One of the things that may be a challenge in vegan baking is that eggs are off-limits. Eggs are used in baking for structure, color, flavor, and for binding all the ingredients together. Vegan bakers have come up with some clever substitutions for eggs in recipes. Two of the most noteworthy substitutes are flaxseeds and chia seeds.
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. 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). ALA is one of the two essential amino acids that your body cannot produce, so you have to ingest it from food. Studies have shown that ALA may prevent cholesterol deposition, reduce arterial inflammation, and decrease the risk of heart attack and heart disease. When heated to temperatures of 350ºF as in baking, the omega-3 fatty acids and lignans in flaxseed remain stable and do not break down. Flaxseeds have also been tied to health benefits like improved digestion and a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer.
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 are likely the easier of the two seeds to incorporate into your diet. They 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 or as an egg substitute.
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 (7 g) of ground, raw flaxseeds or whole chia seeds with 2 ½ tablespoons (37 mL) 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 polyunsaturated fats 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 will be different with each type of seed. It also may not always be appropriate to make a 1:1 substitution in each recipe because these seeds will not bind or add structure exactly like an egg does.
Have you tried experimenting with these two seeds? If so, please share your experience below!
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!