Whether you're vegan or just don't have eggs on hand, there are plenty of ingredients you can substitute in a pinch for baking.

Christine Byrne
April 09, 2020
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There's nothing more annoying than gathering everything you need for a recipe, only to realize you're missing a basic staple that you took for granted and forgot to check on before heading to the store. A common offender here? Eggs. The good news is, there are plenty of ingredients that make decent egg substitutes in various recipes. But because eggs serve different purposes in different types of recipes, it's important to choose the right swap for your pan of brownies or stack of pancakes. (Try these other vegan baking substitutes if you're totally plant-based.) Here's everything you need to know about egg substitutes and how to use them.

What do eggs actually do in cooking and baking?

Eggs serve all different purposes, from leavening to binding to serving as the main protein source in a sandwich or salad. Let's start with how eggs work as a part of baking recipes.

Eggs have three primary functions in baking. "Eggs act as a leavening agent, as an emulsifier and a coagulant (that is, a thickener)," says Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, chef and partner at Izzio Bakery, based Denver. "They also add moisture and provide richness, structure, color and flavor to the final product."

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Different substitutes mimic eggs in different ways—some leaven without thickening, others add moisture and richness without leavening, etc. "In general, when you are selecting what to use as an egg replacer, you need to consider the functions of the egg in the original recipe, says Andrea Tutunjian, director of education at the Institute of Culinary Education.

In cooking, eggs are sometimes used for binding or breading ingredients—they hold meatloaf and meatballs together, and are used with flour and breadcrumbs to coat chicken or cheese sticks before frying. Most often, though, they're eaten whole—on toast, as part of egg salad, scrambled, or something similar.

Here are some common egg substitutes, and when to use them:

Flaxseed and water

To create a "flaxseed egg," stir together 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water. Let it sit for a minute until it's thick, then use the mixture in place of one egg.

"Flaxseed egg replacers in general are very close to eggs in that they provide structure, emulsification and slight leavening," Tutunjian says. But, she says, they also soak up moisture during the baking process, which eggs do not. This can inhibit the gluten in flour and affect the finished texture, which means it won't work well for making a spongy cake or a chewy loaf of bread. "[Flaxseed eggs] are best suited for quick breads, pancakes, custards, muffins and cookies," Tutunjian says. Because the flaxseed is ground, it will add a bit of texture to your recipe (think whole wheat flour), but won't make it crunchy or seedy. A flaxseed egg is also perfect for binding meatballs, meatloaf or vegan "burgers" and as part of the breading process. We used flax eggs in this vegan banana bread recipe.

Chia seed and water

To create a "chia egg," stir together 1 tablespoon chia seeds and 3 tablespoons water. Let it sit for 10 minutes until it's thick, then use the mixture in place of one egg.

"Chia seeds are gelatinous meaning they expand in water becoming softer and into a pudding like consistency," says Molly Knauer, RD and Love Wellness advisor. Just like the flaxseed egg, a chia egg will soak up some moisture and give your finished produce a denser texture and nuttier flavor. "This works better in muffins, waffles, pancakes and [quick]breads," Knauer says. Also keep in mind that because the chia seeds are still whole, they'll add tiny bits of crunch to your recipe.

Mashed banana

Mashed banana is another common egg substitute. Tutunjian says that one small mashed banana can replace one egg in a recipe.

But, bananas aren't a great egg substitute. They add moisture and some structure, but "they do not provide any leavening, so I prefer to use them in more dense products like brownies and puddings," Tutunjian says. She also notes that banana will add a very strong flavor—whatever recipe you're making will end up tasting like banana. "It also provides additional sweetness, so sugar quantities may need to be adjusted," she says. If you're using banana as an egg substitute, your best bet is probably to find a recipe that already calls for this swap, so that ingredients like sugar have been adjusted accordingly.

Applesauce

As an egg substitute, Knauer recommends using ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce to replace one egg.

Like mashed bananas, applesauce won't add any leavening, but it can hold a baked good together and keep it moist. "The pectin in apples is what makes [applesauce] suitable and helps provide stability," Tutunjian says. Because it doesn't provide leavening, she recommends using it in dense products like brownies, fillings and cheesecakes. If you find a recipe that calls for applesauce instead of eggs, there may be extra baking soda or baking powder (leavening agents) to make up for the lack of eggs, in which case you could end up with a less-dense texture.

Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Puree

Just like applesauce, Knauer recommends ¼ cup unsweetened pumpkin or sweet potato puree to replace one egg.

