For many years, I thought that I cooked with applesauce because of the flavor. I enjoy the taste of applesauce on its own or when paired with some meats, so why shouldn’t I enjoy it in a loaf of banana bread or a muffin? You would think that the sweet cinnamon taste of applesauce would add a pleasant note to the dish. I never considered the idea that I could use an applesauce replacement and get the same results as the real thing.
In actuality, I think you’d be hard-pressed to notice the taste of applesauce in a well-made batch of muffins. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t put applesauce in your baked goods. Instead, you should use it to replace (or complement) fats in order to give your breads, muffins, and other creations the texture that you want. It’s a healthy, powerful tool that you should definitely take advantage of.
The Secret of Pectin
You’ve probably heard of gluten. Gluten is a chemical that’s found in some processed grains, especially wheat. Pretty much any food with wheat flour in it has lots of gluten.
Gluten has a number of interesting properties, but the ones we’re worried about here have to do with texture and feel. If gluten is allowed to combine with water it becomes elastic and chewy. It’s also instrumental in making dough rise and contributes to bread being relatively dry. While these qualities are acceptable in some baked goods, they’re not great for things like pie crusts, muffins, cakes, and the like. You don’t want a puffy, chewy, dry pie crust. You want something dense, moist, and flaky.
So how do you stop this? The most common method is to add oil or fat to your cooking. Oil literally surrounds gluten molecules and prevents them from combining with water. This is why you spend so much time working butter into your flour in many recipes: you’re trying to make sure that the butter can keep the gluten as dry as possible.
Pectin is a chemical that’s found in many fruits, including apples. It’s particularly abundant in applesauce. So why is this important? If you’re looking for a way to use less fat in your cooking, pectin allows you to keep the gluten in your baked goods dry so you can keep them moist, flaky, and delicious.
There are quite a few differences between pectin and oil, however. For one, pectin doesn’t separate gluten from water. Instead, it tries to suck up all of the water first. By competing with the gluten in your baked goods, pectin reduces the amount of water that can reach the gluten and ruin your dish’s texture.
The important thing to note here is that pectin actually absorbs the water. This is great in some circumstances. If the pectin is left undisturbed and there’s a good balance of pectin to flour to fat, the pectin will absorb excess water and keep the gluten nice and dry. The problems begin to occur when there’s too much pectin or you interfere with its ability to absorb water.
Having too much pectin is bad because of how it works. Since pectin actually absorbs the water in your food, it will change the texture and consistency of your dish a little bit. The more pectin you add, the more noticeable these changes are. If you add enough pectin you’ll wind up with muffins that resemble jelly more than a solid.
Another common issue occurs when you bake pectin for too long or at too high of a temperature. If you overcook your applesauce-laden muffins the pectin will break down and release all of the water it was storing. This can have disastrous consequences for the texture of your baked goods.
The moral of the story here is that you should use pectin-based oil substitutes carefully, in moderation, and in combination with other gluten solutions. When it comes to other fats (like butter or lard), you probably don’t want to substitute applesauce at all. Instead, you should understand that other properties of the fats matter too. For example, butter is full of milk proteins that help make your cooking thick, while applesauce does no such thing.
The best thing to do is to use a mixture of half oil and half applesauce. Because this combination of ingredients is so effective at keeping gluten dehydrated, you’ll probably want to tone down the total quantity of fat. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of oil, you can probably use 1/3 of a cup of applesauce and 1/3 of a cup of oil just fine.
Bear in mind that apples have lots of sugar in them, meaning that even “no-sugar-added” applesauce will make your dish sweeter. Consider cutting a bit of sugar from your recipes if you’re substituting oil with applesauce at home.
What Can I Substitute For Applesauce?
If you’re looking to go the other way and you need a substitution for applesauce in baking, consider using vegetable oil and a little bit of sugar. You’ll need to increase the quantity of oil by up to 50%. In other words, if a dish calls for 1 cup applesauce and 1 cup of oil, you’ll probably have to increase the total quantity to something like 3 cups. Be sure to taste your dough or batter and adjust the sugar to make up for the lack of sweet applesauce.
To be clear, you can use most cooking oils, including canola oil, olive oil, or anything else you have in your pantry. You can also use other fats, like butter, although you’ll introduce some other ingredients alongside the fat’s hydrophobic properties. This means your dish may turn out a little bit differently than you expect.
