Brownies.” Another suggested that hers should be called “High-Class Hooker Brownies,” since it uses brownie batter from scratch, not mix.
One woman described the brownies, if topped with ice cream, as “like a full blown, bending over in front of your boyfriend with no underwear on, biggest slut ever brownies.” “My brownies are the equivalent of Christina Aguilera in her Xtina Dirrty days,” wrote another.
So, how did semi-homemade cookie-filled brownies get so NSFW?
Back in May 2011, they were straightforward “cookie dough Oreo brownies,” made by a wholesome-seeming Southern woman named Amanda, who pondered whether Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies and brownies could be combined. They could, and of course, the internet was into it.
But when the recipe was picked up by the food blogosphere, the brownie took a turn from decadent frankenfood to Dessert Gone Wild. As Amanda, the recipe's alleged inventor, wrote in an updated post late last year, “the internet gave them a new name… Slutty Brownies!”
According to internet sleuths, the credit for the brownies’ renaming goes to a British woman named Rosie, who runs a blog called The Londoner. Just one month after Amanda shared her dessert creation, she posted a recipe for a cookie-brownie hybrid similar to Amanda’s and wrote, “They’re called Slutty Brownies because they’re oh so easy, and more than a little bit filthy.” Her post ended with the introduction of “#sluttybrownie.” A mashup of already beloved desserts, the brownie has undeniable appeal, with melded layers that are dense, fudgy, and gooey—but suddenly bestowed with a clickbait name, they became an internet phenomenon.
Like unicorn foods or so-called goth foods, the “Slutty Brownie” has always been at the periphery of my radar; food trends I’m aware of, but don’t actively go out of my way to consume. While they look pretty delicious, the name has always given me pause. The brownies, however, begged further inquiry when a Twitter thread about the layered treats made its way onto my feed last week after being shared by the writer Jaya Saxena.
Of course we can—and are supposed to—laugh about the name, but imposing sexual traits onto a brownie is undeniably kind of weird. Though The Londoner wrote that it was because they were both “easy” and “filthy,” other reasoning has worked its way into the mythos of the brownies. For all these iterations, there are just about as many guesses as to why the brownies are so “slutty,” many of which reveal a lot of people projecting fucked up ideas about food.
On The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Jessica Simpson (who is a fan) reportedly said that it’s because “a lot goes into them.” “Perhaps because you feel a little dirty eating them?” asked blogger Savory Experiments. One Reddit user made a connection that many of us might not want to associate with dessert: “They're slutty because the Oreo filling melts inside the brownie, leaving the inside full of sticky white goop.” Others, in the same thread, wrote that foods are slutty when they’re “cheap and easy,” “messy,” “dirty,” and “bad for you.” The punchline being, obviously, that “slutty” women are all of the above.
Late last week, when the San Francisco Chronicle’s new restaurant critic Soleil Ho published a list of words she promises to never use, “slutty” made the cut. “As a metaphor, [the word “slutty”] works by bringing together the aspects of whoredom into the food we eat, emphasizing attributes that our culture associates with loose women,” Ho wrote. “It works well, but I don’t use it because it reinforces misogynistic and literally objectifying ideas about women who have sex.”
No matter how you slice it, referring to the brownies—or any food—as “slutty” sets up ideas of “good food” versus “bad food,” with “slutty” foods being the latter. As far back as the Middle Ages, the world “slut” has implied dirtiness and low character, and it’s been used, largely, to shame women. “We use ‘slut’ as a blanket label for women we want to delegitimize by weaponizing their sexuality against them,” Amanda Knox wrote for Broadly last year. Though feminist movements over the past few decades such as the SlutWalk have attempted to reclaim the word, its long-held associations are hard to break.
There are also the implications about health. In a culture that’s constantly concerned with dieting, referring to food in moral terms has become a problematic norm. Just think of how often words like “dirty,” “clean,” and “guilt” come up on products or in discussions of eating. A can of La Croix bills itself as “innocent,” for example, and high-protein ice creams advertise themselves as “guilt-free.”
They’re all words that position food as good or bad; in doing so, they make food a source of fear and shame, especially for women, who are under more pressure than men to exercise self-control and to look thin. These terms perpetuate unhealthy relationships with food and eating: eating the “dirty,” or decadent, dessert might call for penance in the form of “clean” eating to restore a sense of discipline.
The “Slutty Brownie” fits into the perfect intersection of demonizing both food and sex. The puritanical implication, of course, is that enjoying too much of either is bad—and in 2019, it feels like time to move past these lines of thinking.
“Slutty Brownies” give people an opportunity to indulge, and maybe a laugh, too. But that name only sets anxious eaters up for failure, once the gooey mess has been licked clean off their fingers.
This article originally appeared on Munchies US.