16 Common Food Allergens & Their Substitutions

Substitutions for Common Food Allergens
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Cooking without using such staples as milk, wheat and eggs can at first seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you or someone you prepare meals for has one or more food sensitivities. Questions circle, like: Do I find an alternative for each ingredient? Or, would it be easier to just scrap the recipe altogether and find a new one? Here's a list of 14 common food allergens and their substitutions that should make it a bit less stressful come mealtime (or at least offer some new ideas for playing with traditional recipes).

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Cooking without using such staples as milk, wheat and eggs can at first seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you or someone you prepare meals for has one or more food sensitivities. Questions circle, like: Do I find an alternative for each ingredient? Or, would it be easier to just scrap the recipe altogether and find a new one? Here's a list of 14 common food allergens and their substitutions that should make it a bit less stressful come mealtime (or at least offer some new ideas for playing with traditional recipes).

Milk

A glass of milk and oats in spoon on the white table. Its are a nutrient-rich food associated with protein and fiber.

Substitute cow's milk and other dairy products with their plant-based counterparts, like almond, oat, hemp, rice, coconut, and cashew milk. But be aware of their individual flavor profiles when choosing which to use per recipe, since each milk alternative will brown differently with its own unique texture when used in hot applications. Due to the wide range of sugar levels, opt for unsweetened and unflavored varieties. Or, substitute sparkling water for milk in your favorite waffle recipe to make it dairy-free.

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Substitute cow's milk and other dairy products with their plant-based counterparts, like almond, oat, hemp, rice, coconut, and cashew milk. But be aware of their individual flavor profiles when choosing which to use per recipe, since each milk alternative will brown differently with its own unique texture when used in hot applications. Due to the wide range of sugar levels, opt for unsweetened and unflavored varieties. Or, substitute sparkling water for milk in your favorite waffle recipe to make it dairy-free.

Butter

Crust toast bread and butter on a wooden background

To replace butter, simply find a dairy-free margarine that you like the taste of. When replacing butter in baked goods, try to find a stick of dairy-free margarine rather than a tub of margarine—the stick version usually contains less water and margarine with low water content and high fat content will result in a better bake.

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To replace butter, simply find a dairy-free margarine that you like the taste of. When replacing butter in baked goods, try to find a stick of dairy-free margarine rather than a tub of margarine—the stick version usually contains less water and margarine with low water content and high fat content will result in a better bake.

Cheese

lasagna extracted from the oven in a glass container

Ready-made products like cashew or almond ricotta can be used instead of traditional ricotta cheese in Italian recipes, sweet or savory. Soy-based, coconut-based, and pea-based "yogurt," "sour cream," and "cream cheese" products are also available. The same goes for dairy-free cheese products: widely available, better quality than ever before.

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Ready-made products like cashew or almond ricotta can be used instead of traditional ricotta cheese in Italian recipes, sweet or savory. Soy-based, coconut-based, and pea-based "yogurt," "sour cream," and "cream cheese" products are also available. The same goes for dairy-free cheese products: widely available, better quality than ever before.

Eggs and Egg Products

Chickpea water aquafaba. Egg replacement. Vegan

Did you know that you can easily replace eggs when baking? To replace eggs for binding in sweet applications, try using bananas or applesauce. For savory recipes, you can use pumpkin, zucchini, or squash puree.

Flaxseed and chia seeds can also be used to substitute whole eggs. Simply combine 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (or whole or ground chia seeds) with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 5 minutes. Use this 1:3 ratio for each egg called for in the recipe. To ensure a proper rise, double-check the amount of baking soda and baking powder.

The real kicker here is that you don't even need eggs to create fluffy, whipped "egg whites" for meringue. Ever heard of aquafaba? Well, it might just become your new best friend for all of its infinite baking applications whether you're avoiding eggs or not.

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Did you know that you can easily replace eggs when baking? To replace eggs for binding in sweet applications, try using bananas or applesauce. For savory recipes, you can use pumpkin, zucchini, or squash puree.

Flaxseed and chia seeds can also be used to substitute whole eggs. Simply combine 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (or whole or ground chia seeds) with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 5 minutes. Use this 1:3 ratio for each egg called for in the recipe. To ensure a proper rise, double-check the amount of baking soda and baking powder.

The real kicker here is that you don't even need eggs to create fluffy, whipped "egg whites" for meringue. Ever heard of aquafaba? Well, it might just become your new best friend for all of its infinite baking applications whether you're avoiding eggs or not.

