When you have a tree nut allergy, sometimes it feels like there are nuts in just about everything. From sauces and stir fries, granola and salads, through to the delicious carrot cake or crunchy chocolate slice. Sometimes it’s possible to just leave the nuts out of a recipe. But other times the dish really needs the added texture that nuts bring. Or maybe you are looking for a quick snack to serve with drinks, and the usual bowl of nuts isn’t an option. After cooking without nuts for over a decade, we’ve put together a list of delicious nut substitutes for all types of dishes.
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Tree nuts used in cooking
Tree nuts are widely used in cooking, both sweet and savoury. They can be used whole, chopped, ground (such as in pesto and curries) or even made in to nut flours used in baking. Common types of tree nuts include:
- brazil nuts;
- macadamias; and
- pine nuts.
Despite having “nut” in the name, coconut is not actually a tree nut. And peanuts are not a tree nut, they are actually a legume. But some of these nut substitutes also work as an alternative to peanuts too.
How to choose a good nut substitute
What you choose as a nut substitute in cooking and baking will depend on whether your dish is sweet or savoury. It’s also important to keep in mind the flavour of your nut substitute, and whether it is going to blend with the flavours of your dish. Also consider the texture you are trying to achieve.
If you have other food allergies – like legumes or seeds – make sure to consider these as well when choosing your ingredients. For some nut substitutes such as seeds, if you buy them pre-packaged you will need to be aware of any “may contain” precautionary labels. Often these products are packaged in the same facilities as nuts.
Whatever you choose, all of these allergy-friendly nut substitutes will replace the crunch of nuts in your cooking and snacks. Here are some of our favourite alternatives to nuts for allergies.
#1 – Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Pepitas are a type of edible pumpkin/squash seed. They are a pale green colour and quite crunchy. Ways to use pepitas as an alternative to nuts include:
- scattered over savoury dishes like soups or salads;
- added to porridge or overnight oats;
- to replace nuts in granola;
- in crackers, muffins or breads;
- to replace blended nuts like pine nuts, cashews and almonds in sauces, pesto and dips;
- as an addition to sweet biscuits, cakes and slices (good to replace walnuts in carrot cake or banana bread).
And of course some people like to just eat them by the handful as a snack.
We love pepitas for taste and texture, like in our pineapple salad with cucumber and mint.
Lightly toasting the pepitas on a baking tray in the oven for 5-10 minutes helps to make them crisp and give them a nuttier taste. We used lightly toasted pepitas as a pine nut substitute in our dairy and nut free basil pesto.
#2 – Sunflower seeds
You may know of sunflower seeds as the large black and white striped or black seeds with shells. When the shells are removed, inside are small, light grey coloured seeds that are a great substitute for nuts in cooking.
Sunflower seeds can be used in many of the same ways as pepitas or pumpkin seeds. Whole, chopped or even blended to make a sunflower seed butter. They are especially good for replacing pine nuts in a lot of recipes due to the slightly oily texture.
You can also lightly toast sunflower seeds before using to bring out the nutty flavour.
Gerbs Allergy-Friendly Foods sell tree nut free sunflower seeds.
#3 – Chickpeas
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are another versatile nut substitute. They are good for a lot more than making hummus. (Although we have a great allergy-friendly hummus recipe for you to try!)
The humble chickpea really comes into its own as a nut substitute when roasted. This gives them the delicious crunch needed to replace nuts in your cooking.
Roasted chickpeas can be used instead of nuts in pesto or added to salads.
They also make a great snack when you crave something salty. We like to roast chickpeas on an oven tray with a little oil, maple syrup and sea salt. You can be adventurous and add spices to your roast chickpeas, or any flavouring you like.
#4 – Toasted soy beans (soya beans)
If you aren’t allergic to soy, soy beans can be a versatile nut substitute. Roasted soy beans are delicious and crunchy and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes.
For an allergy-friendly version of fruit and nut chocolate, try melting your favourite allergy safe chocolate and adding toasted soy beans and raisins. Pour into a dish to set and you have your own block of fruit and nut-free chocolate.
#5 – Rolled oats
Rolled oats are a really good way to add texture to food where nuts might otherwise be used. Especially if the oats are toasted, like they are in granola. You can easily brown raw rolled oats in the oven first to add some crunch and nutty flavour.
Oats work well as a nut substitute in baked goods like breads, slices and cookies. You can also sprinkle toasted oats over foods to add some nut-like texture.
#6 – Puffed rice cereal
Everyone loves chocolate crackles, but there are lots of other ways to use puffed rice cereal (Rice Bubbles or Rice Krispies) in desserts that need a bit of crunch. The great thing about rice cereal is that it doesn’t have a strong flavour, so it is a really good replacement for milder tasting nuts like almonds.
Try adding rice cereal instead of nuts to your brownies. They are also a great substitute for almonds and hazelnuts in chocolate treats. Rice cereal would be a perfect addition to rocky road, like our nut and dairy free Christmas rocky road.
Our favourite Australian brand of allergy-friendly chocolate, Sweet William, makes delicious chocolate with rice crackle (that is also gluten, peanut, tree nut and dairy free). They also have individually wrapped rice crackle koalas! Aussie Health Products stock both the Sweet William rice crackle chocolate and koalas, often on sale.
#7 – Pretzels
This may sound surprising, but pretzel snacks are a great nut substitute in baking and desserts. Especially if they are salted! The combination of sweet and salty is delicious, as you would know if you have ever tried chocolate coated pretzels.
Broken up or crushed pretzels make a great topping for chocolate bark. You can mix pretzel pieces into brownies in place of nuts. Or try crushing some pretzels and using on top of an ice cream sundae.
Or course, a bowl of crunchy pretzels is a great alternative to the usual bowl of nuts as an allergy-friendly snack.
Make sure to choose allergy-friendly pretzels, especially if you have a wheat allergy. If you need to avoid wheat/gluten, Shar Salinis snacks (gluten free, dairy free and vegan) or Eskals gluten free pretzels may suit. These products do contain soy. As always, read all ingredients carefully to make sure ingredients are suitable for your allergies.
#8 – Honeycomb toffee
What exactly is honeycomb toffee? No, we don’t mean the waxy honeycomb that bees make. It’s a light and crunchy type of toffee made from heating sugars (usually honey, golden syrup and caster sugar) with bicarb soda. The resulting crunchy and air-filled toffee has the perfect texture to replace nuts in sweet treats.
Honeycomb pieces obviously aren’t going to be a good nut substitute in your savoury soups and salads, but it’s a different story in your sweet treats and desserts.
You can add it to rocky road slice, scatter over chocolate bark, use honeycomb shards to decorate your cakes or cookies or even just sprinkle it over ice cream. Obviously honeycomb is very sweet, so just make sure that your dish can handle an extra sugar boost.
If you are buying honeycomb, just be careful to check the ingredients for any allergens and precautionary statements. Some honeycombs contain milk (butter) or are combined with nuts.
#9 – Chocolate chips
Another sweet option in our list of nut substitutes is chocolate chips. Allergy-friendly chocolate chips can add texture to your desserts in place of nuts.
If you are going to bake with chocolate chips, they will obviously melt and lose some of that texture. Chocolate chips will work better in foods that aren’t cooked as long, like our allergy-friendly crunchy cornflake cookies.
When using chocolate chips to replace the crunch of nuts, its’ best to use them in raw or no bake desserts or for decorating. You can also add dark chocolate chips to your breakfast oats or yoghurt for crunch.
Nut free recipes
We hope this has helped you with some ideas of what to use instead of nuts in your favourite recipes.
For more inspiration, be sure to have a look at our recipe page – all of our recipes are nut free!