Updated: Nov 13
No eggs, no problem! One of the perceived challenges when going vegan is that eggs are off-limits and you'll never be able to bake again. Au contraire! There are actually many plant-based ways to replicate the function of the egg in vegan baking.
Eggs are used in baking for volume, structure, color, flavor, thickening and binding all the ingredients together. Functionally, they may be useful, but they're anything but ethical and may not be as healthy as you think.
First, they put humans at risk for salmonella poisoning. Second, they've also been associated with increasing the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Consuming eggs has also been linked to premature death.
But, there's good news! While eggs are an easy and convenient source of protein and serve a functional purpose in baking, there are loads of plant-based protein options and several options when it comes to baking without eggs. Genius vegan recipe creators have come up with some clever substitutions for eggs in recipes including the use of plant-based yogurt, bananas, applesauce, pumpkin purée, aquafaba (chickpea brine), and a combination of baking soda and vinegar (for leavening).
Two noteworthy substitutes that can substitute eggs in both sweet and savory recipes are ground flaxseeds (flax meal) and chia seeds. Personally, I use either chia or flax eggs in both savory and sweet culinary applications, from binding veggie burgers so they stay together on the grill to making delicious cakes and muffins. They help to bind, add moisture, and volume while also delivering boatloads of nutrition.
Benefits of flaxseeds
Flaxseeds are small seeds that have been grown since the beginning of civilization. Flaxseeds are sold whole, ground, roasted, or processed into flaxseed oil. The two types of flaxseeds, brown and golden, are equally nutritious. In the past few years, they have grown in popularity as a “superfood” for their high content of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans (phytochemicals in flaxseed that have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, support bone health, mitigate menopause symptoms, and lower risk of breast cancer).
Flaxseeds are especially important for vegetarians and vegans, as they’re one of their best sources of omega-3s. The type of omega-3 fatty acid that is contained in flaxseed is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body cannot produce omega 3 fatty acids, therefore it's essential that you get it through food. Studies have shown that ALA may prevent cholesterol deposition, reduce arterial inflammation, and decrease the risk of heart attack and heart disease.
While flax oil cannot be heated, some studies show that flax meal can tolerate heat up to temperatures of 350ºF without compromising the omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds have also been tied to health benefits like improved digestion and lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. Benefits for digestion, like alleviating constipation, can be obtained by consuming the whole flaxseed.
However, in order to gain additional nutritional benefits of these little seeds, they must be ground into flax meal. Grinding them releases their omega 3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Leaving them whole is fine if you're just looking for a boost in dietary fiber. To make a flax "egg," you'll need to grind the flaxseeds into flax meal or purchase flax in its ground state from the grocery store.
Benefits of chia seeds
The small black seeds of a chia plant, called chia seeds, were a staple in the diet of ancient Aztecs and Mayans. They are tiny, flat, and oval in shape with a shiny surface and can be white, brown, or black in color.
Chia seeds are full of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, chia seeds are 40% fiber by weight, which makes them one of the best available sources of fiber. Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, containing even more omega-3s by weight than salmon!
They may improve digestive health as well as reduce chronic inflammation and risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Chia seeds have a very mild taste that can be added into anything without altering flavor, and don’t need to be ground like flaxseeds, making them extremely easy to prepare. They can be eaten raw, added to smoothies, or sprinkled on top of cereal, yogurt, or rice dishes. They can also absorb both water and fat which makes them useful for thickening sauces, making chia pudding, or used as an egg substitute.
Using chia and flax "eggs" in baking
When mixed with water, flaxseeds and chia seeds form a gel that can replace eggs in recipes like pancakes, quick breads, brownies, muffins, and cookies. You can replace each egg in a recipe with one flax or chia “egg,” which is made by mixing 1 tablespoon of ground, raw flaxseeds or whole chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and letting it sit for 5–10 minutes. You can either grind the flaxseeds at home or buy them already ground. However, pre-ground flaxseeds may have reduced nutritional content because they’ve been exposed to oxygen longer, which causes their essential fats and other susceptible nutrients to break down. You can easily grind flax seeds at home with a food processor or coffee grinder. Make sure to store flax and chia in the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life and nutrient density.
Some experimentation may be necessary when first incorporating flax or chia eggs into new recipes. The texture of the resulting baked good may be different with each type of seed.
Have you tried experimenting with these two seeds? If so, please share your experience below!
Want to dive further into plant-based eating?
Visit all plant-based recipes here.
Visit the blog for more plant-based articles here.
Get 5-minute plant-based dressing recipes here. (FREE!).
Book a 15-minute FREE consultation here.
Get a customized weekly meal plan with recipes and shopping lists, as well as email and texting support here ($97 a month).
Hi! My name is Katie Philippi and I am a student at Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I have loved getting the opportunity to learn more and more about food and nutrition, and have taken a special interest in sports nutrition, intuitive eating, and disordered eating. Outside of nutrition, I enjoy traveling and spending time outdoors with friends, cooking, and trying new restaurants whenever I get the chance!