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A common question that keeps cropping up in my email is "How do I replace a banana in [recipe]?"
Unfortunately this is one of those foods that doesn't have a straight forward or universal substitution. It really depends on the recipe and how the banana is being used.
Bananas can wear a lot of hats: they can be a binder, they can add creaminess, they can add sweetness, and the most obvious: they can add flavor.
Unless you know what they're doing, it's hard to know how to substitute them out correctly. My hope is with these tips you'll have an idea of what to do, and if it's one of my recipes, feel free to email me and we'll work something out together.
In Smoothies: In green smoothies, like HH's Green Goddess Smoothie, the banana helps create a creamy texture. The other components don't make for a smooth smoothie, so the banana comes in and creates that homogenous and silky texture we all crave in a smoothie.One time, when we were out of bananas, Andrea tried to make the Goddess by adding in peanut butter instead. She said it came out okay.
Other smoothies (those that don't have greens), like HH's PB Cup Smoothie, the banana adds a creamy flavor. The bananas, combined with nondairy milk, make it really thick and creamy -- like ice cream. However you can just use more non-dairy milk, or even silken tofu, to achieve that but you might also have to add some kind of sweetener (like a date or agave) because bananas often act as a natural sweetener and tofu and nondairy milks are generally unsweetened.
However, sometimes the bananas give the smoothie a specific flavor. For example, HH's Oatmeal Cookie Smoothie and HH's Cinnamon Bun Smoothie doesn't taste spot on without the help from the banana flavor.
And in fruit-based smoothies -- smoothies that taste like fruit and are very fruity -- you can just replace the frozen or ripe banana with other frozen or ripe fruits. That's easy.
In Muffins: with whole wheat muffins, it's usually pretty safe to replace 1 banana with 1/2 cup of applesauce but you never want to use more than 1 cup of applesauce in an entire recipe, so you'll need to keep that in mind. Another option is silken tofu, or a yogurt, but you might need to scale back your applesauce... Only adding as much as necessary to get the mixture to the right wetness. (Dry batter is never good).
Caution:if it's a gluten-free recipe or you're using white flour, you must use the banana or another kind of binder. Whole wheat has gluten, so it will bind on its own without the banana, but white flour (all purpose) doesn't really and gluten-free flours absolutely won't. One of the reasons I like whole wheat so much (aside from it being healthier than white flour) is I don't have to use a binder most of the time.
In Cookies: It really depends on the cookie, but you might be able to get away with peanut butter (though obviously not a low fat option) or pureed beans. See HH's butter bean cookies for guidance.
HH's Black Bean Brownies: I've been unsuccessful trying to omit the bananas -- I find they're needed to give the brownies the right texture and firmness, but a lot of people have left comments saying they've had luck with applesauce if they made other changes to the recipe too (you can dig through the comments here). I've also heard avocado works, but have not tried it myself -- and of course, that would greatly change the nutrition of the recipe.
Have a cooking question for me -- email Lindsay@happyherbivore.com and I'll answer it on the blog!