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How to Replace Oil in Baked Goods

How to Replace Oil in Baked Goods

There are many things we cut out of our diet when we switch to eating whole plant foods with no added oil, but baked goods doesn't have to be one of them. For many people, baking — or at least eating baked goods — is one of the joys of life. With a little knowledge and practice, that joy can continue without a trace of oil or guilt! Baked goods made with whole foods have no added oils to damage the delicate lining of our thousands of miles of blood vessels. When we eliminate oil, our arteries can begin to heal from atherosclerosis and our health can begin to improve.

While I love testing out new recipes in the kitchen, I save baking with flour for special occassions. Flour is a more calorie concentrated food due to the fact that the fiber is modified during the milling process. Some people find it necessary to reduce or even cut out their use of all flour products in order to maintain a healthy weight. However, baked goods made from flour can be a big help in winning over the taste buds of teens and others who are new to an oil-free, whole plant diet.

There are several whole food substitutes that work well for replacing oil, butter, and margarine in baking. Keep in mind that whole foods have flavors of their own. Often, these flavors enhance the taste of the baked good, but occasionally we will have a less-than-ideal result if we mismatch the substitute to the recipe. Since baking is as much art as science, it may take a little experimenting to get the flavor and texture of oil-free goodies 'just right.' Perseverance pays off, though, and soon we find that our oil-free baked goods are just as satisfying to us as the old, unhealthy versions. 

Here are some whole plant foods that make good substitutions for oil in baking:

Unsweetened Applesauce: Although other blended fruits can be used, unsweetened applesauce is probably the most common substitute since it has a very mild flavor and is easy to keep in the pantry. Some people find it even easier if they keep snack-sized cups of applesauce in the cupboard, ready for a last-minute batch of muffins or cornbread. Or skip the applesauce and toss an apple and water in the blender.

Prunes: Soak dried fruit like prunes or raisins in warm water and then purée them in the blender. Alternately, baby food prunes can be used in place of oil. 

Pumpkin: Canned pumpkin can make a great replacement for oil, but it does lend an orange color and slight pumpkin flavor to the final product — which can be a particularly delicious addition to recipes which feature chocolate. (I personally do not use chocolate; I prefer carob because it is free from the stimulant caffeine.) Sweet potatoes or butternut squash can be used like pumpkin as an oil substitute.

Beans: Mashed or puréed beans can be surprisingly good oil replacers. Cannellini or other white beans are mild in flavor and are particularly good in cookie recipes; black beans can make amazing brownies. (Carob powder can replace the cocoa powder in brownies for an equally tasty caffeine-free treat.) Beans work well in recipes where a chewy or fudgy texture is preferred.

Shredded Zucchini: Who would have thought of zucchini as an oil substitute? Because of its high moisture content, finely shredded zucchini can replace oil and nearly melt into the batter during baking. Zucchini works well in muffins and breads.

Banana: Mashed bananas are an easy oil substitute, but only when a banana flavor would be a welcome addition. Keep a few ripe, peeled bananas in the freezer ready to pop into the microwave and mash up for a quick oil replacer. 

Tofu: Although tofu is a relatively high fat plant food, the mild flavor of tofu makes it a great replacement for oil. Incorporate soft or silken tofu into baked goods when the sweetness of a fruit puree is unwanted. Keep in mind that while silken tofu is convenient due to its shelf-stable packaging, it is a less-than-optimal choice. Silken tofu contains the highly processed ingredient isolated soy protein.

Ground Flax: Using flax to substitute for free oils is probably the healthiest option due to the omega-3 precursors it contains. However, because it's a seed, flax does have a higher fat content than most of the other substitutes. The rule on using ground flax to replace oil is three parts ground flax for every one part oil called for in the recipe, so each tablespoon of oil would require three tablespoons of ground flax as a substitute. Flax can add a nutty taste to baked goods, which may or may not be a welcome flavor enhancement. Also, ground flax may cause baked goods to brown a little more quickly. If the batter or dough seems too dry, add water, fruit juice, or a non-dairy milk. 

Practical Tips on Using Whole Plant Food Substitutes for Oil, Butter, and Margarine
• Many substitutes, like applesauce or prunes, are naturally sweet. It may be necessary to cut down on the sugar in the recipe so as not to overdo it on the sweetness if the final product.

• Watch oil-free baked good carefully while they're in the oven until you know how the oil substitute will affect the baking process. Oil free goodies may bake more quickly, brown more easily, and dry out faster if overbaked than their oil-laden cousins. 

• Whole foods substitutes can change the texture of a baked good. Experiment to find the right proportions when substituting. Start with 3/4 cup of applesauce (or other moist substitute) for every cup of oil the recipe calls for. For a recipe that requires a 1/2 cup of oil, use 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons of substitute. If the batter seems too dry, add more of the substitute, up to a 1:1 ratio of substitute to oil.

This list of oil substitutes was compiled from suggestions given by experienced, oil-free, plant-based bakers.
Please check out their websites for recipes and other ideas on oil-free cooking.

(1) Cathy Fisher at StraightUpFood.com 
(2) Lindsay Nixon at HappyHerbivore.com
3) Susan Voisin at FatFreeVegan.com

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