Paleo Baking: Working with Binders

By Adriana Harlan

You can use a number of alternatives for replacing binding properties of gluten in Paleo baking. Binders are what hold baked goods together and provide products like cakes, breads, pancakes, and batter-based baked goods with tender crumbs and a light and airy texture. In the absence of gluten, most Paleo baked goods made with nut or coconut flours depend on eggs to have the proper hold and texture. However, eggs aren’t the only option; see the following list of Paleo binders to perfect your Paleo baking:

  • Flaxseed meal: Add flaxseed meal to wet ingredients to form a gel. 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons of water or another liquid replaces 1 egg. You can also mix the flaxseed meal with the dry ingredients, and it will act as a binder while baking. Combining the meal with other binders such as chia seeds gives baked goods a nice hold and texture as well.

  • Chia seeds: In place of 1 egg, add 1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds to 3 tablespoons of water (or other liquid) and allow it to form a goopy texture similar to raw eggs before mixing with the other ingredients in your recipe. Alternatively, add between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of chia seed meal to the dry ingredients to help hold everything together while baking. Like flaxseed, chia works well when combined with another binder such as flaxseed meal. Ground chia seeds also work well as a thickener for puddings, jellies, and jams.

    When adapting gluten-free recipes for breads or other baked goods that need structure, chia seeds can replace the xanthan or guar gum called for in the recipe for the same amount. Mix the chia with water at a 1:2 ratio and use the thick slurry gel.

  • Applesauce, mashed bananas, or plantains: Bananas or ripe plantains are high in fiber and starch, which gives them great binding ability. You can replace 1 egg with 1/4 cup of mashed bananas or ripe plantains. Green plantains give recipes less hold, and you need about 1/3 cup of mashed green plantains to replace 1 egg. Applesauce is also high in fiber and aids in binding ingredients together, providing moisture, acting as a thickening agent, and giving a smooth texture to baked goods. Substitute 1/3 cup of applesauce for each egg in your recipes. Make sure your applesauce is unsweetened; many varieties have added sugar.

  • Pumpkin puree: Pumpkin puree can help hold ingredients together in a recipe. However, it has less binding ability than applesauce or mashed bananas. To replace an egg in your recipes, use 1/4 to 1/3 cup of pumpkin puree.

  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a really great binder. Adding about 1/4 cup of melted coconut oil to your recipes typically replaces 1 egg.

  • Puree dried fruits: Puree dried fruits such as dates or raisins work well for binding and sweetening recipes. They work exceptionally well if you’re making a pie crusts or granola bars that don’t need baking. The puree is sticky and helps hold the wet and dry ingredients together. Pureeing dried fruits is as easy as blending the fruits in a blender or food processor until creamy.

  • Honey: Honey is sticky, so you can use it as a binder in your recipes. Honey is about twice as sweet as regular white sugar, so be careful not to add too much to your recipe, or you’ll make it too sweet. Honey also adds moisture to baked goods, and adding too much may result in a gooey end product.

  • Nut and seed butters: Because nut and seed butters are high in fat and fiber, you can use them as binders without adding too much moisture. Substituting all of the eggs in your recipe for these butters isn’t recommended, but you can use them in combination with flax or chia to help hold the ingredients together.

  • Starches: Arrowroot powder makes a great thickening agent for sauces, pie fillings, puddings, jams, and jellies. Unlike cornstarch, you can use it to thicken recipes made with citrus or other acidic ingredients. Arrowroot turns clear as it sets and doesn’t make your product turn cloudy. To thicken with arrowroot, mix the powder with liquid until it dissolves before introducing it to a recipe. Your best bet is to add it toward the end or cook it at low heat; overheating destroys its gelling and thickening properties. Tapioca starch is another excellent product for thickening sauces, pie fillings, and puddings. The fine powder thickens sauces quickly at low heat, so you should mix it with cold liquid before adding it to recipes. Like arrowroot, tapioca dissolves and becomes clear, and has a fairly neutral flavor.

  • Unflavored gelatin: Gelatin made from grass-fed animals is not only highly nutritious, but it also works perfectly as a binder and egg substitute in Paleo recipes for custards, puddings, and baked goods such as cakes and muffins. To substitute an egg, dissolve 1 tablespoon of unflavored gelatin powder with 3 tablespoons of water or other liquid. Simply sprinkle the gelatin on top of the liquid and let it sit for 5 minutes to dissolve As a general rule, use 1-1/2 teaspoons of gelatin per cup of flour when baking. For best results, don’t substitute more than 1 to 2 eggs with gelatin; use another egg replacer in this list. To thicken custards or puddings use about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of gelatin for every 1-1/2 cups of milk (dairy or nondairy).

  • Agar agar powder: Agar agar powder is made from finely ground seaweed and works similarly to gelatin as a binder. To substitute an egg, dissolve 1 tablespoon of agar agar powder with 3 tablespoons of water or other liquid. Sprinkle the powder over the liquid and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes to dissolve. To replace an egg white only, dissolve 1 tablespoon of agar agar powder into 1 tablespoon of liquid. Whisk well, and then chill. Whisk again and use.