The Ultimate Guide to Common Ingredient Substitutions
Every person who cooks or bakes knows that ingredient substitutions are necessary and often inevitable. Whether you plan it or not, you’re bound to need a substitute for one or more ingredients at a time.
Knowing the best alternatives for your favorite and most common ingredients can go a long way when it comes to completing a recipe. Continue reading this blog to learn the basic substitutions for dairy products, spices, and meats.
Dairy Ingredient Substitutions
Dairy products can be found in almost every recipe. This makes knowing these ingredient substitutions helpful for anyone who cooks or bakes on a regular basis.
People substitute dairy ingredients for a variety of reasons including calorie intake, dietary needs, or simply because they forgot to pick it up at the grocery store. Below, we’ve covered the most common dairy ingredient substitutions for you to use in any situation.
Thicker than milk, cream is used in savory and sweet dishes. As you look at recipes that include cream, you may find that they are asking for either heavy cream or whipping cream.
Heavy cream is often used in soups and sauces, and as a rich finishing touch to some desserts. On the other hand, whipping cream is lighter, making it ideal for delicate toppings or fillings.
Both creams consist of virtually the same ingredients, the main difference between the two is their fat content. Because of this, you can often use the same substitutes for both, all you need to do is choose your desired type of milk.
Whether it’s heavy cream or whipping cream you need, try using one of the following substitutes.
- Milk and butter: ¼ cup of melted butter with ¾ cup of milk.
- Soy milk and olive oil: ⅔ cup of soy milk and ⅓ cup of olive oil.
- Milk and cornstarch: 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 1 cup of milk.
- Dry milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract: ½ cup of cold water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and ½ cup of dry milk.
Half and Half
Just as the name suggests, half and half is equal parts of whole milk and cream. It’s known as the perfect middle ground for when you need something richer than milk, but not as thick as cream.
If you don’t have half and half in your refrigerator, there’s no need to fret. Consider trying some of these quick and easy substitutions.
- Milk and light cream: ½ cup of milk and ½ cup of light cream.
- Milk and heavy cream: ½ cup of milk and ½ cup of heavy cream.
- Milk and butter: 1-2 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of milk.
Simply put, buttermilk is a fermented and slightly sweeter type of milk used in many baking recipes. You’ll most often find buttermilk in recipes for biscuits, bread, muffins, pancakes, and waffles. Substituting this ingredient is fairly easy since there are a variety of ways to make it right at home.
- Milk and white vinegar: 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 cup of milk.
- Milk and lemon juice: 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 cup of milk.
- Milk and cream of tartar: 1 ¾ cups of cream of tartar and 1 cup of milk.
- Milk and yogurt: ¾ cup of yogurt and ¼ cup of milk.
- Milk and sour cream: ¾ cup of sour cream and ¼ cup of milk.
One of the most common soft cheeses used in cooking and baking, you’ll find cottage cheese is featured in many recipes. However, many homeowners don’t have cottage cheese in their refrigerators ready to go at a moment’s notice, while others don’t like the overall taste or texture.
If you find yourself in either of these situations, you can try swapping out cottage cheese for one of the following products.
- Fromage Blanc
- Egg white
- Greek yogurt
- Sour cream
Another common soft cheese used in recipes is cream cheese. Luckily, cream cheese shares many similarities with other common products, making it one of the easier ingredient substitutions. From bagel shmears to baked goods, these cream cheese alternatives can work wonders in almost any recipe.
- Sour cream
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Silken tofu
Spice Ingredient Substitutions
There are countless types of spices and herbs used when cooking or baking, and because of that, you’ll find that these ingredient substitution choices are almost limitless. However, knowing these can become overwhelming simply due to the large variety of options.
When categorizing spices, the best thing to do is keep things simple. We recommend using 3 basic categories: sweet, mild, and hot. In this section, we’ve listed the most common spice ingredient substitutions based on what you’ll typically see in recipes.
Most often, you’ll find yourself using sweet spices for baking. However, certain savory dishes will call for a hint of something sweet to balance the taste. If you find yourself in need of a sweet spice substitute, consider using one of the following choices.
- Allspice: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, or ground cloves
- Ground cinnamon: ground nutmeg or allspice
- Ground nutmeg: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, or ground mace
- Ground mace: allspice, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, or ground nutmeg
- Ground ginger: allspice, ground cinnamon, ground mace, or ground nutmeg
- Cloves: allspice, ground cinnamon, or ground nutmeg
- Cardamon: ground ginger
- Anise seed: fennel seed or anise extract
Unlike sweet spices, these savory spices are not usually featured in a dessert or baked goods recipe. In this category, you’ll find spices that present peppery, earthy, and more mild flavors. When looking for savory spice substitutes, try using one or two of the following options.
- Oregano: thyme or basil
- Sage: poultry seasoning, marjoram, or rosemary
- Thyme: basil, marjoram, or oregano
- