A Guide to Non-GMO Baking Substitutes
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Many people wish to enhance their organic eating habits by reducing the consumption of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Genetically modified food often has high levels of toxins and is more likely to trigger allergies. Furthermore, there are some potential negative biodiversity effects of growing GMOs.
While it may be simple enough to spot GMO-labeled meat or produce, other GMO ingredients can enter one's diet in very subtle ways. One of the easiest ways that GMO foods infiltrate a diet is through cooking ingredients.
For example, while a brand may label a baking mix as "organic" or "gluten-free," the ingredients within the kit or mix could come derived from GMO foods. Hidden GMO food sources or bases of frequently used ingredients may include the following:
- Genetically modified corn
- GMO soy
- GMO sugar beets
- GMO rice
- GMO potatoes
- GMO fructose
- GMO xanthan gum
Even if one does not immediately recognize the raw food source or base of a GMO product, anyone may recognize the risk by looking at telltale baking ingredients. Some of the most common hidden GMO baking ingredients include dry goods like flour (such as wheat, rice, barley, or potato flour), cornstarch, tapioca starch, corn syrup, sugar (sorghum), and various flavoring extracts. Households can also find GMO ingredients hidden in meal-prep baking items such as cake mix, pancake batter mix, "instant" baking kits, or pie crusts. Risky baking additives may also include non-organic refrigerated ingredients like eggs, milk, or fruit. Fortunately, a look at some of the best non-GMO alternatives can help any shopper to make an informed decision for organic baking habits.
Where GMOs hide: Whether white or brown, the eggs in the grocery store's dairy section often come from commercial chickens. The standard practice in raising commercial chickens is to use GMO-based chicken feed. Even if a person opts to raise chickens privately, some of the most popular chicken feed or pellet brands are made of xanthan gum. Manufacturers and food processors often extract xanthan gum from GMO corn or soybeans. Another popular method for producing xanthan gum is to extract it from GMO milk. In addition, many wheat-based home chicken feeds come directly from GMO cereal harvests.
Substitute(s): When purchasing eggs directly, shoppers can opt for Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA-certified organic eggs. Nutritionists also recommend eggs from pasture-raised chickens over commercial (coop-raised) birds. Other protein-rich alternatives include eggs from different types of poultry (such as organic duck eggs or organic goose eggs).
There are also excellent plant-based alternatives to GMO eggs. Organic flaxseeds or organic chia seeds are both popular non-GMO egg substitutes. The natural gel released from flax and chia can act as the necessary binder for numerous recipes, thereby replacing the traditional role of eggs in baking. To prepare a flax or a chia "egg," use the following recipe:
Organic Flax or Chia "Egg" Recipe
- 1 Tbs. flaxseed meal or chia seed meal (raw ground flaxseed or chia seed)
- 2.5 Tbs. purified water (warm)
- Place water in a heat-safe container.
- Add flax or chia and stir gently.
- Let the mixture sit for approximately five minutes to cool and thicken.
- Substitute each serving for approximately one egg in recipes and enjoy.
This combination results in a tasty, thick, and versatile alternative to using commercial eggs for baking. Recipe ideas compatible with flax or chia "eggs" include organic pancakes, brownies, muffins, bread, and cookies.
Where GMOs hide: The majority of store-bought milk comes from commercial dairy farms. These dairy or factory farms typically raise cows using GMO-based feed. This feed may consist of GMO cereal grains, GMO soybeans or legumes, and other similar herbage. Commercial feeds can also contain GMO preservatives or byproducts from related industries (such as ethanol, vegetable oil, or commercial sugar). In addition, a very common standard is to inject cows with antibiotics and GM recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, for more abundant milk production.
Unfortunately, commercial or processed milk alternatives may also include hidden GMO ingredients. One can recognize common GMO additives in the form of refined sugar, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, or GMO vegetable oils (such as common soy, corn, or canola oils).
