Veganize and Healthify Your Baking with These 6 Steps

[healthy ingredients photo]

Hi everybody!  It’s Christine with a special edition of Sweet-Tooth Friday.  Instead of a new recipe this week, I thought I’d share some tips on how to become a BETTER baker—one who makes healthier goodies!  Like the saying goes, you can give a gal a cupcake and treat her for one day, or teach her to bake a whole grain muffin and feed her for a longer lifetime!  Err … or something like that!

When I am getting ready to work on a Sweet-Tooth Friday dessert, I sit down with a recipe and check to see if the ingredients in the dessert are actually foods I want to put into my body.  For me, there are six main problem areas:

Problem #1: The recipe calls for eggs.

NMA fix: If you don’t want to use eggs in your baking there are again many options.  An egg is 2 ounces of thick liquid, so it is best substituted with 2 oz of another thick liquid.  Try any of the above fruit, veggie, bean, or nut butter substitutions listed for subbing out fats.

There are also “flax eggs” which are made by combining 2 teaspoons of ground flax seed with 2 ounces of warm water.  Stir and set aside until the consistency has thickened.  Flax eggs do well binding ingredients together.  There are also egg replacers you can buy, like Ener-G brand.  This is mainly potato starch and leavening.  It works well in lighter, more traditional cake recipes.  If you are worried about your baked goodies rising, add a pinch of baking powder for each egg replaced.

The infographic below illustrates ideas for 11 binder-iffic vegan egg substitutes. They will all work in just about any situation, but you’ll want to think about matching flavors and textures to your particular situation as you decide which one to use. Feel free to share the image!

Click image to view in full size.

Problem #2: The recipe calls for butter, margarine, or shortening.

NMA fix: Butter is a fat.  Therefore, the easiest substitution for it is another kind of fat.  I sub in canola oil one-to-one for butter with great success.  This will work in baked quick breads, but not something like buttercream.  Canola oil is relatively inexpensive and a good source of omega-6’s.  Walnut oil and almond oil also work great in desserts by adding a nice nutty (duh) flavor, though they are more expensive.  Coconut oil is excellent with its light tropical flair and can be helpful when you are looking for the “structure” of unmelted butter.  It works well in pie crusts and cookies.

For any of these options, add a pinch of salt for every half cup of butter you swap out.  You can trick your tongue into experiencing a buttery flavor with the hint of saltiness.

Problem #3: The recipe calls for way too much fat.

NMA fix: Taking down the fat a notch (bam?) is half the fun of healthy baking!  Why?  Because there are just so many alternatives to choose from!  Start by just replacing half the amount of fat with an equal amount of any of these options:

  • Fruit purees like unsweetened applesauce, canned crushed pineapple, or mashed bananas.  Use an old banana for sweetness and banana-y flavor, a green banana for all the nutrition without competing flavors.
  • Vegetable purees like sweet potato, cauliflower, or canned pumpkin.  Also try shredded veggies, like the familiar carrots or zucchini.  Though technically a fruit, don’t forget about mashed avocado!  Save the darker veggies like spinach puree to combine with chocolate desserts or with a darker fruit like blueberries.
  • [healthy fat substitutes photo]Beans, my personal favorite option.  Beans add protein and structure to a recipe and, when pureed, go completely unnoticed!  Try great northern beans or pinto beans for a neutral taste, and chickpeas for a slightly nuttier taste.  Use black beans and adzuki beans in recipes that call for cocoa or chocolate.
  • Nut butters, like peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini.  Cashew butter has a particular neutral creamy taste.  These also pack in some extra protein.

Problem #4: The recipe calls for dairy.

NMA fix: Yes, there is always soy milk to substitute one-for-one for cow’s milk, but haven’t you already met your tofu quota for this week?  Try out almond milk, hemp milk, or coconut milk.

Don’t forget that any time there is a liquid, you have a chance to add flavor.  Try these alternative milks brewed with coffee in a chocolate recipe, chai tea for spice muffins, or mixed with Guinness for gingerbread!  You can also mix the milks with fruit juices like apple or orange juice for added sweetness.

Problem #5: The recipe calls for all-purpose white flour.

[healthy flours photo]NMA fix: I use whole-wheat pastry flour one-to-one for all-purpose without any problems.  But there is a world of flours outside of wheat!  Try out an ancient grain like teff or spelt for extra protein.  Go international with gram flour or grind your own chickpeas or fava beans into flour.  One of my favorites is oat flour; it only takes a second to go from rolled or steel cut oats to oat flour with the food processor.  Try replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with ground flax seed too.  Mixing and matching these flours will help it stay more flavor-neutral in the recipe.

Problem #6: The recipe calls for way too much white sugar.

