The art of baking has been evolving for hundreds and hundreds of years. And for nearly all of that time, there has been one key ingredient that people have turned to in order to add moisture and to bind dry ingredients: eggs. So when it came to delectable items like cakes, pies, and pastries, eggs were for centuries a necessity for which there was no satisfactory replacement.
The word vegan wasn’t coined until 1944, and the concept didn’t begin to go mainstream until the 1980s. So it’s fair to say that eggs had a 500-year head start over vegan alternatives when it came to baked goods. The first attempts to replace eggs were primitive and, for most uses, yielded unimpressive results. People would mash up tofu, apples, baked pumpkin, or bananas for moistness. This could work reasonably well depending on the recipe, but generally speaking foodies could easily spot the difference between conventional baked items and an egg-free alternative. The lack of adequate egg substitutes was doubtless a big part of what gave vegan cooking a bad name in the 1970s and 1980s.
Egg Replacer Powder
Just like vegan meats have improved spectacularly since around 2010, so too are today’s egg alternatives enormous upgrades over what was once available. The first product you should know about is “egg replacer” powder. It’s sold in every natural foods store.
The term egg replacer seems so straightforward that it could never create confusion, but in fact this stuff does require a little explanation. Counter-intuitively, egg replacer is not a substitute for whole eggs, so forget about using it to make vegan scrambled eggs, omelets, or flan. Instead, the whole point of egg replacer is to provide the binding properties needed for foods like cakes, muffins, cinnamon buns, and pancakes.
You can make the most primitive, and cheapest, egg replacer yourself simply by mixing together some ground flax seeds (flax meal) and water. To get the baking equivalent of one egg, just whisk together one tablespoon ground flax and three tablespoons water until gelatinous. Note that using flax as an egg substitute can be disappointing. You’ll get the binding qualities delivered by an egg, but not the fluffiness. Some recipes will turn out well, but for others the results will be leaden.
For more egg-like performance, especially when a lighter and airier texture is desired, consider using an egg replacer product. There are several popular and inexpensive brands:
All of the above products come in powder form, and the package will instruct you on the amount of powder and water to mix together to equal one egg for cooking purposes. The magic ingredient used by these products to replicate egg’s binding properties is tapioca flour.
In 2014, Neat Foods released The Neat Egg which bypassed the usual tapioca flour and potato starch in favor of ground up chia seeds and garbanzo beans. Since this product is made mostly of chia, it’s got a significant amount of beneficial omega 3 fatty acids.
It’s fair to say that egg replacer powders were indispensable back in the day when there was a scarcity of vegan cookbooks. Back then, these products were the only viable way to convert conventional baked recipes to egg-free. But today, there are countless vegan cookbooks devoted to splendid egg-free baked items, so there’s less need for vegans to keep egg replacer on hand.
Egg replacer powder is cheap and convenient, and nicely delivers the binding properties required to make most baked goods. But if you’re truly serious about vegan baking you should also know about aquafaba, which was dreamed up by some mad kitchen genius and caught on widely around 2015. Aquafaba can do things that egg replacer powders can’t—most notably you can use them to make soufflé, angel food cake, or a killer lemon meringue pie.
If you’ve ever noticed that when beans are boiled its cooking water tends to foam up, you’ve already witnessed aquafaba. It turns out that this stuff can be transformed into an ingredient that delivers a level of moistness and binding that takes egg replacements to the next level. All you need to do is take some bean water and whip it up, and you’ve got aquafaba. Here’s a tutorial for making your own.
Aquafaba has attracted a cult of vegan cooking enthusiasts, and has even spawned a popular cookbook: Zsu Dever’s Aquafaba: Sweet and Savory Vegan Recipes Made Egg-Free with the Magic of Bean Water. Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry likewise features a number of great ideas and recipes for high-end egg-free baking.
Whole Egg Replacements
Neither aquafaba nor the egg replacer powders mentioned on this page are intended to replicate the eggiest of foods, like scrambled eggs and omelettes. If you want to make this sort of food, you’ve got some great options:
- Vegan Brunch, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, features a number of veganized egg-based breakfast recipes including omelettes, scrambles, and eggy French toast.
- Your basic tofu scramble is an easy and delicious alternative to scrambled eggs.
- Follow Your Heart makes a product called The Vegan Egg that’s currently the leading vegan replacement to whole eggs. It’s available at many natural food stores. Unfortunately, unlike egg replacer powder, it’s not cheap.
Once upon a time, stone was the required material for tools and weapons, and eggs were an essential ingredient for almost any baked food. Those days are happily behind us, and alternatives to eggs are now cheap, excellent, and easy to find.