Make the Most of Your Baking with the Help of Ayurvedic Principles
Baking is magical. It brings inconspicuous ingredients together and transforms them into something remarkable, memorable, and delectable. Baking also brings loved ones together.
In the fall and winter, family and friends gather around tables laden with spiced cookies, pumpkin pies, apple crumbles, muffins, and scones. The scent alone of an apple pie coming out of the oven can draw crowds from every corner of the house.
In its essence, baking is sweet. The predominate taste in baked treats is sweet, and the experience of bringing people together is also sweet.
The nature of the sweet taste is to provide softness, heaviness, and density within your body, and it creates an ambiance of coziness and stability among your family and friends.
There is no wonder that so many people turned to baking as a source of comfort during a time of instability and uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic.
Baking is also meditative and predictable. Since it’s an art and a science, careful attention and consideration is taken to ensure consistent outcomes. Each step is certain, lending to a process that is calming and imbued with joy.
How to Bake Ayurvedically to Support Healthy Digestion
Traditionally, there really isn’t much baking in Ayurveda. However, Ayurvedic cooking principles can be applied to almost everything. So how can baking be made Ayurvedic?
That means getting to know the strength of your agni (digestive fire) and the foods that work with your constitution. If you are experiencing weak or sluggish digestion, it’s better to not consume baked sweets, as they can be heavy and difficult to digest.
The qualities associated with baking are soft, heavy, and dense. All of these qualities increase kapha in the body and can slow agni. However, those with a vata-predominant constitution need the tenderness, bulk, and solidity these qualities provide. Pitta-predominant constitutions can also benefit from the qualities of heavy and dense.
The biggest hurdle when it comes to healthy Ayurvedic baking is keeping kapha balanced while not bogging down vata’s variable digestion. Pairing gluten free flours, digestive spices, and natural sweeteners are going to provide the smoothest path to enjoying holiday treats.
We can also use the knowledge of taste and gunas (qualities) to keep kapha happy. Pungent, bitter, astringent, warming, and light ingredients can bring balance to the sweet taste. That might look like pippali gingersnaps, cardamom-pomegranate cookies, or pumpkin-squash pie with almond crust.
Understanding Your Baking Ingredients
Here's a quick reference to some alternative flours and sweeteners, as well as some spices that make a great addition to your baking.
One of the reasons gluten is used in baking is because it creates structure. Its strands are formed through mixing and kneading and cause a mixture of ingredients to come together. During baking, it holds its shape and rises as steam is released from the dough.
Gluten’s structural, sticky nature is what challenges kapha-type digestion, or manda agni. Those with this digestive type may feel a sense of heaviness, bloating, and dullness after eating sweet and glutenous treats.
The benefit of using gluten-free or low-gluten flours is that they often have lighter qualities and are easier for kapha-type digestion. Here are a few of my favorites:
Almond Flour. Light, dry, sweet (GF).
Almond flour can be rather crumbly in baking and is great for shortbread cookies, tart or pie crust, and in combination with other flours in treats like scones, muffins, and cake. Almonds are generally considered sattvic or balancing for all constitutions.
Arrowroot Flour. Light, smooth, sweet (GF).
Arrowroot has traditionally been used in Ayurveda for cooling and soothing pitta dosha. The slimy nature of arrowroot allows it to be used as a natural thickener. It can be used in a flour mixture or added to stewed fruit for pie filling.
Buckwheat Flour. Dry, heavy, warming (GF).
Buckwheat has a nutty and wholesome flavor. It pairs well with other flours for muffins, scones, cakes, and cookies. However, due to the heavy quality, too much buckwheat flour can create very hard cookies (maybe a great swap in that ginger-bread house recipe!). It’s best to use this flour as about 25 percent of your flour ratio.
Brown/White Rice Flour. Light, sweet (GF).
Brown and white rice flour is delicious, and due to its starchy nature, can be used as a large percentage in your gluten-free substitutions. It does well in most recipes for breads, muffins, cakes, and cookies. It has a chewier texture and can be used in a smaller ratio for pie crusts.
Coconut Flour. Light, astringent, sweet (GF).
Coconut flour is like almond flour in texture, so it is best used in combination with other flours. It works well in recipes for cookies, cakes, muffins, and breads. However, coconut flour is very good at absorbing liquid. Because of this, you may need more liquid than you think in a recipe. Additionally, eggs are helpful for binding when using this gluten substitute.
Tapioca Flour. Heavy, smooth, sweet (GF).
Tapioca flour is similar to arrowroot, in that it is often used to bind and thicken sauces, fillings, and baked goods. It is often used in combination with other flours, to encourage them to stick together. It can be used in any baked recipe in combination with other flours and is best in smaller quantities, such as 5–10 percent of your flour amount.
Teff Flour. Dry, light, heating (GF).
Teff flour is an excellent baking substitute when looking to keep kapha balanced. It has an earthy, nutty flavor and provides great structure. It can be used in an assortment of baked goods wherever you might like a multi-grain taste, like breads, rolls, crusts, cookies, and more. It has a strong flavor, so be sure to test out the amount of teff in different quantities. 25–50 percent would be a great starting percentage.
