By Lynn Hamilton
First, let me just clarify that an egg is not an animal lover’s worst enemy. An organic egg, harvested from a free-range chicken, provides great protein, and it doesn’t cost any misery. If you boil it, it provides low-calorie protein. Dialysis patients are required to eat two eggs a day because the medical community thinks that’s the best protein for someone whose appetite might be failing.
But the cost of organic eggs can be four times the cost of factory farmed eggs. Many chickens are badly abused on corporate poultry farms where the bottom line is the only consideration. So, given the high cost of organic eggs and the difficulty of knowing how the chickens are being treated, vegans have a strong argument for avoiding eggs on a wholesale basis.
However, many vegans don’t understand the science of cooking with an egg. Eggs in your meals have three functions: binder, leaven, and fluid.
To make matters more complicated, in many recipes, eggs fulfill more than one function. For instance, in a banana bread, eggs function as leaven, binder, and, to some extent, part of the fluid required to blend the other ingredients together.
That’s why those boxed, powdered “egg replacers” that you can order on Amazon don’t work. They might provide some binding, but they can’t really replace every function of an egg, and you have to check the ingredients to see where they overlap with ingredients in your non-vegan recipe. You don’t want to double up your salt or baking soda or cornstarch.
So, let’s examine each function of the egg and how it can be successfully replaced.
Egg as leaven. This is the hardest function of an egg to replace. True leavening agents are few and far between. Baking soda is a leaven. Baking powder is just baking soda with pretensions, but it is still a leaven. Yeast is a leaven, and beer is a leaven because it has yeast in it.
The best way to replace your banana quick bread is to learn to make real bread with yeast. Working with yeast is not rocket science, but you have to accept that home made bread needs time to rise. A mechanical bread maker will simplify the process. Once you know how to make yeast bread, you can add bananas, raisins, cranberries, peaches, carrots, zucchini, or whatever else your heart desires.
The other way to bake without an egg is to increase the baking soda by fifty percent and reduce the salt by half. Keep in mind, however, that baking soda has a distinctive salty, metal taste. Too much will tip your baked goods into the category of inedible. Your other alternative is to just omit the egg and, as needed, add soy milk or apple sauce to make up the fluid. Your cake will be much, much flatter, but it will still taste good. And you can pass it off as a tort.
Egg as binder. The binding quality of an egg is a little easier to replace because binders are more abundant in the grocery aisles. Powder binders include: arrow root, cornstarch, and oatmeal, flour, and other mealy grains.
Wet binders include: wet oatmeal, peanut butter, cooked rice, cooked white quinoa, bananas, the fluid from a can of corn, and the liquid off the canned garbanzos,
also called chickpeas. Garbanzo water has a fancy name: aquafaba. Aquafaba has proven so useful that you should really set aside and store the fluid every time you open a can of chickpeas to make hummus. When you are deciding what kind of binder to use, you need to consider the texture and taste of what you are trying to make. For sweet recipes, like cookies, choose neutral or sweet binders like rice, peanut butter, or the juice from a can of corn. For savory recipes, like gnocchi and corn bread, use aquafaba. For burgers, use rice or oatmeal, a tablespoon of aquafaba, a pinch of cornmeal, and a pinch of whole wheat flour in addition to your main ingredients.
Egg as fluid. In many recipes, you need to replace not just the binder or the leaven that the egg supplies, but also the fluid that is lost when you take an egg out. This is why a combination of egg replacers will work better than a one-ingredient replacer. For instance, if you are using egg replacement powder off a shelf, you will need to combine it with a fluid, like soy milk, corn juice, or almond milk.
Ideally, you would mix these ingredients in a bowl first and try to imitate the weight, fluidity, and consistency of an egg. Keep in mind that an egg is approximately one third of a cup. A little more is okay, too much more and you risk the possibility that your baked goods will be raw in the middle. Good fluid replacers, in addition to the ones already mentioned, are: apple sauce, canned pumpkin, jam, jelly, honey, syrup, and olive oil.
Egg as richness. Okay, I lied. There’s a fourth thing that eggs provide. The most common complaint about vegan food is the loss of richness. You need to get a little creative to compensate for the loss of animal fat that most people are accustomed to tasting, especially in entrees and desserts. Look at how you can rejigger the recipe to give back something that was lost with the egg. For instance, when using a Duncan Hines brownie mix, substitute one third cup of corn juice and one third cup of applesauce for the two eggs, then substitute chocolate soy milk for the water. The richness of the soy milk will compensate wildly for the missing egg.