The purpose of egg substitutes

Enjoy good food and lower cholesterol, while saving chicks and chickens from factory farming! Photo by Bosque Village, “DSC_0629“, CC BY 2.0

Choosing egg substitutes for a recipe can seem hit or miss, because eggs can serve several different functions. Let’s take the guesswork out of it!

The trick is to figure out which purpose eggs are serving in the recipe that you want to veganize. Then you can choose egg substitutes that will do the same thing.

We’ll go through the steps to figure this out and talk about a few examples of egg substitutes that can serve the same purposes as eggs. In a couple of days, I’ll make a new post walking you through three examples from my own recipes, to show you how I choose egg substitutes in simple and complex situations.

Note that this post doesn’t apply to dishes where egg is the primary focus, such as meringue, quiche, or scrambled/fried/hard-boiled eggs.

Part 1: What Purposes can Eggs Serve?

Remember Mr. Betc (pronounce it “Mr. Betsy”).  It’s not the coolest acronym, but it does help you remember the possible functions of eggs in a recipe. We’ll explain these purposes in Part 2, below.

  • Moisture
  • Rise
  • Bind
  • Emulsify
  • Taste
  • Color

Part 2: Figure Out the Purpose of Eggs in a Recipe

How do you know which of these purposes eggs are serving in your recipe? Go through the following 5 steps in order. A few of these steps are from Chef In You’s great post on figuring out the purpose of eggs, which helped me to be systematic instead of just relying on intuition when choosing egg substitutes.

  1. If there isn’t much other liquid in the recipe, the egg is being used to add moisture.
    • Tip: Egg whites dry out baked goods, so if egg whites but no yolks are used, the eggs are probably not being used to add moisture.
  2. If there are no other raising agents (e.g., baking powder, baking soda, baker’s yeast*) in the recipe, but the dish is supposed to rise (for example, it’s a cake but not a custard), then egg is being used to make the food rise. Eggs can do this when they’re beaten. This is called leavening.
    • Tip: Egg yolks are too fatty to make foods rise. If the recipe only calls for yolks and no whites, the egg is not being used for rise.
  3. If the recipe has water-based liquids and a substantial amount of oil or butter (e.g., a salad dressing with oil and vinegar, a mayonnaise with oil and vinegar/lemon juice, a hollandaise sauce with butter/oil and lemon juice), the egg is being used as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers help oil/butter and water-based liquids to stay mixed instead of separating.
    • Tip: The emulsifier is actually the yolk of the egg. So if a recipe only calls for egg whites and no yolks, the egg is not being used as an emulsifier.
  4. If none of the first 3 cases applies (i.e., the egg is not being used for moisture, rise, or emulsifying), and there are no other binders (e.g., cornstarch, flour, breadcrumbs) in the recipe to hold the ingredients together, the egg is being used to bind.
  5. If none of the first 4 cases applies (i.e., the egg is not being used for moisture, rise, emulsifying, or binding), the egg is being used for taste and/or color. Eggs may also be adding taste or color if there are more eggs in the recipe than necessary to serve their main purpose (i.e., moisture, rise, bind, emulsify).

Part 3: Choose Egg Substitutes that Serve the Same Purpose

There are so many egg substitutes out there! I’ve listed my favorite options for each function here. If you’re trying to replace 3 or more eggs, don’t try to do that by just increasing the servings of the substitutes I’ve listed here. Post a comment with the recipe you’re trying to veganize, and I’ll be happy to let you know my thoughts. I recently replaced eggs successfully in a recipe that called for 2 yolks and 3 eggs, using a variety of substitutes with different functions!  Such things are possible, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to figure it out on your own when you’re just starting out.

  • For moisture, replace eggs with:
  • For rise*, replace eggs with:
  • For binding, replace eggs with:
    • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch + 2 Tbsp. water (I omit the water if there’s a lot of other liquid in the recipe) per egg OR
    • 1 Tbsp. soy flour mixed with 1 Tbsp. water, per egg
  • To emulsify, replace eggs with:
    • 1/4 cup pureed, soft Silken Tofu per egg. Tofu contains soy lecithin that can replace the emulsifying lecithin found in egg yolks.
  • For taste, replace eggs with:
    • The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk, which looks and smells just like egg yolk. Make sure you follow the package instructions and use a blender to mix the Vegg with water–hand mixing will not work!
  • For color, replace eggs with:

*You’ll see nutritional yeast in many vegan recipes. Don’t let the ‘yeast’ in the name fool you–it is not active yeast, meaning that it is not a leavening agent and will not help baked goods rise!

I’d love to hear about your experiences using egg substitutes!  Please post a comment or question below, and let’s get a discussion going.