Does it seem like every other child in your daughter’s third grade class has a peanut allergy? Maybe shellfish and its iodine component give you hives? Do gastrointestinal issues or even respiratory distress result from your son consuming wheat, eggs or dairy? And what about your spouse and strawberries?
More than 12 million Americans have food allergies, many of them children, and it can be a dizzying challenge to keep your family healthy and satisfied especially without preparing multiple dishes for the same meal. What’s more, people suffer varying degrees of sensitivity to foods where consuming wheat, for example, may make one individual only mildly uncomfortable while putting another in the hospital, necessitating a gluten-free lifestyle.
What compounds the food allergy issue is that families often use recipes handed down from generation to generation, lovingly prepared by Grandma Ida or Grandpa Leo, or Great Aunt Liddy whose fragrant strudel precisely mirrors that of five family members who preceded her. Young children learn to prepare these cherished recipes–perpetuating the culinary confab well into the family’s future. As such it may be challenging to find substitutions for ingredients in favorite dishes that reflect one’s heritage, but a little research and some trial and error will often result in a scrumptious dish that doesn’t compromise taste and legacy.
These substitutes provide viable (and often delicious!) alternatives to popular ingredients, and in many cases will not noticeably alter your family’s favorite recipes.
Egg allergy: Generally in cooking and baking, eggs are used either as a binder or leavening agent, or sometimes as both. If going with a commercial product to replace eggs, make sure to determine that you are buying an egg replacement and not just the usual egg substitute–which may still contain eggs and is geared toward lowering cholesterol only. If eggs are being used as a binder, try using one-half mashed banana, one-quarter cup unsweetened applesauce, 3 ½ tablespoons gelatin blend (add two teaspoons unflavored gelatin to one cup boiling water, using 3 ½ teaspoons of mixture per required egg), xanthan gum (a white powder available online or in some stores; use one teaspoon per recipe), or a commercial egg replacement product. If needed to leaven, use 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil mixed with 1 ½ tablespoons water plus one teaspoon baking powder per egg.
Wheat/gluten allergy–flour: Some believe there is no single substitute flour that can take the place of all-purpose flour, pastry flour, or cake flour and their properties in baking. Blends of wheat-free and gluten-free flours do exist, but you may have to do some homework and/or contact the manufacturers to evaluate their performance (alone or combined with others) in breads, cakes, cookies, etc. For wheat flour, try ground rolled oats; oat flour; rye flour; rye meal; potato flour; potato starch or buckwheat.
Wheat/gluten allergy–pasta:Though most pastas are made with wheat and eggs (challenging for some on both counts), pastas made from rice, quinoa, beans, and other grains are finding their way from specialty and health food stores into more and more markets that serve the general public. Wheat- and/or gluten-free pastas are also more readily found now that gluten-free diets are becoming pervasive.
Dairy allergy–milk: There are lots of versatile non-dairy milk substitutes on the market today to be used easily in cooking, baking, on cereal and more. These include lactose-free milk, soy and nut milks (use caution if allergies extend to these sources), rice milk, hemp milk, and oat milk (not always recommended for baking or for those with celiac disease, however). Goat’s and sheep’s milk do exist but are said to have similar proteins to cow’s milk so may not solve the problem.
Dairy allergy–butter: While margarine is often recommended in place of butter, not all margarines are dairy-free so be certain to read the label. Also, some margarine products do better in baking than others, so trial and error may be needed here. There are a few dairy- and soy-free baking alternatives on the market. Canola and safflower oil can also be used in baked goods.
Dairy allergy–cream: Try coconut milk, soy coffee cream or soy milk thickened with soy powder in your recipe, or even melted margarine.
Dairy allergy–sour cream: Think you have to forego Aunt Irma’s sour cream coffee cake? Not so fast! Today there are vegan sour cream alternatives on the market sold in health food stores and even in larger supermarkets.
Note: Sometimes dairy in recipes can be replaced by extra eggs and water.
Chocolate allergy:For baking chocolate, use three tablespoons dry unsweetened cocoa with two teaspoons brown sugar and one tablespoon water
Corn allergy: If allergic to corn and corn syrup is called for, maple syrup or honey may be used in its place.
Peanuts and Tree nuts allergy: Though peanuts are a legume, and not a nut, many who suffer from peanut allergies also have allergies to other nuts. Substitutes can include sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, the latter of which can even be used for almonds in some recipes.
Peanut butter allergy: If you are allergic to peanuts exclusively and not to other nuts, try substituting sunflower seed butter, pumpkin seed butter, almond butter or soy butter.
Mayonnaise allergy: Because it contains eggs, mayonnaise is a danger to those with egg allergies and can be replaced with a vegan mayo. Another alternative is to make your own, sans eggs, using olive oil instead with many recipes available online.
Experts say to remember that when substituting certain ingredients, you’ll be more effective in doing so when the allergy culprit is not a key component of the recipe. For instance meringue is largely eggs, but muffins and cake are not, so you’ll have more success replacing the eggs in the last two.
Also, depending on the dish, the ingredient in question may be used for different purposes, for instance to thicken, bind, moisten, leaven, etc. Egg whites, tofu, and milk are just protein with water; flour is protein with starch. If you know the make-up of your replacement foods, you can better substitute what was required in the original recipe.