How to Substitute Eggs and Binding Agents
So if you are like me and can’t have eggs because of an intolerance or if you are vegan, coming up with binding agents is a bit of a challenge. Especially if you are baking without the natural stick of gluten in your flour!
You’ll notice that a combination of ‘sticky’ ingredients brings the best result for replacing eggs in your baking. Check out some of the interesting ideas and tricks you can try- I’ve also linked relevant recipes on this blog that use the techniques mentioned, along with a few of my favorite GF blogs that also use those techniques to give you some additional ideas.
Hey, if you have any additional tips, please feel free to add to the discussion! This is just a brief synopsis of the stuff I use but I know there’s way more out there. You’ll note I don’t use powdered egg replacer in the suggestions below. Why? Because it sucks. Oh. And its not real food. :)
NOTE: This is Part 2 of my Substitution Series– Part 1 is Understanding Gluten Free Flours, Part 2 is How to Substitute Eggs, Part 3 is How to Substitute Sugar, Part 4 is How to Substitute Fats/ Oils, Part 5 is How to Substitute Dairy and Part 6 is Substituting the Top 10 Allergens in Baking.
HOW TO SUBSTITUTE EGGS/ BINDERS
Binding Agents/ Egg Substitutes
In most gluten-free baking, xanthan gum and guar gum are used as replacements for the binding action of gluten. I prefer not to use either, because they are pretty processed products and I react badly to both. Xanthan is usually corn derived and I think also mold derived (eep…). You can use xanthan in just about any baking, but my personal goal is to now bake entirely without it.
Below are some alternatives for binding agents in gluten free baking. Used in combination, they provide great results. If you have additional suggestions please add them!
Agar Agar Powder
Made from finely ground seaweed, sprinkle it on your wet ingredients and let soak 5- 10 min. It is a gelatin substitute and binding agent used by vegans. It is a ‘short’ gelatin; it doesn’t rise very high and can sometimes be brittle if you use too much. Best used for cookies, ice cream, and mini tea loaves. It works great in vegan pumpkin pie, and terrific in my vegan vanilla pudding. Use 2-3 tsp per egg you would replace. You can find it cheapest at your local Chinese or Indian grocery store. You can also get agar ribbons and grind them in your coffee or spice grinder to make your own powder.
I tend to use unflavoured gelatin alot. It binds both solids and liquids very well in almost a fluffy manner (my chocolate cake is a great example). A note to my vegan friends- it is animal derived and therefore not something you would want to use.
How to use it– add 1 tbsp to the wet ingredients of your recipe and let soak 5-10 min or while you prepare the dry ingredients. With cookies, it tends to spread a bit and remain softer, so you won’t get a crunchy result. I find its great for custards, pie fillings, tea loaves, muffins, cupcakes and cakes. Use 1 ½ tsp per cup of flour (or 1 packet/ 1 tbsp per recipe). If you use too much it will make your recipe hard as a rock. Note: if you are celiac, make sure to call the manufacturer and find out if its processed on a gluten free facility line. McCormick’s is safe.
Yes, its those tiny grains you find in Metamucil! You can buy Psyllium husk at your local healthfood store (I believe nutsonline.com has a GF version). Add 1-2 tbsp to your wet ingredients and voila- let it soak no more than 2 minutes (otherwise it will completely dry out your wet ingredients, it expands really fast).
You might worry that your dough is too dry while mixing, but in fact generally it works just fine- the psyllium retains the water it sucks up. It works well when you need a binder that also has body. I find that flax and chia are sticky but the don’t have ‘height’ – they don’t add structure the way a cooked egg would, for example. Therefore, when you want to make something that needs ‘height’ like custard or a cheesecake filling, try psyllium husk because it keeps the height.
I use psyllium in bread right now, and I’m loving the results because I don’t need a nut or seed or coconut flour to give the baked good structure- I get it from the psyllium husk. A great recipe using psyllium is the Yeasted Xanthan Free GF Vegan Bread from Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen. If you CAN do eggs but want a great xanthan-free pasta recipe, visit GlutenFreeGirl.
Superfine Ground Flax Meal
Add ground flax to wet ingredients to let soak and create gel while assembling the recipe. Don’t add additional water, I find it makes the recipe gummy if you do. 2 tbsp ground flax= about 1 egg. Remember to store ground flax in the fridge or the natural oils will go rancid.
