This post was originally published on October 11, 2016 and updated on December 24, 2019.

This time of year many of us are stocking our cupboards for pie- and cookie-baking season. With the growing interest in natural foods, many of us are also replacing our usual baking ingredients with more natural ones. Some swaps are easy, such as replacing your artificially flavored vanilla extract with the real thing. Others may be more of a challenge. For example, most of the cooking oils on American store shelves are made from genetically modified crops. Bakers are finding that non-GMO Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is a wholesome alternative.

Natural baking pantry staples

Cane sugar
More than half of the American sugar supply comes from sugar beets and almost all of those beets are genetically modified. If you’re trying to avoid GMOs, do what many candy companies are doing and choose cane sugar instead. Search the list of verified products on the Non-GMO Project website.

Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil
This natural, buttery-textured tropical oil is perfect for baking because it doesn’t break down at high heat. It’s an ideal alternative for those classic family recipes which call for vegetable shortening or oils because it’s non-GMO. (Because it has a neutral flavor, you may want to use it 50/50 with butter.) According to the USDA, more than 90 percent of the corn and soy grown in the US is genetically modified. And unlike most edible oils, palm oil is loaded with nutrients, such as vitamin E tocotrienols. All palm oil isn’t the same, however. Choose Malaysian palm oil. This eco-friendly country produces certified sustainable palm oil while caring for its people, environment and resident wildlife.

Natural peanut butter
Peanut butter cookies, pies and bars are family favorites, but they can also be loaded with not-so-healthy ingredients unless you choose that main ingredient carefully. Bargain peanut butter spreads may contain fillers such as soy protein concentrate as well as high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose natural or organic peanut butters made with simpler ingredients such as non-GMO peanuts and natural oils such as Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil.

Real vanilla
This baking essential can be expensive which is why many bakers opt for the imitation variety. But the cheap stuff may contain only a hint of real vanilla. Or it may even contain lignin, a wood pulp byproduct. Consider stocking certified organic whole vanilla beans this baking season. They can be used to make your own extract, or you can use freshly scraped seeds for a richer flavor and aroma.

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