In vegan baking, eggs are one of the most difficult animal ingredients to replace. Fortunately for those who choose not to consume eggs, there are quite a few options. Experimentation may be needed in order to determine which substitutes are best for specific recipes. Below are some options with guidelines for which recipes they work best.
Mash up half of a banana per egg. Bananas do a fantastic job with binding as well as adding a touch of moisture to baked goods. This option is great if you have very ripe bananas on hand, but you’d be out of luck if green, unripe bananas are all you can come by. Your baked goods will also carry the unmistakable taste of banana.
Use 1/4 cup applesauce plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder per egg. Like bananas, this replacement will also add moisture to baked goods, and the baking powder will help with rising.
For every egg, add three tablespoons water to one tablespoon ground (freshly ground from the whole seed—found in our bulk aisle—works best here) flax seeds. The key here is to mix and refrigerate it until it becomes frothy in texture—this will increase its ability to bind the rest of the ingredients together.
Ener-G Egg Replacer
This is a pre-made mix mostly consisting of potato starch and tapioca flour that mixes quickly with water and can be used freely in any baked goods. It is gluten-free and can be found in the baking aisle at both stores.
A more savory way of replacing eggs
A favorite breakfast dish of mine is scrambled tofu. It’s a considerably flexible recipe—open for experimentation with different veggies and spices. My go-to line-up is the following:
In a medium size pan, brown half an onion in a splash of olive oil, crumble one pound of firm tofu (Bountiful Bean is a great locally made option) into the pan, about a teaspoon each of cumin and thyme, and half a teaspoon of turmeric. Add some splashes of water to deglaze the pan, then add any chopped veggies on hand: broccoli, peppers, carrots—you name it. Add salt and pepper to taste, and heat, stirring, until the veggies are softened. It makes a great side dish or filling between slices of toast or in an English muffin!
For thousands of years, humans have been using plants, soils and even insects, to add a little color in their lives. Ancient people used botanicals to dye cave murals, clothing, and other items that have been found intact with brilliant colors and have withstood the test of time. Native Americans used the red extract of the cochineal, a tiny beetle, for various textile products. Indigo and saffron were valuable trade commodities around the globe for centuries. No matter the purpose of a dye, the majority of natural dyes were most likely discovered through the process of cooking plant or insect material for food or medicine. Natural dyeing, much like cooking, is essentially the process of using recipes, finding the right ingredients at the peak of their freshness, experimentation, and timing. If you love to cook, you will love to experiment with natural dyes. After you cut up your onion and turmeric for a homemade curry, save the scraps and make some dyes!
Using plant materials
I had no idea how easy using natural dyes could be. It was as easy as brewing a giant cup of tea! My co-worker, Sadie Sturgeon in the Produce department at East, showed me how easy and fun dyeing eggs can be using plant materials. We collected some plant material to use as dyes. They included yellow onion skins (Sadie says these are actually easier to use and more effective than red onions), red cabbage, paprika, and turmeric. We took four pots, filled them at least half full with water, and added our dyeing materials to each in liberal amounts. Once the water neared a boil, we added white eggs, turned down the heat, and watched the magic happen. It truly was an experiment that merged arts and crafts time with cooking. Some of the dyes were more effective (yellow onion skins and turmeric) and others took much longer to take effect (red cabbage). We added designs to the eggs by introducing lemon juice or baking soda in a design. Changing the pH can alter the extracted dye color. In this case we used lemon juice to make the pH more acidic and a baking soda paste to turn the pH more alkaline.
It is amazing to think that synthetic dyes, paints, and food coloring have only been around for just over a century. Most people never take much time to consider how our clothes are dyed or how our foods are altered to make them more appealing to our eyes and stomachs. In 1856, an English chemist accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye while searching for a cure for malaria. Synthetic dyes quickly took off and natural dyes fell out of favor. Textiles were the first to adopt synthetics due to their cheaper cost, easier application, strength of holding the color, and possibilities for various hues.
Food manufacturers began to utilize synthetic food coloring in the 1950s when the food industry began mass-producing canned, powdered and other processed foods. This frightening introduction of synthetic dyes to our food system has blossomed into an industry that pours 15 million pounds of artificial dyes into the U.S. food system every year. These artificial dyes are so common in U.S. food (especially kids’ foods) that people don’t think twice about fluorescently colored juice or rainbow-colored cereal.
Artificial dye dangers
In 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a summary of studies that clearly displayed the grave dangers to human health that are caused by the consumption of artificial dyes. In the CSPI report, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” it was revealed that at least nine of the approved food dyes in use in the U.S. are linked to serious health issues ranging from various forms of cancer to developmental issues in children.
In 2009 the British government banned many of these artificial dyes still currently being used as approved ingredients in the U.S. food manufacturing industry. The European Union has followed suit and also requires that foods within the EU that contain artificial dyes must be labeled with warnings.
It is undeniable that natural dyes are the best way to go, and you can start right at home. Use your dinner scraps to dye eggs, or if you enjoy knitting, try using undyed materials and creating your own colors with natural yarns and other fibers. More importantly, shop at your local natural food co-op and farmers’ markets to find foods that do not contain those dangerous artificial food colorings. The best way to add color to your food is to access nature’s color wheel by adding yellow and purple bell peppers to your tacos, red cabbage and beauty heart radishes to your salad, or even some mixed berries to your morning granola. There are countless colors in nature that no synthetic dye can duplicate.