The bottom line here is that you should start small, experiment, and refine your results. If you want your normal banana bread to be rich and decadent, consider using lots of butter to replace the applesauce the dish calls for. If you want your muffins to be easier to make without adding lots of fat, replace the applesauce with a healthy cooking oil and compensate by adding a little bit of sugar and cinnamon to the batter. In either case, you’ll want to make a small batch, taste it, and then refine things from there. Don’t skip this step and go straight to cooking for your whole community. You’ll learn a lot from your first few tries!
Finding Better Recipes
We have pretty powerful tools these days when it comes to finding recipes. If the recipe for your baked good calls for applesauce and you’d prefer to use a cooking fat, consider looking for other recipes that already have the ingredients you want to use in them. In other words, you don’t have to go through the trouble of figuring out how much oil and sugar to use. You can simply find someone else’s recipe that already uses both ingredients instead of applesauce.
This works the other way around, too. If you’d rather use applesauce than vegetable oil consider looking for recipes that already have made that switch. Things will get a lot less complicated, making your job a lot easier.
Substituting Applesauce For Sugar
In some recipes, applesauce can be used in place of sugar at a roughly 1:1 ratio. The trick here is to also get rid of a lot of liquid in the dough or batter you’re making. Experts like to reduce the water by about 1/4 of a cup per cup of applesauce you use and then go from there. You can always add more water if your dough is too dry.
Bear in mind that sugar is often an important ingredient when it comes to the texture of a baked good. It also plays a role in characterizing how other ingredients work together. This means that swapping out all of your sugar for applesauce can have some pretty unexpected results. You almost certainly should start small and consider replacing some of your sugar at first instead of all of it.
One final note: don’t forget that applesauce has lots of pectin. This means that putting it in your bread instead of sugar isn’t the best idea. Instead, use it with things that want to be flaky, moist, and delicious.
Is Applesauce Healthy?
There are a lot of conflicting theories about what kinds of food are bad for you. Applesauce is very healthy by some accounts. Some applesauce is made from high-quality apples that are loaded with lots of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Other applesauce has fewer apples in it and instead makes up for the difference with artificial sweeteners and other fillers. There’s a lot of variance, so make sure that you understand what kind of applesauce you’re buying.
Are Sugar And Cooking Oil Healthy?
Canola oil is a surprisingly good source of multiple omega fatty acids, while sugar is amazing at storing energy for your body to use later. In both cases, however, you’ll find lots of people who will tell you that applesauce is healthier for you than the things it could replace.
Finding The Right Applesauce
As you can imagine, the big difference between a good applesauce and a bad applesauce makes using it in cooking frustrating. While you’re at the store, be sure to look for a freshly made jar of applesauce with the least amount of additives, preservatives, and filler. You can make your own applesauce at home with a blender or food processor, of course. Here’s how:
3 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
1 tbsp lemon juice
cinnamon, nutmeg, and other seasonings to taste.
Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about twenty minutes or until well blended and fairly mushy.
Carefully pour the cooked apple mixture into a blender or food processor. Blend until you get a smooth applesauce, then pour into jars. Applesauce can be stored in the fridge for a while and goes great with pork, breakfast foods, and many desserts. You can also use it as a substitute for cooking fats, of course!
Other High Pectin Foods
Pectin is predominantly found in ripe fruits. This means that things like bananas, oranges, and carrots have lots of pectin in them. Interestingly, two of these things are used in baked goods. You can find bananas and carrots in banana bread and carrot cake respectively.
Is Pectin Even Good For You?
Many experts suggest that pectin is quite healthy on its own. It’s been shown to help lower cholesterol, keep your stomach happy, healthy, and regular, and even stave off the effects of diabetes. You should take these claims with a grain of salt and trust your actual doctor for diet and lifestyle advice. While pectin might help you in all of these areas, it’s probably not going make a huge difference.
The Best Applesauce Substitute For Baking
If you’ve got a recipe that calls for a bunch of applesauce you don’t have, consider these two great options you can choose in order to solve your problem. The first option is to simply find a new recipe that uses oil instead of applesauce. The second option is to make applesauce at home. If neither of these ideas works for you, the best thing to do is to swap out your applesauce for a cooking fat, add some sugar, and add some extra fat to compensate for the lack of pectin. This will give you a fairly close substitute as far as disabling gluten while keeping your dish nice and sweet.