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13 Alternative and Healthy Baking Ingredients

October 24, 2013

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As an avid baker and someone who is passionate about nutrition, I am constantly striving to find the best healthy alternatives for my baked goods. Healthy baking doesn’t necessarily need to be gluten-free and vegan. In fact, some gluten-free options have just as much sugar and as many calories as the real deal. The same goes for vegan.

When swapping out ingredients for healthier or allergy]-free options, there are four major components of the baked good that need to be considered.

White flour alternatives

The first is white flour. This is important for people who have gluten allergies or if you are trying to control glycemic load and increase the fiber and nutrient value of a dish. Here are a few white flour swaps that work well. 

  • Black beans – If you are making brownies, try using one cup of pureed black beans (about 15 oz.) instead of one cup of flour. You won’t be able to taste the beans, and they give the brownies a terrific fudgy texture.
  • Whole wheat flour – In most recipes, whole wheat flour can be used instead of white flour. However, it will change the flavor, texture and density of the pastry. If you are making cake or muffins, or other recipes that should be light, try using whole wheat pastry flour instead.
  • Almond meal  - For a more rustic tasting pastry, try using almond flour. It is naturally gluten-free and adds protein to your pastry. I like to use it for berry cakes or tart shells.
  • Gluten free flour - If you would like to make a gluten-free option of your favorite recipe, try using a gluten free flour blend like this one from Bob’s Red Mill. You can also make your own by playing with a mixture of your favorite alternative flours like brown rice or quinoa.

Dairy alternatives

The next ingredient that you may want to substitute is dairy. In most cases, we are talking about butter in baking. To make something vegan, the butter needs to be replaced with a plant-based alternative. 

  • Coconut oil - A great fat replacement! You can use the exact same amount of coconut oil as you would butter. It will give your cookies a delicious crunch and have you well on your way to vegan baking. 
  • Avocado – This is a great replacement for butter if you are baking with chocolate, which will cover up the green color of the avocado. Pureed avocado will add some nutrients to your baked goods, as well as make them very moist and soft.
  • Banana – Bananas can be used in much the same way as avocado. However, it’s important to note that they do have a very strong flavor. It’s best to use bananas in place of butter for recipes that you want to be banana-flavored, like loaf cake or muffins.

Sugar alternatives

Sugar is a tricky ingredient to eliminate from baked goods. This is because it not only sweetens cakes and cookies, but it is also reacts with the starch to help provide structure and acts as a tenderizer by absorbing water.

  • Coconut palm sugar – This is an excellent alternative to brown sugar, as it adds a caramel flavor and color to your finished products. It can also have a slight coconut flavor, so it’s important to take that into consideration when choosing a sweetener.
  • Raw honey – Using natural honey is a really good way to sweeten your baked goods. You can use the exact same amount of honey as you would sugar, or even a bit less. Because it is a liquid it brings a lot of moisture to the finished product.
  • Stevia – This is a somewhat controversial sweetener, but if you are a stevia fan then I encourage you to use it for baking! Stevia is much sweeter than cane sugar, so it’s good to use in a recipe that doesn’t call for much sugar, or to substitute half the sugar for stevia. You could also combine stevia and honey or maple syrup.

Egg alternatives

The last ingredient that you can replace to make your recipe vegan or allergy free is eggs. Eggs also have a specific purpose in baking. They bind the other ingredients together and add moisture to the final product. When choosing an egg substitute, it is important to identify what the egg does in the recipe. For example, eggs are necessary for soufflé or cheesecake because it is a key ingredient. However, for cookies or cake, you can use a vegan alternative.

  • Flax seed – To use flax seed instead of egg, just combine 1 tablespoon ground flax with 2 or 3 tablespoons of water to replace one egg. Once it is mixed together, add to your batter just like you would an egg.
  • Chia seed – Chia can be used the same way as flax to replace eggs, except it does not need to be ground. Because chia is so gelatinous, it is a great binding agent in baking.
  • Egg replacer – If you are making a dish with a big egg emphasis, you can try using an egg replacer like Ener-G Egg Replacer. These products are usually a mix of potato starch and tapioca flour, and are often gluten-free.

What are some of your favorite alternative baking ingredients?