STF fix: A lot of times you can just go ahead and lower the sugar amount by a quarter of whatever is called for and you won’t notice a thing.  There are several unrefined sugars on the market like raw sugar, demerara sugar, and sucanat.  Sucanat stands for sugar cane natural, and is just the dehydrated cane juice.  These unrefined sugars retain the mineral in the sugar cane plant.  However, there’s not a ton of nutritional value in this plant so the main point of using these kinds of sugars is just to avoid all the processing and bleaching.

[healthy sweeteners photo]There are also classic liquid sweeteners like maple syrup and honey which give a warmer flavor to a recipe.  If you use molasses, do so with an easy hand or use only a couple tablespoons to supplement another sweetener.  Blackstrap molasses is especially overpowering.

Agave nectar is my personal favorite because it has a lower glycemic index.  It’s also 25% sweeter than sugar, so you can use less.  Any time you use a liquid sweetener, cut back a little on the other liquid ingredients by about 1/4 cup to compensate.  There is also stevia extract, which frankly I don’t know much about yet.  (Update: see my post all about stevia.)  I’ve only tasted it in Tropicana’s Trop50; it was very good but did have a slight aftertaste.  I don’t recommend Splenda or other synthetic sweeteners.  They just don’t seem like real food to me.

So those are the six main problem areas in a recipe.  Finally, I want to highlight some “distracters” to help disguise unusual tastes and textures.  Cocoa or baking chocolate does a great job covering the taste of bean and veggie purees as well as the color.  Peanut butter is good for totally drowning out any mystery flavor competition.  Liqueurs and extracts also cover up flavors nicely; try some creme de menthe or amaretto.  Lemon zest adds a nice fresh citrus note to baked goods and, while it doesn’t cover anything up, it does add dimension to a sometimes flat flavor spectrum.  Finally nuts and dried fruits vary the texture of a baked good—this is especially helpful when you are using pureed beans to help distract from the inevitable mystery lump.

Ok, that just about covers what I’ve picked up during my run so far as the NMA’s resident healthy baker.  Remember, there are a lot of strategies here; start off just using one or two new elements at a time in your recipes.  One of the keys to substitutions is keeping the ratios of the original recipe the same regarding liquid to liquid and dry to dry ingredients.  Just keep tasting as you go and trust your instincts—you know you what you like.

Have fun, good luck and stay sweet!
xoxo, Christine

About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.



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  1. Christine! I LOVE THIS! This is seriously awesome because I’m ALWAYS looking for vegan baking substitutions! You seriously just made my Friday! Thank you SO much for this! 🙂
    .-= Cait (Cait’s Plate)´s last blog ..Yogurt Messiest =-.

  2. Excellent post!
    I always use at least half the sugar the recipe calls for.
    I use Agave on my oatmeal : )
    .-= kara´s last blog ..Food Questions =-.

    • Thanks Kara! MMM thinking about agave on oatmeal is making me hungry. Have you ever tried out any of the flavored varieties of agave nectar? I’ve had the amber and light, but I’ve also seen ones like vanilla and Irish cream.

  3. Great post! I love subbing in fruit or veggies purees for fat! I actually think a lot of the time it makes the baked good taste even better and more moist!

    Hope you guys have a nice labor day weekend! I can’t wait for my package and little surprise? oww what could it be!
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Welcome to Moe’s =-.

  4. I’m printing this out and posting in my kitchen. Great tips – thanks!

  5. This is one of my favorite things to do! I just sub like a crazy person and hope it turns out. Usually it does!

    Of course then I can’t remember what I did and can never duplicate the recipe 🙂
    .-= Allyson´s last blog ..Christmas Present Knitting Delema =-.

    • Hey Allyson- I also <3 subbing like a crazy person haha! I've definitely had a few failures though (like adzuki bean cinnamon buns which were like cinnamon hockey pucks.)

      I keep a piece of paper and pen with me while I bake to keep track of what I'm doing. Otherwise I do the same thing and just keep splashing in ingredients without ever being able to repeat it.

  6. Awesome post! I love all of these tips, and will most definitely give a few a try in my many baking experiments! I always assumed sucanat was the best choice, but I realize it’s still just sugar and there are better options. I’ll also give the beans a try…I’ve been meaning to try a black bean brownie recipe soon. Thanks again for the great info 🙂 Is your little pea making mommy eat anything funny yet? Pretty soon it will be craving city over there 🙂
    .-= amy (veganissexy)´s last blog ..ZUCCHINI BREAD WITH SWEET CRUMB TOPPING =-.

    • Thanks Amy! You should look up my black bean brownie recipe from a couple of Sweet-Tooth Fridays ago. They are great!

      P.S. your zucchini crumb bread looks YUMMY! I can always go for a crumb topping.

    • Amy – No cravings yet. Except meat a little bit. Isn’t that funny? Hopefully she won’t have to resort to eating it!

    • Can’t seem to find the ..ZUCCHINI BREAD WITH SWEET CRUMB TOPPING… Can you share the actual link OR the recipe? I just happened across this Blog looking for healthy recipes and found your link that sounded really good. Would also love the Brownie recipe mentioned.

