Carrot cake is an amazingly delicious cake, for being made with carrots. Despite the name, its general flavor is nowhere near anything carrot-like. The carrots help with sweetness, but the flavor isn’t carrot. If anything it’s more like a pumpkin pie.
But what do you do when you don’t want to use carrots in your carrot cake recipe ? Maybe you don’t like carrots, maybe you can’t find any carrots, or maybe you just want to try something else. That’s okay, there’s a few things you can try, some sweet and some less sweet. So here are the substitutes you can use in place of carrots in a carrot cake.
Best carrot substitute for carrot cake
The best substitutes for carrots in carrot cake are pumpkin or butternut squash, papaya, shredded zucchini, shredded coconut, or finely chopped pineapple. Which you use depends on how far you’re willing to stray from the original flavor and recipe.
What we’re looking for in a carrot substitutes is:
- texture, carrots are a bit of a crunch even when shredded
- color, they show through the cake
- mild sweetness, or no flavor at all if it can’t be sweet
The ideal substitute would have all of those three attributes, but sometimes you need to compromise this for that. So some of the items on this list have all three, some have only a couple of them. You use whatever you think works best for your tastes.
Read also: Why Carrots Are Orange
If you’re thinking of substitutes such as parsnips or beets, know that we haven’t included them on this list as their overall flavor is too earthy. They could work, if you want to give them a try, but we’re not responsible for any flavor mishaps. For safer results, you can try the substitutes below.
Pumpkin or butternut squash
This is our default replacement, and you can use them either cooked or raw. After all you eat both pumpkin and butternut squash cooked, but they’re also good when they’re raw.
So, grated pumpkin or butternut squash will be sweet, orange, and slightly crunchy. You may be wondering if they won’t sweat a lot and ruin your cake. They will sweat, but you can adjust the moisture content in your recipe, lower it to account for these sweating in the oven. It won’t be a puddle of pumpkin juice, but it will be a little moist, just like carrots.
Another idea would be papaya, as long as you peel it very well both on the outside and the inside (where the seeds are). Papaya isn’t overly sweet, and can remind you of pumpkin flavor-wise.
The only area it’s lacking in is texture, as a ripe papaya is softer than a carrot, and it’s kind of juicy. Still, it can work very well for flavor and color. Just don’t expect the same kind of texture, it’ll me something more uniform and less crumbly.
Zucchini, if color isn’t important
If zucchini’s all you have and you have plenty of them, you can definitely used them in place of carrots. They’ll get softer, so you may want to shred them a bit thicker, and be sure to let them drain most of their water. Zucchini has this added benefit of keeping the cake very moist without bringing additional flavor, so your cake won’t taste like food.
Still, it won’t be the color you’re looking for. Be sure to use the lighter colored ones, to avoid bits of bright greens ticking out from the cake. These guys are fairly cheap and you can do a whole lot of things with them if you somehow don’t end up using all of them in the cake.
Shredded coconut has the texture down pat, as does it have a mild sweetness just like carrot. But, it’s not carrot. It’s definitely coconut and anyone eating this cake will notice it straight away, no matter the spices used.
Now it’s up to you if you like coconut with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and so on. They can definitely work together, but it’s not for everyone. Using coconut would be altering the recipe a little, since coconut isn’t moist by any means.
You’d need to shift more towards vanilla, and less spices if you want this to work well.
Finely chopped pineapple
Another option is to use finely chopped pineapple. This one will definitely be juicy, sweet, and provide texture and a bit of crunch. It’s got its own flavor, so like coconut it will be obvious it’s not carrot.
Make sure you adjust the moisture level
A very important point about any recipe when substituting ingredients is adjusting it to get the same end result. So if your carrots are somewhat moist when shredded, and your substitute is pretty much wet (like zucchini) then you’ll have to reduce the amount of moisture in the recipe.
Maybe less milk, less apple sauce, less oil or butter, you know what your recipe calls for.
Another point is the sugar in the recipe. Carrots are somewhat sweet, but pumpkins and papaya are sweeter. Zucchini is the only one with no sweetness at all, so that’s there you’ll maybe have to add more sugar.
Keep in mind that papaya and pineapple both contain an enzyme that breaks down protein. This means your cake could end up decidedly crumblier, as the egg won’t have the same binding power.
You can still use cream cheese frosting
Whatever substitute you use, it will work great with cream cheese frosting, don’t worry. You can blend some of the spices into the frosting, if you’re not sure it will go well.
Adjust flavor with spices
If you’re worried about the flavor being slightly off, you can adjust it with spices. In the end, carrot cake doesn’t really taste like carrots, because there are so many spices to cover it up. Carrots are there to provide sweetness and texture, not really for flavor. Well, there is a subtle hint but it’s easy to confuse with pumpkin if you’re not very sharp.
And as we all know, whenever fall rolls around, the spices in a pie or cake make up more of its flavor than the rest of the ingredients. Just take a look at the pumpkin spice craze and you’ll notice the spice packets have barely any actual pumpkin in them.
The same is true for carrot cake. Sure it has carrots, but we associate the flavor with the spices, not the carrots themselves. So going a bit heavy with the spices is a sure way to cover any potentially weird flavors.
And that’s pretty much it ! You can use any of the above ingredients to substitute carrots easily, it all depends on what you’re most comfortable with. We really recommend subbing with pumpkin as it brings you the closest flavor, but it’s entirely up to you.
If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.