Again, these purees won't add any leavening, but will keep a baked good moist and stable. Pumpkin puree will add an earthy flavor but not much sweetness. Sweet potato puree, on the other hand, will be sweet, so you might need to scale back some of the sugar in a recipe. Knauer recommends using these puree substitutes in dense quick breads and muffins, pie fillings, and brownies (it works great in these vegan pumpkin cookies too).

Mayonnaise

If you have a jar of mayo in the fridge, you can use 3 tablespoons in place of one egg.

"Mayonnaise has been used as an egg substitute because of its moistening properties and is best suited for cakes with strong flavors, like spice cakes and chocolate cakes," Tutunjian says. "The oil in mayonnaise helps moisten the recipe and acts as an adequate substitute for the liquid an egg would have added." It also does a bit of leavening, since mayonnaise is made from eggs and is already emulsified.

Potato Starch

To make an egg out of potato starch, whisk together 2 tablespoons starch and 3 tablespoons warm water until a thick, uniform liquid forms.

Since potato starch is made of large granules, "it is particularly effective at binding and holding water," says Jim Breckenridge, a culinary lead manager at Freshly. The gel that the starch and water will form can hold products together the same way the gelled proteins of an egg white would, he said. Because it can't do much leavening, it's best used in custards and puddings. Potato starch is also great for binding meatballs and meatloaf, or as part of the breading process.

Aquafaba (AKA Chickpea water)

"To make aquafaba, collect the liquid from a can of chickpeas and heat it in a saucepan until it reduces by 25%," Breckenridge says. "Use 3 tablespoons of aquafaba to replace a whole egg or 2 tablespoons to replace an egg white."

If you have plenty of chickpeas in the pantry, this egg substitute can be a game-changer. "This is an excellent replacement in baked goods like meringues, French macarons, and cakes like angel food cake and génoise sponge which rely on whipped/aerated eggs for leavening," Breckenridge says. Aquafaba contains a mixture of fiber, sugar, protein, and saponins, which are plant compounds with "soap-like characteristics, the most important of which is the ability to produce a stable foam." If you're using aquafaba in place of egg whites, you'll need to whip it into a foam before you use it, the same way a recipe would instruct you to whip egg whites.

Tofu

Tofu doesn't work as an egg replacer in baked goods, but it can make a great substitute in egg salads and scrambles.

"Tofu doesn't taste just like egg, but it does a great job of mimicking the texture and flavor," Knauer says. She recommends sprinkling in some nutritional yeast, "which will give it the yellow color along with a hefty boost of plant-based protein, iron and B vitamins,"

Here's how to make a tofu scramble: "Use extra-firm tofu, crumble it into pieces, and saute it with nutritional yeast and any veggies of choice." You can also chop extra-firm tofu into small pieces, sprinkle it with nutritional yeast, and use it in place of hard-boiled eggs in egg salad.

To sum up, here's what kind of substitute to use for different recipes.

For pancakes, quick breads, muffins, or cookies: Use flaxseed eggs or chia eggs, which have some leavening power and can help things rise a little bit.

For denser cakes with strong flavors: Use mayonnaise, which adds moisture, richness, and a little bit of leavening power.

For custards, puddings, fillings, and brownies: Use unsweetened fruit and vegetable purees like applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, or sweet potato puree, which add moisture and texture but don't leaven. You can also use potato starch for custards and puddings.

For binding and breading: Use potato starch or flaxseed eggs, which are thick and relatively flavorless, and can hold things together.

For light, fluffy cakes that call for egg whites: Use aquafaba, which can be aerated into whipped peaks, just like egg whites

For scrambles and egg salad: Use extra-firm tofu sprinkled with nutritional yeast, which approximates the taste and texture of eggs.

Bottom line: Experiment with whatever egg substitutes you have on-hand, and don't fret if your recipes come out a little bit differently.

No egg substitute will perfectly mimic an egg, Lozada-Hissom says. One thing she suggests is combining a few different egg substitutes to cover all your bases: a flaxseed or chia egg for binding and leavening, plus a fruit or vegetable puree (banana, applesauce, pumpkin or sweet potato puree) for moisture.

But if that's all too much, don't worry. "Egg substitutes work pretty well in cakes, quick-breads, muffins, brownies, cookies, bars, and most yeast-leavened products," Lozada-Hissom says."If used correctly, they can actually yield a product with many of the virtues of an egg-based baked good."