Oat Flour. Heavy, smooth, sweet (GF).
Oat flour makes an ideal wheat replacement. It has similar qualities to gluten flours but is easier to digest for vata-predominant constitutions. It creates a moist, tender, and chewy texture, which makes it ideal for cakes, muffins, breads, scones, and certain cookies.
As mentioned above, the sweet taste is not only what makes baked treats so delicious, but also what brings a quality of connection, coziness, and care to all who enjoy them. That said, incorporating the sweet taste doesn’t mean going crazy with refined sugar.
On the contrary, using less refined sugars and exploring alternative sweeteners can be better in baked goods for minimizing heaviness, sugar stimulation, and ama (toxicity).
Applesauce. Sweet, astringent.
Applesauce is a great natural sweetener, especially if you’ve stewed the apples yourself. They lend moisture and can also assist in bulking the baked goods. Best for muffins, cakes, and chewy cookies.
Bananas. Sweet, cooling.
Depending on the stage of ripeness, bananas serve as a great natural sweetener as well. Ripe bananas are usually ideal for baking purposes.
Coconut Sugar. Sweet, light.
You can use coconut sugar in a similar ratio to regular sugar. It behaves similarly to brown sugar and can be responsible for creating that nice, crispy outer edge of a cookie. You can also use it in crumble topping for a cobbler or a crisp.
Dates and Date Sugar. Sweet, heavy.
If using whole dates, you will need to soak them in water and blend to make a paste prior to adding to your mixture. Alternatively, you can use date sugar. Dates are significantly sweet, so use less than you think, about 50–75 percent of the amount of sugar you would normally use.
Raw Honey. Warming, astringent, sweet.
This delicious sweetener should not be heated or used in baking. However, it can be used to top muffins or breads once cool.
Jaggary. Sweet, astringent.
Similar to sucanat sugar, jaggery is an unrefined cane sugar. It is also used as an anupan (carrier substance) in Ayurvedic preparations.
Maple Syrup. Sweet, cool.
As a liquid, you’ll need to account for the moisture that maple syrup adds to a baked treat. Additionally, it is quite sweet, so you can use 50–75 percent of the normal amount of sugar, as a substitute.
Molasses. Sweet, heavy, warming.
Blackstrap molasses is a thick sweetener, best used in small amounts as it has a potent flavor.
Sucanat. Cool, moist, sweet.
Sucanat is a raw, or unrefined, sugar, which lends a rich flavor in baked goods. It can be used similarly to white sugar.
Cooking with spice is an important expression of Ayurveda, as spices enhance taste, kindle agni, and support easy digestion. The spices below are favorites for fall and winter, as they are warming, flavorful, and excellent for encouraging strong and steady agni.
Ginger. Pungent, sweet.
A little bit of ginger goes a long way, adding spicy sweetness while also warming and stimulating digestion. Best for vata and kapha, ginger can be added to your cookies and crisps for extra flavor and warmth.
Pippali. Pungent, sweet.
A cousin of the well-known black pepper, pippali brings a peppery kick as well as a nourishing and rejuvenating sweet quality. Its nuanced flavor profile makes it a great addition to both sweet and savory recipes.
Cardamom. Pungent, sweet.
Cardamom is a delicious, aromatic spice that helps to support digestion and stimulate the appetite. It works great in all kinds of baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and crisps, and pairs well with things like cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
Cinnamon. Pungent, sweet, astringent.
One of the most beloved baking spices, cinnamon can give just the right sweet and spicy kick to your baked treats. Whether added to cakes, cookies, or crumbles, it can help to kindle digestion and bring warmth to the body.
Clove. Pungent, bitter.
Clove pairs wonderfully with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. It’s another spice that helps to support healthy digestion while conveying a nostalgic and familiar taste of fall and winter treats.
Rosemary. Pungent, bitter.
Rosemary is a warming aromatic herb that is often added to savory baked goods. Whether you have dried rosemary in your spice cabinet or a fresh rosemary bush in your herb garden, try adding it to your next loaf of bread for a fresh, delicious variation.
Garam Masala. Pungent, sweet.
Garam masala is a traditional blend of aromatic spices, used in a wide range of dishes to add flavor and support healthy digestion. While it may not be an intuitive baking spice, you’ll be surprised at its versatility. Try adding it to cookies or your next pumpkin pie!
Bringing It All Together
The best way to experiment with baking is to first make a recipe that utilizes some of the listed ingredients you’d like to try. From there, recreate the recipe by making some substitutions. Try swapping a small percentage with a new flour or sweetener.
If you need a little inspiration to get started baking, here are two of our favorite recipes for this time of year:
- Pippali Gingersnap Cookies
- Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette (try it with pears or apples!)
Love, joy, and compassion can turn a sour baking experience around, toot sweet. With time, consistency, and patience, you’ll discover the alternatives that work best for you and your loved ones. I’m sure your friends and family will be happy to taste-test whatever treats you make!