      How do you become apart of this group in sharing and trying healthy recipes?

  7. Great tips! I never thought about using beans and veges in my baking.

    I’m really excited to pumpkin season- any tips for using real pumpkin instead of canned? Canned is just so easy but I’m sure unhealthy…
    .-= Bula´s last blog ..Me and My Felt =-.

    • Thanks Bula! Beans and veggies make wonderful baked goods. Check out some of my other Sweet-Tooth Friday posts to see!

      As for the pumpkin, I am going to do a pumpkin post a little closer to Autumn. Canned is very convenient and I believe still has a lot of the nutrients of fresh, though there is added sodium. The rind of fresh pumpkin just needs to be roasted or steamed, peeled, and pureed. If you can find a “sugar pumpkin” rather than the jack-o-lantern kind you will have a better taste, texture, and color.

  8. Great tips! A lot of how I love to bake, too! For butter, I usually do 1 tablespoon peanut butter and 1 tablespoon reduced fat cream cheese for 2 tablespoons butter. It has a neutral flavor and introduces healthy nut fats while also keeping the product light and airy
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Roaming With The Roomie =-.

    • Thanks Evan! I’m glad you share my baking philosophy 🙂

      Your butter substitute sounds yummy, though I try to steer clear a lot of “reduced fat” items. Sometimes they are made with a lot more corn syrup or other fillers to make up for the lost fat. I think I might try yours with half peanut butter and half coconut oil.

  9. such great tips i love this! thanks so much!

  10. awesome post! i knew most of these tricks, but i learned something new too!

  11. Great post! I have learned a lot here… I’m always looking for ways to make recipes healthier!
    .-= Hanlie´s last blog ..It’s a matter of taste =-.

  12. I love subbing beans and pumpkin. Making it different each time is what makes it so much fun!
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..How To Save Heirloom Seeds =-.

  13. Wow; I really enjoyed this. I find myself doing a lot more vegan baking these days, but I (generally) refuse to make vegan baked goods that contain as much sugar as their dairy/egg saturated counterparts. Perhaps I am just giving into the stereotype that ‘vegan’ does/should mean healthy, but frankly? I like eating cookies that have less sugar and all kinds of good fat…Now I’ll add some beans and pureed fruit to round them out. I would love updates as you continue to adapt recipes!
    .-= CinnamonQuill´s last blog ..Madeleines Save the Day =-.

  14. Great suggestions! I love experimenting with recipes like that.
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Day Six of the Vegan Challenge =-.

  15. Awesome! I like using healthier substitutes all the time but there is lots of information here that I didn’t really know much about (like WHEN to use specific types of beans). Thanks so much!
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Judgments Based on First Impressions =-.

  16. Thank you for writing this article [and thank goodness for archives!]. This is exactly what I was looking for: a comprehensive list of the kinds of substitutions we can make to make a recipe healthier, including making it vegan! I can’t wait to start “healthing up” some tried-and-true old recipes.

  17. Canola oil is a great source of omega 3s (ALA) not omega 6s…which is awesome because we all need more omega 3 fatty acids, great substitute; I would not say that coconut oil is “light” it contains mostly saturated fatty acids, might as well be using butter!

  18. Awesome stuff. I use bananas for most of my substitutes. Sounds like you are similar to me.

  19. For issue one, I’d stay clear of the canola oil and stick to coconut oil, as the process for making canola oil is pretty artificial, pursuable more so than some synthetic sweeteners.

  20. Thanks for the ideas! Sounds like a fun challenge. I’ll try to let you know of any results

  21. Thank you for sharing these alternatives!:) I love baked goods so much! being a baker and an in-born sweet tooth, I am really struggling on how I can get to still eat what I love without giving me a heart attack in the future. These definitely helped a lot, I will try to integrate these to some of my recipes as well. Gotta start soon!:)

  22. This is so awesome to read. I have been struggling with my transition into all vegan. You had covered the top 6 reasons. I had very little problems cutting out meats. You hit it right on cue. What about cheeses? Any suggestions? This will help me with my weight loss goals as well as stablizing my sugars (type 2).. all in all healthier me. Thanks and God Bless

  23. You are so knowledgable about healthy basking substitutes! These are all excellent tips and I’m looking forward to trying some of them. I’m especially impressed with the liquid to dry ratio tip- very useful – never even thought about that!

  24. Thanks for posting this information. I can’t wait to try these tips. In regards to substituting the all-purpose flour, do you have any easy gluten free substitutes? Can the oat flour be subbed 1:1 with white flour?

  25. Minnu Appukuttan says:

    i like ur ideas. thank u


  1. […] After several months of trying new recipes, I have discovered that bananas are a great substitute for eggs. I like using bananas as  my egg-substitute in baking because I really like the taste of bananas and they have that gooey consistency needed to hold everything together. If you are cooking another dish that probably wouldn’t be very delicious with a subtle banana flavor (who knows, maybe it will!), then there are other ways to substitute eggs. […]

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