Substitute(s): Choose unsweetened milk or milk substitutes that display a Non-GMO Project Verified seal or a USDA organic seal. Organic goat's milk and organic milk powder are also popular options. In addition, there are also organic nut milk varieties (such as almond, cashew, or hazelnut milk) that store easily in kitchen pantries. For canned milk alternatives, canned unsweetened coconut milk is a popular option that can be incorporated into a wide range of recipes.
Where GMOs hide: Mass-produced wheat flour, barley flour, or rice flour often come from genetically modified or hybrid plant seeds. In addition, many "all-purpose" or bleached flours may use GMO ingredients during packaging and processing.
Substitute(s): Non-GMO Project Verified or organic coconut flour, almond flour, and cassava flour are all great substitutes for traditional flour. In addition, quinoa flour is a protein-rich option used increasingly among vegetarians and vegans. From muffins to crepes, these ingredients result in baked goods that many people find easily digestible and filling.
Where GMOs hide: Cornstarch is a thickening agent derived from the starch or amylum of corn. Most commercial cornstarch comes from GMO-raised corn. Since commercial baking powder usually contains cornstarch, it can be another hidden source of GMOs.
Substitute(s): Arrowroot starch is a thickener derived from organically harvested tubers. It is a popular alternative to commercial cornstarch. Because dietitians consider arrowroot gentle on the stomach, this starch is also a popular ingredient for preparing baked goods like infant chewing biscuits or homemade dog treats. Organic coconut flour and certified Non-GMO Project Verified cornstarch brands are also alternatives to conventional cornstarch.
In lieu of mass-produced baking powder, cooking enthusiasts can make their own organic baking powder to store in the kitchen pantry. To make homemade baking powder, use the following recipe as an easy-to-follow guide:
Homemade Baking Powder Recipe
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar powder
- 1 tsp. arrowroot starch (optional)
- Stir baking soda and cream of tartar powder together until well-combined. The combination results in 1 tablespoon of baking powder.
- If storing the baking powder for later use, fluff the arrowroot starch into the mixture. This addition absorbs moisture from the air to prevent the baking soda portion from sticking, clumping, or reacting before use. Store in an airtight container.
- For best results, use within one month of preparation and enjoy.
Bakers who wish to use a leavening product instead or baking powder can make non-GMO leaven from scratch at home. This is a popular choice for recipes like loaf bread or yeast rolls. To prepare homemade leavening, use the following simple guide:
Non-GMO Homemade Leavening Recipe
- .25 tsp. baking soda
- 1 cup of acidic liquid (examples include organic lemon juice, organic apple cider vinegar, or organic buttermilk)
- Combine baking soda and acidic liquid in a glass bowl. Allow one to two minutes for the leavening reaction to take place.
- Use this leavening in place of baking powder within recipes and enjoy.
Where GMOs hide: In addition to flour, fats and oils play a very important role in successful baking. Fats and oils provide lubrication to batter, prolong the shelf life of baked goods, and may play in role in the absorption of minerals during digestion. Unfortunately, commercial fats and oils are some of the most common hidden sources of ingested GMOs. Popular commercial oils like corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and other vegetable oils can all derive from the plants of GMO seeds. Recipes that require butter or margarine may also inadvertently incorporate GMOs. Many conventional butter brands use milk from dairy cows fed with GMO bovine feed or injected with rBGH.
Substitute(s): Use a non-GMO alternative to conventional cooking oil. Many organic oils can perform the same lubricating function while baking, withstand oven temperatures, and may prolong shelf life by slowing retrograding or the staling process. For example, extra-virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of cold organic olives, and it can provide an earthy note to any recipe. Organic coconut oil is a tropical oil rich in healthy, fatty acids. Furthermore, it may bring complementary and aromatic flavoring to baked goods. Organic safflower oil is a high-oleic oil suitable for baked foods as well as stovetop items.
For recipes that call for butter or margarine, use organic butter instead. Other choices include organic ghee (clarified butter commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian recipes), organic coconut spread, and certified-organic vegetable shortening.