A great example of using flax as a binder is my gluten free, grain free vegan almond bread. You can also use it as a great binder for pie crusts, cookies, cakes, tea loaves, ground meat products etc… Whenever I’m in doubt about whether a recipe will hold together, I just throw in a tbsp of flax or so and cross my fingers, and it usually works! A great example of this is in my fluffy vegan GF pancakes.
A note about using flax- if you add it directly to your dry ingredients instead of soaking it in your wet ingredients, your recipe might be more crumbly or fall apart because it didn’t have time to absorb the wet ingredients and gel. Also, you’ll find your batter or dough ends up being wetter and you may need to change the baking time or temperature as a result.
Another important point- if you add flax to your wet ingredients to soak and then you combine your wet and dry ingredients, you might notice that the final dough or batter is a bit dryer than you expected. This is totally ok- the flax has absorbed the water content and will preserve it during the baking process. If you add too much extra water or wet ingredient to try to loosen up the dough, it might not cook through.
Finely Ground Chia Seed
Use about 1 tbsp ground, added to your wet ingredients so that it can soak while you prepare your dry ingredients. Chia seed is water retaining. If you find the recipe is gummy, add 1-2 tbsp coconut flour to correct it (it soaks up water like crazy). You can grind them up or use them whole, but they are much less effective if used whole. You can usually substitute this combination for flax. It works well in just about any recipe. I’ve tried it in my almond lemon poppyseed loaf and it works well.
A note about using ground chia- if you add it directly to your dry ingredients instead of soaking it in your wet ingredients, your recipe might be more crumbly or fall apart because it didn’t have time to absorb the wet ingredients and gel. Also, you’ll find your batter or dough ends up being wetter and you may need to change the baking time or temperature as a result.
Another important point- if you add chia to your wet ingredients to soak and then you combine your wet and dry ingredients, you might notice that the final dough or batter is a bit dryer than you expected. This is totally ok- the chia has absorbed the water content and will preserve it during the baking process. If you add too much extra water or wet ingredient to try to loosen up the dough, it might not cook through. A great blog that uses chia seed frequently is DietDessertnDogs. Check out her desserts!
Nut / Seed Butters
Nut and seed butters are good for making shorter baked goods like granola or bars or crackers, or in cookies or in combination with a starch and flax for holding together egg-free meat products like meatballs. Nut butters do a great job of binding together a shorter, heavier recipe.
The stickiest butter I’ve used is sunflower seed butter (Sunbutter). It has the most noticeable flavour to even it out (if you don’t really like it) I’d suggest adding a touch of tahini and rice vinegar, or for sweet goods, adding honey or molasses. However, sometimes you don’t need to- check out my awesome fluffy vegan GF pancakes– they have Sunbutter as the binder and it works beautifully without noticeable flavour. Cashew butter works well with chocolate baked goods like cookies. I use tahini in my brownies in combination with bananas and it works well.
The good thing- nut and seed butters also add a creamy dairy-like richness to baked goods. A great example is my almond ice cream– it has alot of cashew butter in it and you would swear its dairy. Another blog that makes great use of ground cashews is is Elana’s Pantry.
Starches: Arrowroot, Tapioca, Corn, Potato Starch
Starches work well in puddings, sauces, gravies and custards as binding agents. Toss ½ tbsp with fruit in pies to hold it together. Corn starch can’t freeze but Arrowroot and Tapioca freeze well. Arrowroot is a bit harder to find and more expensive (although I love it!). Usually most recipes calls for Tapioca or potato starch or corn starch. Tapioca starch is heavy and sticky (good for cookies), but if you use too much can make cakes heavy- cutu t with potato starch. Potato starch can make your recipes lighter and fluffer but if you use too much, it will taste ALOT like potatoes. A great example of combining starches is my GF Vegan Vanilla Cupcake.
In general, if you use too much starch it will make your recipe chalky and break apart, and burn easily- if that happens, especially in cookies or pie crust, add a 1-2 tbsp nut or seed butter to help. If you are making cakes or muffins or cupcakes, make sure to add some potato starch as it adds fluffiness- using only tapioca, for example, will result in a heavier, gooeyer product. For meatballs and meat products, cut the starch with flax and a nut butter.
A great example of how starch holds things together is my GF egg free turkey meatball recipe. Yup, combining ground flax with starch works wonders in holding together egg-free meatballs or home made mini-sausages, or even meat loafs or roulades.
