Article on Allergen-free Baking for "The Baker" Magazine

Food Allergens
The Baker
Written by: Leaine Brebner

Allergen-free baking

Allergen free baking is becoming increasingly prevalent as more people become aware of food allergies.

There are two different types of food allergies: Type 1 and Type 3.

Type 1 allergies are the best-known and most studied form of food allergy. These allergies are rare, fewer than 5% of us have them, and the reaction to the food is immediate. They can also be genetic, such as Coeliac Disease, which is a lifelong and serious condition, characterized by an allergic toxicity to gliadin – found in gluten grains such as wheat, rye and barley.

The most common Type 1 food allergen, in baking, is nuts.

Nut allergy, affects both children and adults and is usually lifelong. It is imperative that individuals with nut allergies avoid even the slightest exposure to nuts to prevent life threatening reactions. Nuts and beans are part of the same food family, along with fruit pips; in essence, they’re all seeds. Coffee and chocolate are also members of this family. The most common allergy-causing foods are peanuts and tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews).  Approximately 1 in 200 South Africans, eating a western diet, are allergic to peanuts.

Type 3 allergies can affect as many as one in three of us. Although they are common, not many people are aware that they exist. These allergies are also called food intolerances. These are different to Type 1 allergic reactions as Type 3 allergy symptoms occur 2 hours to several days after consuming the food – for this reason many people can go their whole lives without being aware that they have an allergy to a certain food.

The most common Type 3 food allergens, in baking, are cow’s milk, gluten and eggs.

It is not always possible to eliminate all allergens at the same time, during baking, as the texture of the product may be drastically altered. For this reason, it is essential to list all allergens used on food labels and to be aware of all the foods that belong to each group.

Cow’s Milk:

Cow’s milk has been proven to be the most common type 3 food allergen and it isn’t surprising considering it is packed full of hormones, designed specifically for a calf’s first few months of life. It is also a relatively new addition to the human diet. Approximately 75% of the population stops producing lactase, the enzyme that is needed to break down the milk sugar lactose, once they’ve been weaned, which could suggest that we are not designed to drink milk after early childhood.

Some foreign words, which may be found on food labels, and that indicate the presence of cow’s milk are lactabumin, casein, sodium caseinate, lactose, whey casein, milk solids and hydrolysates.

Goat’s and sheep’s milk are not possible alternatives to cow’s milk because they all contain casein, which means that the immune system is unlikely to differentiate between the different milks.

Substitutes are soya milk, rice milk, almond milk and coconut milk.  Although, soya is closely linked to nuts, therefore must be listed as one of the allergens on food labels.

The texture and even-rising of baked goods such as cakes, cupcakes and quick breads is achieved by creaming butter and granulated sugar; margarine is the easiest substitute in these recipes. Most margarines contain casein, however, therefore reading labels is important. Blossom is one of the few margarines that doesn’t contain dairy.

Oils, such as Canola, generally work best in recipes that use liquid sugars such as honey, maple syrup or molasses; combined with a baking agent, a solid fat like ground nuts and an emulsifying ingredient like eggs or an egg substitute.

When using oils it is advisable to start off using one or two tablespoons less than the amount of butter that would have been used.

Oil-based vegan and dairy-free cakes that do not use eggs are often a little dense. This can be remedied by combining oil with a solid fat, such as ground nuts or chocolate. For example, combining melted dairy-free chocolate, oil and soya yoghurt with dry ingredients allows the cake to remain moist and rich.

Replacing butter with margarine in biscuit and shortbread recipes usually works as the butter is used for richness and density and not for the lift. Oil can also be used in these recipes, with the correct combination of ingredients.

Applesauce and other fruit purees or jams add body and moisture to batters and can be a healthier alternative to using fats.


Gluten grains are also fairly new to the human diet and consist of wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut and triticale. As many as one in three people may be allergic to gluten because our bodies simply haven’t learnt to cope with it in the relatively short time we have been consuming it.

Alternatives to wheat include corn, rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat.

Gluten-free flours are generally light, medium or heavy in texture.

The heavier grains tend to contain more protein. Flours like buckwheat, quinoa, millet, cornmeal, nut meal, and bean or legume flours are similar to baking with whole-wheat flour.

Medium flours are similar to all-purpose flour; these include sorghum and superfine brown rice flour.

Light flours include white rice flour and starches such as tapioca starch, corn starch and potato starch (not potato flour).

A blend of medium and heavy flours combined with some starch to lighten and help bind the batter or dough seems to work best.

Example (For breads, muffins, biscuits, cakes and cupcakes):


1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup millet, almond or buckwheat flour
1 cup tapioca, potato or corn starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Ready-made flour mixes include: Glutagon, Orgran and Entice and can be found at some large food chains, such as Pick ‘n Pay, health food shops and Dischem.

Daniela Govetto of Daisy Health Foods and Entice says, “We focused on rice for our flour because it is totally digestible and digests without fermentation. That way, a person with a food allergy will not experience any symptoms during digestion.”


Reactions to egg white are much more common than to egg yolk, presumably because of the protein in egg white, ovomucoid. Other terms on food labels, used to describe the presence of eggs, are albumin, egg substitutes, globulin, livetin, lecithin, lysozyme, ovalbumin, ovomucin and ovovitellin.

In a cake, for example, the eggs serve as a leavening agent, helping to make the cake light and fluffy. In baked goods such as biscuits and muffins, the eggs add moisture and act as a binder, gluing all the other ingredients together.

Generally, the fewer eggs a recipe calls for, the easier they will be to substitute. If a biscuit recipe calls for one egg, using an egg substitute will work much better than in a recipe that requires three or four eggs.

An Egg Replacer, such as that made by Ogran, is very versatile and is available in most health food stores and Dischem. It works best in baked goods, such as biscuits, muffins and cakes, by following the directions on the packaging.

Ground flax seeds can be used for binding by mixing two tablespoons with 1/8 teaspoon baking powder and three tablespoons water for each egg called for.

Bananas and applesauce add the perfect amount of thick moisture, like eggs, but they don’t help dishes to rise or to become light and fluffy. Baking powder and baking soda is needed in these recipes.

Tofu can be used in recipes such as quiches as the texture is similar to that of eggs.

In conclusion, baking allergen free is possible. Taste and texture do not have to be compromised, if the correct procedures are followed. Understanding why an ingredient is used is paramount to a successful substitution.

Resources used:
“Hidden Food Allergies: Is What You Eat Making You Ill?” by Patrick Holford and Dr James Braly