In terms of baking, “vegan” might as well be a swear word. Oft-associated with an over-the-top wellness fixation, veganism has garnered some serious side-eye from those among us who feel passionately about all things creamy, milky, and buttery. And when it comes to those who don’t regularly employ a full-fledged vegan diet, it’s especially hard to understand why someone would ingest a dairy-free cupcake over a regular one if they don’t have to.
Well, first, there’s the health benefits.
“Vegan baking can be more nutritious when veggies and low-sugar fruits are used to sweeten or add moisture,” says Candice Kumai, wellness journalist and bestselling author of Clean Green Eats.
But it goes beyond that.
“Vegan ingredients, like finely grated zucchini, carrots, and avocado, can add texture, nutrients, fiber, and flavor,” she adds. “And in some cases even add colors, like beets in a red velvet cake.”
So, whether you’re trying to enjoy a more guilt-free dessert or just feeling experimental in the kitchen, we asked Kumai to share her favorite vegan baking swaps for you to try out. Keep scrolling for the ingredients that will help you blow away the next neighborhood bakeoff.
Replace Butter with Sweet Potato
Butter is maybe the number one most challenging thing to remove from our beloved baked goods. That, coupled with sugar, is the entire point, isn't it? Fortunately, sweet potato in all it's creamy glory makes a surprisingly good subsitute. "It's rich, packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene and adds sweetness, color, and moisture," says Kumai. In most cases, you can sub mashed sweet potato for the same amount of butter in a recipe to garner a similar rich, moist result.
Replace Oil with Grated Zucchini
If the zoodle phenomenon didn't tip you off, zucchini is having a moment. "It's incredibly versatile and inexpensive and, when grated into baked goods, it adds moisture, texture, and a boost of nutrients," says Kumai, who recommends subbing it in for oil in breads, cakes, and cookies.
Replace Fat (and Sugar) with Grated Beets
In the same way that sweet potato and zucchini add moisture in lieu of fats like oil and butter, beets can do the same thing but with the added bonus of sweetness. "Fresh grated beets are perfect blended into chocolate cakes," says Kumai. "They were used to sweeten cakes during times of war and ration because they were cheap." If you want to avoid the natural red or pink coloring that comes with the red beet territory, Kumai suggests using golden beets.
Replace White Flour with Almond Meal
While technically not a vegan swap, as traditional flour is naturally vegan, almond meal is an excellent addition to vegan baked goods if you're trying to avoid too much white flour or run out. "Almond meal helps add fat, flavor, texture, and a fabulous crumb to vegan and low-sugar cakes," says Kumai. Almond meal flour, which is full of vitamin E, fiber and protein, is easy to make, too. Just throw some blanched almonds into a food professor, but don't over mix or you'll get almond butter (not necessarily a bad thing either!).