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What are Vegan Cupcakes?

By A. Gabrenas
Updated May 16, 2024
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Vegan cupcakes are individual cakes made without any animal products, such as dairy or eggs. In general, a traditional cupcake recipe can be converted to a vegan recipe by using substitutions for non-vegan ingredients. These substitutions, however, must generally be planned carefully, as incorrect substitutions may cause the cupcakes not to rise or otherwise turn out as expected. As the popularity of veganism rises, commercially-available vegan cupcake ingredients and frostings are becoming more widely available.

A vegan diet is one that excludes all meat, poultry, fish and animal by-products, including milk, eggs and honey. People sometimes follow this type of diet in an effort to avoid perceived cruelty to animals and harm to the environment, and/or for health reasons. Vegan diets often have less saturated fat and cholesterol in them, since the majority of both come from animal products.

To convert traditional recipes to vegan recipes, substitutions to eliminate animal products must often be made. In the case of making vegan cupcakes, this is generally as simple as replacing the eggs and butter with non-animal products. Most bakers agree that it’s important to first understand what these ingredients do for a recipe to ensure proper substitutions are made. For most cupcake recipes, eggs and butter both help act as leavening agents to keep the cake fluffy. Eggs also act as a binder to hold the ingredients together, and butter also provides flavor.

Due to the fact that eggs provide leavening in cupcakes, they cannot simply be left out, as they can in certain other vegan baked goods such as cookies. To help keep the cake fluffy, an egg may be replaced with a mixture of bananas and baking powder or ground flax seeds, water and baking powder. In both of these substitutions, the baking powder acts as a leavener and the other ingredients act as binders. Another option is to replace the egg with a commercially-available vegan egg substitute, often available where natural foods are sold.

A plant-based fat in the form of oil, vegetable shortening or margarine is often used for vegan cupcakes in place of butter. Bananas or applesauce may also be used as low-fat substitutes, but they generally make for a less fluffy texture. A combination of mashed fruit and plant-based fat may help keep the appropriate texture while still reducing fat content.

When it comes to frosting vegan cupcakes, more substitutions must be made. Many traditional homemade frosting recipes call for butter and cow's milk, but they can often be made into vegan frosting by using vegetable shortening or margarine and soy, almond or rice milk instead. Another option is to use a store-bought frosting that uses primarily water, vegetable shortening, sugar and flavoring. These products may not always be labeled as being appropriate for a vegan diet, but a quick reading of the ingredients label can often help identify them.

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