Gingerbread houses are a popular holiday tradition, especially around Christmas time. They are fun to decorate and make a great edible centerpiece. But what exactly goes into making a gingerbread house? Do traditional gingerbread recipes contain dairy ingredients?
The short answer is that traditional gingerbread does contain some dairy ingredients. Most gingerbread recipes call for butter or shortening, along with eggs and milk. So gingerbread dough is not usually vegan or dairy-free. However, there are ways to modify recipes to create dairy-free gingerbread for those with food intolerances or preferences.
Traditional Gingerbread Recipes
Gingerbread has been around for centuries, since medieval times in Europe. The classic combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and other spices gives gingerbread its distinctive flavor.
Modern gingerbread recipes in the U.S. typically contain:
- Baking soda
- Molasses or brown sugar
- Butter or shortening
The dairy ingredients are usually butter (or vegetable shortening) along with milk and eggs. So traditional gingerbread is not vegan or dairy-free. The butter helps give the gingerbread a rich flavor and texture.
Butter is the most common fat used in gingerbread. It contributes moisture and tenderness. Recipes generally call for around 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter per batch. Margarine can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio if desired for cost or dietary reasons.
Milk is usually used to add moisture and bind the dough. Any type of milk works including regular dairy milk, soy milk, almond milk, etc. The protein and sugars in milk help create a soft, chewy gingerbread texture.
Eggs act as a leavening agent to help gingerbread rise. They also add structure, richness, and browning. Some moisture evaporates when the eggs are baked, leaving pockets of air behind for a cakier texture.
Are Gingerbread Houses Dairy-Free?
Given that traditional gingerbread contains dairy, gingerbread houses also typically contain butter, milk, and/or eggs. However, there are a few exceptions:
- Some gingerbread house kits may be dairy-free, so check the ingredient labels
- Homemade gingerbread houses can be dairy-free if made with a vegan recipe
- Royal icing is dairy-free and can decorate dairy-free gingerbread
Making dairy-free gingerbread is definitely possible for those avoiding milk products. You just need to find or create a recipe made without butter, milk, eggs, etc.
Dairy-Free Gingerbread Recipes
There are plenty of vegan gingerbread recipes out there using oil or dairy-free margarine instead of butter and plant-based milk in place of dairy milk. Some also use egg replacers like flax eggs. For example:
|1/2 cup dairy-free margarine or oil
|1/2 cup dairy-free milk like soy, almond, etc.
|1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water, blended
With simple substitutions like these, you can make completely dairy-free gingerbread for your gingerbread house.
Royal icing is a common gingerbread house decorating ingredient made from powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water. It naturally contains no dairy. So royal icing can help decorate and hold together a dairy-free gingerbread house.
Are Store-Bought Gingerbread Houses Dairy-Free?
When purchasing a pre-made gingerbread house kit, read the ingredients carefully to determine if it is dairy-free. Here’s what to look for:
- Gingerbread: Should not contain butter, milk, eggs, casein, whey
- Icing: Should not contain milk powder, whey powder, casein
- Candy decorations: Avoid milk chocolate and products containing casein or whey
Many major brands like Trader Joe’s, Target, and Walmart now offer dairy-free gingerbread kits using vegan gingerbread dough. The icing is usually dairy-free as well. But always check the labels to be safe if avoiding milk products.
Trader Joe’s gingerbread house kit is dairy-free. The gingerbread pieces are made from a vegan dough containing no butter, eggs or milk. The white royal icing is also vegan.
Target’s Hearth & Hand gingerbread house kits are dairy-free. They use vegan dough made without butter, milk or eggs. The included white icing is dairy-free as well.
Walmart’s Mainstays gingerbread house kits are dairy-free, made with vegan dough and dairy-free icing. Their gingerbread person kits also appear to be dairy-free.
Tips for Making Dairy-Free Gingerbread Houses
Here are some helpful tips for creating your own dairy-free gingerbread masterpiece:
- Find a trusted dairy-free gingerbread recipe as your base
- Use dairy-free “butters” like margarine or oil instead of real butter
- Substitute dairy-free milk such as almond, coconut soy, etc.
- Replace eggs with flax eggs, banana, or commercial egg replacer
- Use royal icing to decorate and hold house together
- Look for dairy-free candy decorations without milk chocolate
- Construct house on a dairy-free base like cardboard or wood
- Refrigerate houses made with real gingerbread dough
With these tips, those avoiding dairy can still get to enjoy making festive gingerbread creations. You may just need to hunt down a good recipe and dairy-free decorations.
Health Concerns with Dairy Ingredients
For those with food intolerances or allergies, it’s important to avoid the problematic ingredients in traditional gingerbread. Here are some common health concerns:
People with lactose intolerance lack enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest lactose, the natural sugar in milk. Consuming dairy ingredients can cause digestive distress and symptoms like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.
A milk allergy triggers an immune response, causing symptoms like hives, swelling, coughing, or difficulty breathing. People with a severe milk allergy must strictly avoid all milk proteins.
An egg allergy causes an overreaction of the immune system to egg proteins. Those with an egg allergy need to avoid foods containing eggs or egg ingredients.
Vegans avoid all foods containing animal products for ethical, environmental or health reasons. Traditional gingerbread contains eggs and dairy ingredients like milk and butter that vegans refrain from eating.
Fortunately, dairy-free gingerbread recipes allow those with milk allergies or on a vegan diet to still enjoy gingerbread houses. The egg-free recipes also accommodate people with egg allergies.
Health Benefits of Vegan Gingerbread
Going dairy-free with gingerbread not only accommodates food allergies and preferences, but also offers some potential health advantages:
- No saturated fat from butter
- No cholesterol found in eggs and dairy
- Rich in whole grains from flour
- Fiber from whole grain flours
- Contains antioxidants from molasses and spices
- No exposure to milk allergens
- Aligns with vegan ethics and diet
So while traditional gingerbread can be heavy in butter, eggs and milk, dairy-free recipes allow you to lighten it up and avoid concerning ingredients. Of course, gingerbread houses are still a sugary treat best enjoyed in moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is gingerbread gluten-free?
No, traditional gingerbread contains wheat flour, so it is not gluten-free. However, there are gluten-free recipes available that substitute the wheat flour with gluten-free flours.
Can you make a gingerbread house without eggs?
Yes, it’s possible to make dairy-free gingerbread by replacing the eggs called for in a recipe with an egg substitute like flax eggs, banana, or commercial egg replacer.
Is gingerbread vegan?
Traditional gingerbread recipes are not vegan because they contain dairy products like butter and eggs. However, there are many vegan gingerbread recipes available by substituting non-dairy ingredients.
Should gingerbread houses be refrigerated or frozen?
Gingerbread made with real gingerbread dough will stay fresher if refrigerated or frozen. This prevents it from drying out and going stale. Decorated gingerbread houses can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
How long do gingerbread houses last?
Edible gingerbread houses made with real gingerbread can last 1-2 weeks when properly stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Just avoid extremely hot or humid conditions that accelerate spoiling.
Traditional gingerbread recipes do contain dairy ingredients like butter, milk, and eggs. So gingerbread houses are typically not dairy-free or vegan. However, there are options available for those avoiding milk products, such as using dairy-free recipes, store-bought kits, and royal icing. With some simple ingredient swaps and careful label reading, even people with food allergies or on vegan diets can create beautiful gingerbread houses this holiday season.