By Kristen Chandler
Finding safe, allergen-free food is a challenge. Baking safe, allergen-free food can present an even bigger challenge. You can either use existing recipes and substitute the allergens, or you can create your own recipes. Either way, it’s a trial and error experience, and it can also be very time consuming. I have definitely had my fair share of soupy puddings, crumbly cakes and brick-hard brownies.
There are several cookbooks that offer allergen-free recipes, and we have a library of allergen-free recipes here on our website as well. However, if you want to transform a recipe into an allergy-friendly treat by using a substitute, here are some tips that may help you.
Remember to always consult your allergist if you are unsure about using substitutes.
Cow’s milk is a top ingredient in many foods. It is also packed with nutrients such as calcium, potassium and protein. If you are allergic to milk, there are still ways to substitute for it while also getting those nutrients.
- Butter: There are some great dairy-free butter substitutes. My favorites are the Earth Balance and Smart Balance brands. They taste just as good as butter, in my opinion.
- Cheese: There are several soy and nut-based cheeses available in different flavors.
- Milk: There are milks made of soy (it contains as much calcium as cow’s milk), almonds, cashews, coconut, rice, oats and even quinoa and hemp. You can buy them or make them yourself.
Substituting milk when baking is definitely a trial and error process. There are several choices as far as substitution goes, but some choices substitute better than others do. Some cookbooks, like The New Milks, pinpoint which milks work best for certain recipes, as well as offer alternative substitute milk choices.
- Puddings: You can purchase prepared soy- and rice-based puddings, or you can make your own. If you are making pudding from a box, the milk ratio may differ if you are using a milk other than cow’s milk. Box pudding says that it will not set well if you use soy milk. I have found if you use LESS soy milk than what it calls for, it will set.
- Yogurt: Most dairy-free yogurt options are soy- or almond-based.
- Ice Cream: You can make your own ice cream using a variety of milk substitutes. However, there are some ice cream brands that are exclusively dairy-free, like So Delicious. Some “regular” brands have come out with dairy-free options. Ben & Jerry’s has several flavors now that are dairy-free, using almond milk instead. Before we discovered the above options, my son’s go-to for ice cream was Italian Ice. Italian Ice is non-dairy and there are MANY flavors! Ice-based popsicles are another great alternative.
You can also whip up a quick, cold and creamy ice-cream-esque treat by using frozen bananas, a blender and a little creativity. Add your preferred milk to help the bananas blend, and then sweeten and flavor the concoction as you please.
- Cream: Coconut cream substitutes for dairy cream quite nicely. You can buy it already canned, or if you have canned coconut milk on hand, the cream is the part that separates from the liquid. Don’t shake the can. Instead, open it gently and scoop off the solids from the top of the can.
- Sour Cream: Tofutti’s Sour Supreme is a dairy-free sour cream substitute that can be found in some supermarkets.
As with all foods, be sure to read the labels carefully before you buy any of these. Ingredients and manufacturing processes change. Some products may state that they are dairy-free, but still use dairy derivatives. Look for words such as calcium caseinate or whey on the label. Also, a lot of milk substitutes use soy, tree nuts or coconut, so be mindful if your child has multiple allergens.
The most common ready-made egg substitute is Ener-G Egg Replacer. It is best used when baking. Be cautious of commercial egg substitutes. They are often designed for people on low cholesterol diets and may still contain egg.
If you don’t have an egg replacer on hand when you’re baking, don’t worry. There are other ways to substitute for eggs in baked goods.
Eggs have two purposes in baking: to hold the recipe together (binding) or to make it rise (leavening). Sometimes they are used for both. It is important to know how the eggs are intended to be used when you substitute them.
If you are using eggs to bind, the following substitutes may be helpful:
(Each of these is a substitute for 1 egg. So if the recipe calls for more than one egg, double or triple accordingly.)
- ½ of a mashed banana
- ¼ cup of applesauce
- ¼ any kind of fruit, pureed
- 3 ½ tablespoons gelatin
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water; let stand 1 minute before using
Here are some egg substitutes for recipes that use eggs as a leavening agent:
- 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil mixed with 1½ tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons water + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pasta is a tricky thing to watch when avoiding eggs. Many pasta varieties contain egg or are processed on the same equipment as egg-containing pasta. The best, completely egg-free pasta I’ve found is Ronzoni gluten free pasta.
If you are substituting peanuts, try some of these:
- Sunflower seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Soy nuts
If you need a peanut butter substitute, try one of these nut butters or alternatives:
- Sunflower Seed butter
- Almond butter
- Soy nut butter
- Coconut butter
- Pumpkin Seed Butter
Shellfish and fish provide nutritional benefits such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids. If you are allergic to fish and/or shellfish, there are other ways to incorporate these into your diet.
These are some great sources of protein:
- Meat (Beef or Turkey)
Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
- Brussel sprouts
There are also artificial seafood substitutes available, but a lot of times they still contain fish derivatives, so read the labels carefully.
Beans or faux-meats like seitan or tofu can be jazzed up with spices to create a fishy flavor. Try kelp powder (clear this with your allergist first) or cajun seasoning. You’ll be surprised by how evocative these spices can be, even when not paired with fish or seafood.
Products containing soy are frequently used in allergen substitutes. What happens if you’re allergic to soy? Don’t worry. There are other substitutes for soy as well.
If you are substituting for soybeans:
- Canned, frozen or fresh vegetables:
Be sure that the vegetables aren’t served with breading or sauces that contain soy.
If you are substituting soy milk, or products containing soy milk:
- Cow’s milk
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Cottage cheese
To replace soy sauce in a recipe, try coconut aminos.
Tree Nut Substitutes
Sunflower seeds and soy nuts make excellent tree nut substitutes. Hummus, soy nut butter and sunflower seed butter are good nut butter substitutes.
Wheat is found in several foods, including pasta, snack foods and bread. There are more and more wheat- and gluten-free foods being made available. Here are a few options:
If you are substituting wheat flour while baking:
- Sorghum flour
- Potato flour
- Rice flour
- Tapioca starch
- Make your own all-purpose flour:
- 4½ cups white rice flour
- 1½ cups potato starch
- 3/4 cup tapioca flour
- Rice Pasta
- Corn Pasta
- Corn/quinoa blend Pasta
- Bean pasta
- Vegetable-based pasta
- Spaghetti squash
- Spiralized zucchini
There are also a lot of gluten- and wheat-free breads, or you can always choose to make your own.
In addition to the suggestions above, there are also allergen-free baking mixes to aid in baking (Bob’s Red Mill is a good brand). Enjoy Life is a Top 8 allergen-free brand manufacturer that makes everything from baking chips to brownie mixes to cookies.
We hope this information will help you in buying allergen-free foods and in choosing allergen substitutes in your favorite recipes. Let us know if we’ve missed anything in the comments below!