Where GMOs hide: Sweeteners are some of the most easily overlooked sources of GMOs hidden in baked goods. The raw materials used to produce many modern sweeteners come from genetically modified plants. For example, conventional corn syrup can contain starch and malt sugar from GMO maize and sugarcane. Molasses and beet sugar are some of the most common sources of GMO sweeteners found in desserts, conventional cereal, or other breakfast foods. Commercially produced white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and confectioner's sugar typically all come from GMO-harvested plants.
Unfortunately, many alternatives to conventional sugar may contain hidden or derivative GMOs. For example, many brands of stevia, xylitol, aspartame, and erythritol are made from extracts of GMO plants. While honey is not a GMO product, commercial honey often contains pollen contaminants from genetically modified crops (such as maize or canola plants). Many beloved "finishing touches" on baked goods can also bring unexpected GMOs to the dining table. Conventional candy toppings, sprinkles, and icing may all contain GMO-based sugars, commercial dyes, and xanthan gum. Since commercial fructose is often a key ingredient in cupcake or treat toppings, these last-minute add-ons can raise the overall GMO content of baked foods.
Substitute(s): Replace traditional corn syrup with an alternative like 100-percent organic cane syrup. Instead of molasses, use Non-GMO Project Verified or organic maple syrup for cookies, pancakes, and glazes. Organic coconut sugar is an excellent alternative to brown sugar and beet sugar. With its aromatic, earthy flavor, organic coconut sugar may complement a range of chocolate or spice-themed recipes. Coffee drinkers can also use organic coconut sugar as a welcome alternative to white sugar in their morning beverages. Coconut nectar and cane sugar are also popular alternatives to GMO-sourced products.
Bakers or tea drinkers who love honey should shop for raw or certified organic honey brands. Raw honey undergoes fewer processing steps during extraction, so there is less risk of exposure to unwanted pollutants. People who are interested in non-GMO alternatives to white sugar should look for organic versions of stevia extract (without the added ingredients). Low-calorie sweeteners like monk fruit or chicory root are also popular alternatives to artificial sweeteners. There are also versions of erythritol and xylitol with the signature Non-GMO Project Verified label that may be useful for various baking projects.
Where GMOs hide: Genetically modified vegetables have become a frequent occurrence around the world. Some of the most common GMO vegetables include corn, potatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash. This can become an issue when purchasing these vegetables as fresh produce or their counterparts (such as canned corn or instant mashed potatoes). For bakers, vegetables can comprise an important component of casseroles, pot pies, and other side dishes. Some vegetables are also the signature ingredient of featured dishes (such as zucchini bread, veggie souffles, corn muffins, or potato rolls). This means common vegetables can cause heavy consumption of GMOs long before dessert time.
Substitute(s): Choose certified organic alternatives when shopping for produce. Households may also wish to consider organic canned or dried versions for use in staple recipes.
Where GMOs hide: Two of the most common genetically modified fruits are the apple and the papaya. While papaya may not be an issue unless baking a tropical dessert, the apple is one of the most popular ingredients found in baked goods around the globe. Whether baking apple pies, tarts, or strudel, this fruit can provide a host of unwanted GMOs. Foods with apple as the main ingredient (such as applesauce, apple juice, and apple cider) may also include GMOs. Similarly, many baking recipes require dried-fruit ingredients (such as dried cranberries, blueberries, apricots, or cherries). These dried fruits can contain GMOs if sweetened with commercial sugar, syrup, or beets.
Substitute(s): Replace commercial apples with the organic variety. There are also various types of organic apple beverages and organic applesauce that can replace the conventional versions. If a recipe calls for dried fruit or berries, choose the 100-percent organic or Non-GMO Project Verified option.
Where GMOs hide: Flavor extracts are an often-overlooked source of genetic modification in food. Because many countries do not regulate flavoring and extraction manufacturing, the industry often participates in experimental technology. One such example is conventional vanilla flavoring extract. Many manufacturers use synthetic genetic engineering in order to mass-produce this product, resulting in a proliferation of GMOs for consumption.
Substitute(s): Certified organic vanilla extract is the standard alternative for most baking recipes. Bakers can also opt for unsweetened organic vanilla powder for extensive baking projects.