Cooked pumpkin puree works well in a soft cookie (like my pumpkin spice cookies!), but it also works well in pancakes or waffles, muffins, and loaves. There’s alot of starch and natural binding in pumpkins that contribute to binding together a recipe. You’ll find its a bit heavy though, and best for ‘shorter’ baked goods that don’t require alot of rising, and benefit from a denser texture. I’d start with 1/4 to 1/3 cup and go from there. If you use alot and you worry your recipe is too soupy, throw in 1-2 tbsp coconut flour to soak it up.
Cooked Mashed Yams/ Sweet Potato
Cooked mashed yams or sweet potato work very similarly to pumpkin puree. The difference is that its a bit heavier, and stickier. Dietdessertndogs uses yams alot, (even in icing! so neat!), check out her site. Also, Meghan Telpner uses cooked sweet potato in her cinnamon buns.
If you want to lighten sweet potato in a recipe, add in some applesauce, and it would work for a muffin-type recipe. Make sure to remove 1/4 cup or so of your wet ingredients when using these egg replacers to account for the moisture, and combine with other binders like agar powder, gelatin, chia or flax ,etc… to get maximum results.
Applesauce, Mashed Overripe Bananas, Overripe Mashed Plantains
I love using applesauce in baking- it has a neutral flavour but lots of binding capacity, and its light enough for cakes and muffins. The natural sugars and pectin in both pureed bananas and applesauce have a natural binding capacity. For bananas, I would suggest freezing them first and then pureeing them- you get a sweeter and smoother result- and use them when they are really overripe. Check out my banana snacking cake for an idea of how I combine egg-free binders, or my vegan brownies.
Come to think of it- if you cook and mash overrip plantains, I bet you’d get a similar result without all that banana-like flavour. I use bananas and applesauce in my chocolate cake. Make sure to remove 1/4 cup or so of your wet ingredients when using these egg replacers to account for the moisture, and combine with other binders like agar powder, gelatin, chia or flax ,etc… to get maximum results.
Soaked, Pureed Dates or Prunes, Soaked and Simmered Figs
You can use alot of soaked and pureed dried fruits in your baking, but these ones are my favorite at the moment. My mom uses a jar of prune baby food in her brownies and it is phenomenal. Simmered pureed figs are great for cookies. I use dried fruit in my raw pie crust and it works very well.
Soaked pureed dates work well in pies for binding and sweetening. Generally, think ‘short’ baking- pies, brownies or squares, cookies, mini-tea loaves. Here’s a great recipe from vgnjar on raw ‘snickers’ bars using dates. Remember, make sure to reduce a bit of your wet ingredients to account for the wetness of your new binders.
Shredded Fresh Zucchini, Apple, Carrot, or Dried Shredded Coconut
When you are making lighter/higher rising baked goods like cakes and muffins or larger tea loaves or even cupcakes, shredded fresh fruit or veg actually helps in binding! Who knew! I find apple is the most effect- I throw in almost a cup’s worth, and it almost melts into your baked good and helps hold it together, with a more neutral taste. Zucchini has the highest water content, so you will want to definetly reduce your wet ingredients or add a bit more starch or coconut flour. Shredded carrot works well if you pre-cook it just slightly to soften it- sometimes I find it doesn’t cook enough during the baking process so this helps things along. Carrot also has a natural sweetness to it.
These replacers also create a very soft crumb. Use in cakes in combination with another binding agent, like flax, chia, or agar or gelatin or all of them. I use at least a cup of shredded fresh fruit or veg. I find shredded dried coconut works best to help bind cookies because its a bit heavy. You can still use it in cakes and muffins, just reduce the amount to about 1/3 cup or so.
Honey is a very sticky binder. It holds together gooey treats like cookies, sweet sauces, and ice creams. For extra strength, especially in sweet sauces, cookies or ice cream, you can boil the honey until it reaches almost the candy stage, which concentrates the flavour and the stickiness. (Please note- boiling or baking honey eliminates the natural enzymes and neutralizes the natural healing properties. It also changes the molecular structure.)
I use honey in alot of my baking as an added oomph. You need alot less honey than sugar to give sweetness as it is twice as sweet. I also find I don’t react as badly to honey, and it gives baked goods a lovely floral note at the back of the palate instead of the harsh jagged sweetness of sugar. A great example of this is my home made nutella. A note about honey- for cakes and soft baked goods, using too much honey results in a gooey end product. If you aren’t sure about how much to use, err on the side of less – don’t go beyond 1/3 cup or so.
Gluten Free Flours
There are certain gluten free flours that work very well as natural binding agents in shorter baked goods because they have higher starch or protein in them.