Wheat and Gluten

Close-Up Of Various Pasta

It's probably best to experiment with different flour substitutes to see what works best for you, since there are countless combinations for replacing wheat flour with other flours in recipes. Be aware, though, that other flours will yield a different texture and consistency than wheat flour so it's pretty much good ol' trial and error until you get it just right. Some possible single-ingredient substitutions for 1 cup of wheat flour:

7/8 cup rice flour

7/8 cup garbanzo bean (chick pea) flour

3/4 cup potato starch

1 1/3 cups ground rolled oats

1 cup tapioca flour

Also keep in mind that these suggestions are specific to wheat allergy—if you are avoiding gluten, steer clear of barley, rye and other gluten-containing grains, also known as "B.R.O.W." (barley, rye, oats, and wheat). Oats can become contaminated with wheat during cultivation, so look for wheat-free oats as an alternative. But hidden sources of gluten and wheat can be the most worrisome (e.g. Worcestershire, soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, gravies, thickeners, candy/gum, or chocolate).

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It's probably best to experiment with different flour substitutes to see what works best for you, since there are countless combinations for replacing wheat flour with other flours in recipes. Be aware, though, that other flours will yield a different texture and consistency than wheat flour so it's pretty much good ol' trial and error until you get it just right. Some possible single-ingredient substitutions for 1 cup of wheat flour:

7/8 cup rice flour

7/8 cup garbanzo bean (chick pea) flour

3/4 cup potato starch

1 1/3 cups ground rolled oats

1 cup tapioca flour

Also keep in mind that these suggestions are specific to wheat allergy—if you are avoiding gluten, steer clear of barley, rye and other gluten-containing grains, also known as "B.R.O.W." (barley, rye, oats, and wheat). Oats can become contaminated with wheat during cultivation, so look for wheat-free oats as an alternative. But hidden sources of gluten and wheat can be the most worrisome (e.g. Worcestershire, soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, gravies, thickeners, candy/gum, or chocolate).

Soy

A plate of buckwheat noodles with chopsticks, shot from the top on a white background with a place for text

Soy is a common ingredient typical in American foods and for that reason, soy allergies are among the most common. Luckily, soy can be easy to identify based on labeling (there's soya, soy protein, soy sauce, edamame, tamari, tempeh, tofu, and TVP). Other food items containing soy are less easy to spot, like miso, shoyu, vegetable gum, vegetable stock, and many salad dressings.

Replace edamame in recipes with beans, peas, and other legumes. Seitan is a decent replacement for tofu, though the flavor and texture are not that similar. And instead of soy sauce or tamari, use coconut aminos, a salty-sweet alternative that looks and tastes like soy sauce but is made from fermented coconut sap (coconut aminos or ume plum vinegar also work well in Asian-inspired salad dressings in place of soy sauce).

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Soy is a common ingredient typical in American foods and for that reason, soy allergies are among the most common. Luckily, soy can be easy to identify based on labeling (there's soya, soy protein, soy sauce, edamame, tamari, tempeh, tofu, and TVP). Other food items containing soy are less easy to spot, like miso, shoyu, vegetable gum, vegetable stock, and many salad dressings.

Replace edamame in recipes with beans, peas, and other legumes. Seitan is a decent replacement for tofu, though the flavor and texture are not that similar. And instead of soy sauce or tamari, use coconut aminos, a salty-sweet alternative that looks and tastes like soy sauce but is made from fermented coconut sap (coconut aminos or ume plum vinegar also work well in Asian-inspired salad dressings in place of soy sauce).

Peanuts and Tree Nuts

Various Cereals

An even more common allergen is the seemingly innocuous peanut and more broadly, all tree nuts. So common, in fact, some restaurants have taken to omitting the ingredient completely in many dishes in order to avoid any trouble for customers.

There are, however, plenty of nut alternatives to choose from: use seeds, oven-roasted beans, or even crumbled pretzels to recreate the texture and flavor of peanuts or tree nuts in just about any recipe. Stick to omitting the nuts completely when making pesto, or get your nuttiness from pumpkin seeds instead. Or try toasted sunflower seeds in place of peanuts in kung pao.

Credit: olgakr/iStock/GettyImages

An even more common allergen is the seemingly innocuous peanut and more broadly, all tree nuts. So common, in fact, some restaurants have taken to omitting the ingredient completely in many dishes in order to avoid any trouble for customers.

There are, however, plenty of nut alternatives to choose from: use seeds, oven-roasted beans, or even crumbled pretzels to recreate the texture and flavor of peanuts or tree nuts in just about any recipe. Stick to omitting the nuts completely when making pesto, or get your nuttiness from pumpkin seeds instead. Or try toasted sunflower seeds in place of peanuts in kung pao.

Corn and Corn Products

Raw cassava starch - Manihot esculenta. Wooden background

Corn is one of the most common ingredients in foods, unfortunately, making it one of the hardest ingredients to avoid. Cassava root (pictured above) can be dried and ground to become tapioca starch, a simple corn starch replacer. Along with tapioca, you can also use potato or arrowroot starch to replace