When the calendar flips over to a new year, we are often driven to change things up for the better. Quit some things, start doing others, improve what we're doing, and do it better. More often than not, these changes often involve some tweak to the food you eat. Maybe it's the excess of the holidays that drive us to want to eat healthier, but I think there is something about a new year that makes us want to be better than we were. A chance to start over.
If some major changes are underway for your diet (say you’re going vegan or cutting back on fat or cholesterol) seeds are an excellent substitute for many animal-based proteins commonly used in baking and can increase the nutritional value of your baked good. Simple, easy swaps for a healthier you.
Eggs are easily replaced with flaxseed meal or chia seeds, which is a great way to reduce cholesterol or transition towards a plant-based diet. Use either of the substitutions below, and after they’ve had a chance to sit for 5 minutes, add the whole mixture just as you would the eggs in a recipe. Just remember that seeds won’t provide leavening power like egg whites. So, if your recipe is devoid of yeast or chemical leaven (baking soda or powder) or heavy on the eggs, try adding 1/4-1/2 tsp baking powder or soda to your recipe.
1 egg = 2 tsp chia seeds + 1/4 cup water (let sit for 5 minutes)
1 egg = 1 Tbsp brown or golden flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp water (let sit for 5 minutes)
If you are looking to cut back on fats, use the ratio of three parts flaxseed meal to replace one part fat. Chia seeds work, too, but in a slightly different ratio (explained below). Now, you won’t want to replace all of the fat. Fat is an important factor in flavor, mouthfeel, and helping you feel full. You don’t want to eat three fat-free (but still sugary) cookies and feel unsatisfied, when one cookie with at least half the fat would have done the trick! So any time you plan on substituting fat, only sub half.
1 Tbsp fat = 3 Tbsp brown or golden flaxseed meal + 1 Tbsp Water (let sit for 5 minutes)
1 Tbsp fat = 1/2 tsp chia seeds + 1 Tbsp water (let sit for 15 minutes)
Yes, the volumes of these fat subs aren’t identical, but the thickening abilities of the seeds even out with these amounts. Substituting these seed mixtures for fat often causes baked goods to brown more rapidly and most success has been found with recipes which contain small amounts of fat such as muffins and pancakes. You may want to experiment with reducing the baking temperature by 25°F and increasing the baking time. If the crust starts to darken too fast, tent the top with tin foil.
One thing you don’t want to do is substitute both the eggs and fat in a recipe with all seeds. You will most definitely not end up with something close to what you were expecting. Instead, use the seed swap for eggs and rely on other fat substitutes like applesauce or pureed banana, avocado, or prunes. Alternatively, you can always try our vegan egg replacement if you are trying to cut back on your egg consumption.
If you’re happy with your egg and fat consumption, you can still incorporate seeds into your baked goods for some major health bonuses and some great new flavor and texture profiles!
Flaxseed meal can replace 10-20% of the total flour in a recipe. If you want more texture and opt for whole flaxseeds, combine them with the liquid called for in the recipe and let the whole thing sit for 30 minutes first. Baking with flaxseed meal can make the texture of an item chewier and sometimes a bit dry. If you find that to be the case, add a bit of extra liquid next time.
Not only are chia seeds an excellent and more nutritious substitute for poppy seeds, but they also act as a great food extender that lowers calories and doesn’t affect the flavor! Use a ratio of one part chia seeds (you may grind them after measuring if you want) to nine parts water. Let this mixture stand for 10 minutes and then use in your favorite soups, smoothies, dips, or spreads. The exact amount of gel to use depends on the specific recipe you are using so adjust to your liking. This mixture keeps, refrigerated, for up to two weeks.
Seeds are so much more than a last-minute garnish or muffin mix-in. Alongside all the unique flavors and textures, chia and flax boost nutrition and spark tons of creativity in the kitchen. Have fun!