Teff flour – heavier and earthy in flavour, based on a small Ethiopian grain and a main component of Injera bread. It works well to help bind – its featured in the Yeasted Xanthan Free GF Vegan Bread from Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.
Buckwheat flour – is naturally sticky (think pancakes), and heavy. It has a noticeable grassy flavour, but used with a little almond extract and molasses in crepes and you are good to go.
Amaranth flour- a more nutty flavour and much les noticeable taste than teff or buckwheat. It has a high starch content, so I like to use it in combination for making ‘breaded’ coatings that are egg free such as my egg free GF fried green tomatoes or fried chicken .
Chickpea flour- heavier than teff or buckwheat or amaranth flour, is very sticky and works very well to hold together ‘short’ recipes that don’t require alot of height. It does a great job of soaking up liquid- so if you can,t use coconut flour to absorb a wet recipe, use chickpea! I find it often works well as a nut replacement for almond flour in alot of recipes. I find it is SUPER effective in my awesome fluffy vegan GF pancakes. When its raw it has a horrible bean metallic flavour, but when cooked its much, MUCH better. You can see it in action in my gluten free, dairy free beef stroganoff or corn free nacho chips, or dairy free cream sauce.
Sorghum flour- If you are very very sensitive to grains, you might find you react to sorghum as it has one of the highest protein contents outside of wheat. This means that it also is very naturally sticky, and (wonderfully) its also very light! So, for cakes, muffins, loaves, pancakes, jsut about anything you want to be fluffy- Sorghum does a great job of holding things together. An example is my sorghum wraps– a little tricky to make but when you get the hang of it, they turn out great.
Almond flour– has a significant binding capacity. I use it alot, from my raw pie crust , to my chocolate cake, and vegan almond bread. Its got a naturally sweet neutral flavour, and gives structure to a recipe. A great blogger that uses it extensively is Elana’s Pantry.
Cooked Pureed Beans- Surprised? Cooked pureed beans, because of their natural starch content, go a long way towards holding a recipe together and giving it structure. I use cooked white beans in my GF vegan pear upside down cake . The Spunky Coconut uses them in her grain free vanilla cake and in her breads. And, for my grain free friends, Lexie’s Kitchen makes the most phenomenal and easy black bean decadent low sugar chocolate cake that I just. can’t. stop. eating.
Sweet Rice Flour- Sweet rice flour is from glutious (not gluten containing!) asian sticky rice. Because it is so very high in starch, it attracts humidity and in combination with an oil holds together quite alot. You’ll find its featured in occasional recipes, but I find its very, very effective in my GF vegan shortbread cookies.
Yes, powdered cocoa, I suspect because it’s a bean product and high in protein and in oil, works as a great binder. You’ll notice that any gluten free chocolate product is way more enjoyable than the vanilla version. This is because the cocoa works as a binding agent and smoothes the consistency of the crumb.
Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum
I’ve left these to last because I personally don’t use them anymore. Both are plant-derived powders. When you add water, they turn very gummy and viscous. Working the dough activates the binding properties. Xanthan gum is the most versatile. Use 1 tsp per cup of dry ingredient. Buy at local health food store or through Bobsredmill.com. Caution for corn sensitivities: many brands of xanthan are corn-derived. Caution for mould sensitivities- xanthan is mould derived. Also, using too much makes a recipe gummy and will not allow cookies to get super crisp. I don’t use either in my baking, because they are pretty processed and make me sick.
A few final notes…
Whenever I’m baking, I find I prefer to use a combination of items for sticking power rather than rely on just one item. For example:
Cakes do well with banana or applesauce and a combination of agar or gelatin with chia or flax, and light flours like sorghum and millet or white rice. If you use coconut flour, add some almond flour or oil to the recipe to prevent a grainy texture. Chocolate cakes do well with pureed prunes, shredded beets If your batter is too soupy, a quick fix is to add 1 or 2 tbsp of coconut flour- it slurps up the moisture when baking and corrects the batter. Always add a bit of potato starch for fluffiness- tapioca can sometimes be heavy and gooey.
Cookies work well with a bit more starch, a sticky flour like almond, and a nut or seed butter- you want the dough to be dry and end up crispy (if you don’t use almond flour, try another heavy gf nut or seed meal, or a gf grain flour with a bit of oil).
And thats it folks! Those are my tricks of the trade right now. I hope to add updated posts on GF flours, replacing dairy, and replacing sugars and fats in the future. Feel free to add any feedback :)