Making a substitution in a recipe is often an issue of applying a little bit of knowledge and a lot of common sense (with a dash of Google on occasion!). Generally, if an ingredient is similar in taste and acts similarly when it is cooked, it will make a decent substitute.

Sometimes we substitute out of necessity, for example when you forget an ingredient or if you have an allergy to a certain ingredient. Other times it is simply a choice we make to save a little money or to change a recipe to fit our tastes. Here are a few ingredients that we often receive questions about.

These are general suggestions, so as always, use your best judgement for the particular recipe you have on hand. You may even wish to do a quick internet search just to double check before you cook.

Pantry Staples

Rice:

Generally different types of rice are interchangeable (white, brown, jasmine, etc.) You will just want to make sure that you adjust the liquid and cooking times as appropriate, since each has different requirements. Be careful substituting instant or boil-in-the-bag rice for regular dry rice in recipes as they act differently when cooked. But if the rice is prepared and then added to the recipe, it shouldn’t make much difference.

Oil:

Most cooking oils are interchangeable. You can typically switch between olive, vegetable, or coconut oil without much change to a recipe. Just keep in mind that they all have different smoke points, so if a specific heat is required, you may want to stick with the oil indicated. Some oils, like olive oil, have a distinct flavor and can change a dish. Also note that coconut oil will remain solid at room temperature. In baking, you can substitute applesauce for vegetable oil.

Vinegar/lemon juice:

If it isn’t a major ingredient or flavor in the dish, these two ingredients can be substituted for each other as they are both acidic and will function the same way in the dish.

Potatoes:

You can use just about any potato in a recipe without too much difference in a recipe. They all cook about the same when it comes down to it. Red and golden potatoes can be left unpeeled in most cases, but you will generally want to peel russets.

Pasta:

Feel free to experiment with different pasta shapes in your recipes. Smaller pastas work best in soups, larger shapes tend to be better with sauces, but it is really up to you. You can also substitute gluten free pastas as necessary.

Ground Meats:

Many people want to switch out turkey or chicken for beef, and this is completely acceptable. Just remember that white meats often have less fat content, so you may need to make slight adjustments depending on the recipe. Ground pork is also an economical substitute in some recipes.

Frozen vs. Fresh Veggies:

Often times you can substitute frozen (or canned) vegetables for fresh in a recipe. Just be sure to adjust cooking times if necessary. Sometimes this is necessary during the winter months when fresh produce isn’t readily available or affordable.

Baking

Almond Flour: 

We often have questions here due to allergies. Almond flour is a grain free alternative that is used as a binding, coating or thickener in recipes. Depending on the recipe and your dietary needs you can substitute flour, bread crumbs, coconut flour, or other thickeners such as cornstarch or arrowroot. Just be sure to do a little research and see how these ingredients with react in the recipe and how they will cook. Some of them are not one for one substitutions, and some will change the way you cook the recipe.

Flour:

Most wheat flours are interchangeable – wheat, white wheat, and white – although all have slightly different densities. For baking, if you are going with the coarser ground wheat flour, you may want to add slightly less and see how your batter looks before adding the full amount. If you want to substitute gluten free flours or other specialty flours, you will want to consult a conversion chart or experiment a little as they all have slight differences.

Sugar:

If you have run out, or would like to reduce your sugar consumption, you can replace white sugar with ¾ cup honey or maple syrup. Other substitutes include brown sugar (cup for cup) or corn syrup (¾ cup for every cup of sugar).

Spices:

Each spice is unique, but some of them have similar flavor profiles. If you are out of one or the spice you need is too expensive, you can often find a passable substitute in your pantry. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano are all savory spices. Often they are used together and you may be able to make a substitute. I never have marjoram, so if I find a recipe calling for it, I use oregano as it is a similar plant.

Cinnamon, ginger, clove, allspice, and cardamom are all often used in recipes with a sweet profile. Depending on the recipe and flavor you’re going for, you could experiment with substituting among them. Just be aware that some are stronger than others, so you may need more or less. Google is a great friend when looking for spice substitutes or a cookbook like The Flavor Bible.

Leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder): 

Here is a situation where the ingredients ARE NOT created equal. You do not want to substitute these different leavening agents (ingredients that make dough rise) for each other. But here are some suggestions should you have a situation.

  • Yeast: There is really no substitute for yeast, but there are different kinds of yeast. 1 cake’s worth of compressed yeast =1 package of regular yeast = 2 tsp of active, dry yeast.
  • Baking Soda: Baking soda, again is unique, but in a pinch you can use baking powder. You will need 3 times the amount of baking powder as baking soda. So if a recipe calls for 1 tsp. of soda, you will need to substitute 3 tsp. powder. If this has too much of an effect on the flavor of the food, you can cut it down to 2 tsp. Baking soda needs acid to work, but baking powder already has the acid added, so you may need to play with other ingredients a bit so as not to change the flavor too much.
  • Baking Powder: If you are out of baking powder, you can substitute 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part baking soda. (For example 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar and 1 Tablespoon baking soda.) You measure out this homemade mixture just like you do regular baking powder, with no changes to the recipe.

(You can also evaluate whether or not you care if the recipe rises. For instance, cookies are basically flat anyway, so if you leave out the baking soda/powder, it won’t make too much difference. However, you do not want to eat bread or a cake that hasn’t risen. )

Egg: 

There are several different substitutes for egg depending on how it is used in a recipe. If it is used as a binding agent, try arrowroot, flaxseed meal (mix 1 teaspoon with ¼ cup water for each egg needed), mayonnaise, or pureed fruit or vegetable. If you are simply adding moisture to a recipe, try milk, buttermilk, yogurt, juice, water, or pureed fruit. For each of these, use ¼ cup of the substitute for each egg.

Dairy

Milk:

If you are dealing with an allergy, look for non-dairy alternatives such as almond, soy, or coconut milk. If you are just out, try another liquid or dairy product depending on the recipe, such as water, juice, yogurt, buttermilk, cream or half and half, evaporated or condensed milk, or sour cream.

Buttermilk:

The buttermilk you purchase at the store has been cultured, much like sour cream or yogurt. Basically it is sour! If you don’t have it on hand or don’t have it available, you can sour your own milk. For each cup of milk add a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice, stir, and let sit about 5 minutes. Then use in your recipe as directed.

Shortening/butter:

These two ingredients can often be used interchangeably in baking. However, if you are cooking and the butter is imparting flavor to the dish, you may not want to use shortening. However, they function basically the same.

Sour cream/yogurt:

These two ingredients are similar in that they are a cultured dairy product and they have roughly the same consistency and function in a recipe.