Most recipes for meatballs include the use of breadcrumbs as a binder to help hold the balls together. Sometimes breadcrumbs may be unavailable, or for dietary reasons it may be necessary to leave them out. In these cases, there are several substitutions and alternatives available to the savvy cook.

Option 1:

Substitute quick oats for the corresponding quantity of breadcrumbs. If desired, the oats can be made finer by putting them in a food processor or blender.

Option 2:

Replace the bread crumbs with a corresponding quantity of cooked multigrain cereal. The consistency of the cooked cereal is similar to that of ground meat, and it helps the meatballs retain moisture.

Option 3:

Use thick white sauce instead of a dry binder to help moisten and hold the meatballs together. This is not unusual in classic French cuisine, and can give an especially fine texture. Thicken the white sauce with cornstarch or arrowroot for a gluten-free version.

Option 4:

Work the meat mixture for the meatballs until it begins to form visible strands. This is caused by myosins, the proteins in the muscle tissue that make it contract. Like gluten strands in bread dough, the strands of myosins will help the meatballs hold together. Meatballs made this way will have a soft, almost creamy texture.

Option 5:

Use a small amount of heavy cream to moisten the meatballs. The fat and milk proteins in the cream will provide a modest amount of binding power, and will give the meatballs a rich flavor.

About the Author

Fred Decker

Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including, and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.