Substitutions in Raw Food

by Susan on April 23, 2010

There is not a day that goes by without an email in my box asking about substitutions for ingredients in my raw food recipes. It seems that there are a lot of nut allergies, gluten allergies, or just people who don’t like a particular ingredient. Some people can’t get certain ingredients. What ever the reason, it is a constant issue without a clear cut answer.

Let’s start with nuts. Why do we use so many nuts? Because nuts are a healthier substitution for other more unhealthy ingredients such as butter and flour. We grind nuts to make flour and soak and blend them for beautiful cream sauces. They make fabulous nut-milks. Nuts are very versatile in raw food recipes. But when you want to substitute the nuts, you are actually asking to substitute the substitution.

In some recipes, such as nut crusts, substituting one nut for another is not a big deal. It will not affect the final outcome. You can easily interchange pecans for walnuts, or almonds for macadamia nuts. It will change the taste, of course, but it will still work.

In other applications, substituting is not so straight forward. Cashews are used a lot for their consistency and mild taste and can’t easily be substituted by another nut. You simply won’t get the same results in consistency or taste.

Creating recipes is a bit of a science project. I strive for balance between taste and texture. When you work at refining a recipe, every ingredient exists in an inter-dependent relationship with the others. Meaning, change one ingredient, and you change how everything relates to each other. So, substitutions are just not that easy. Without completely remaking a recipe, and working through each substitution, seeing how it affects the other ingredients and the final outcome, it is a question that is not easily answered.

I would suggest that if you have an aversion to something, whether it be nuts, or grains, experiment! If you have success, I would love to hear about it!

A note on young coconuts I have tried reconstituting dried coconut to substitute for young coconut without success. Dried coconut comes from mature coconuts and has a completely different texture.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Marly April 23, 2010 at 10:34 am

Great post. Hey, is that a picture of a raw egg in that dish? I was curious if that meant eggs are a part of raw food diets. We’re vegan so we don’t eat eggs, but just curious. Also, I read recently that all nuts purchased in the US have gone through some sort of pasteurization process. Does that mean they are not technically raw? I plan to add more raw foods to my diet. Thanks for your site. It is very helpful on that journey!


Susan April 23, 2010 at 10:35 am

Marly, lol…no…it is a bowl of agave. Raw eggs do not fit in my vegan raw site. :-) Some raw people do raw meat and dairy but not me!!! And yes, nuts are pasturized. You can read more about it here:


Mindy April 23, 2010 at 11:54 am

LOL, that agave does kind of look like an egg :). I appreciate this post. We can feel so nervous and apprehensive when trying new things. As a not-super-accomplished cook, I have been excited to discover how fun it can be to experiment with raw foods. I can almost always find a way to convert a recipe I find I don’t care much for into something that is at least palatable. I use substitutions all the time. Nowadays, due to time and money constraints and wanting to be more responsible about the way I use gasoline, I don’t consider rushing off to the store for a missing ingredient; and of course, depending on where you live, some things just aren’t readily available, or may not be accessible at all. I’m always aware that the completed dish probably tastes a little or a lot different from the original recipe, but if it’s still good, what the heck!

Interesting how many people suffer from nut phobias. I can’t really afford to mail order in the “Truly Raw” nuts, but in my opinion even the steamed “raw” nuts are far more healthful than the greasy, heavily salted and roasted nuts that most people eat. Old rancid oils and stale nuts (masked by various artificial flavorings and other dubious chemicals) – definitely not health promoting! That’s what most nut averse people were probably avoiding, and should avoid. I recently visited Dr. Weil”s web site and blog. Some time ago I went and learned he doesn’t think the raw diet is a great idea (hmm). He said he had visited raw restaurants, and though the dishes were tasty, he thought the diet used far too many nuts! Here’s the interesting thing. Two posts in the list of recent posts were on nuts! One post was on cashews and one on pistachios, both heavily touting all the wonderful vitamins and minerals (double hmm). Oh well.


Tine April 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thank you for this encouraging post, but really, the great recipes you present on this site give me even MORE courage to give different ingredients a whirl. Also, eating raw has REALLY reminded me what so many foods truly taste like without butter, sugar or overpowering additives and it’s those tastes that are fun to consider and mix.


Kyle Weber April 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I’m not sure if anyone has asked this before or if you’ve ever looked into it, but I’ve heard mixed messages on using Agave. I’ve heard it’s a great substitute, but then I’ve also read that it is one of the last things you should put in your body. I’ve used it for about 2 years now & I love the taste, but I want to make sure that it’s a good substitute.


Kyle Weber April 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm

So of course right after I post my question, I see that you’ve already written about it! :) So just scratch that above post! :)


Catherine April 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thank you for the post. It did answer my question about the use of fresh coconuts. I guess living in the wilds has its price. But when I get a chance to visit family “Outside” –the lower 48, I will give these amazing recipes that call for fresh coconut a try. Keep creating!


Lola April 24, 2010 at 6:26 pm

We can’t tolerate much nuts, so have found it better for our health to subsitute some grains – sprouted – in place of nuts. For instance, I’ve got a couple of nice pie crusts: one uses buckwheat and the other raw oats, instead of nuts.


Jean April 24, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Our son has a nut allergy so I tend to find recipes I can sub sunflower seeds for nuts. I also use hemp seeds and chia when possible.


Christine April 25, 2010 at 5:52 am

Hi! I live in Spain and it is really hard to get young tai baby coconuts. I found one shop, but they are expremley pricy and I think they are not organic. Anybody has an idea or experience how to replace them. There are so many recipes for desserts which contain Thai Baby Coconut…
Thank you very much!


jasmyn campbell April 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Here’s my experience and two cents on the nuts. Many nuts are not toxic. The molds that are on them are mildly to intensely toxic. Cashews and Pistachios are in the poison ivy family and are by their nature toxic. If people have an allergic response to nuts that do not belong to a toxic family, then check for mold sensitivity and other immune issues. The sensitivities could be a precursor for issues down the road. Hope everyone has a great day.


Katherine April 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I’ve never had success with coconut anything. If you figure it out; you’re impressive!


Shannon May 31, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Hey, my husband and son are both allergic to nuts and I’m trying to decide what would make a good crust for a pie or base for a cake. Would either coconut, finely ground, or sunflower seeds work? I suspect they’d both change the flavour of course, but would they still be good, do you think?


Shannon June 1, 2010 at 11:42 am

Oh, I also thought about getting raw oats and grinding them up, would that make a good sub?


Samantha February 16, 2013 at 9:56 am

I have a recipe book from one of my favorite raw food restaurants. It contains a lot of the dishes I’ve eaten there and love. I’m getting back into raw foods and have been wanting to revisit these recipes. Unfortunately I’m allergic to sunflower seeds and it seems like every other recipe in the book, including my top favorites, seems to have sunflower seeds as a main ingredient. I love how creamy they get and how their subtle flavor can be spiced to taste like any type of world cuisine. Is there anything I can use in their place? I have no problems with any other nuts or seeds.


Robin March 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm

My son and I are both allergic to coconut. Is there anything that can be substituted for it in recipes? I read somewhere that there IS NO substitute for coconut. I have posted this question several other places and have had no real response. Can ANYONE help with this? It is hard to make raw desserts (as a newbie) without coconuts….


Cydni July 28, 2013 at 9:58 am

We’ve just recently found out my daughter is allergic to all nuts, including coconut. It makes it challenging to find healthy alternatives. Samantha, what is the cookbook you have? We can use seeds so I would love to look through the book you have that uses sunflower seeds.


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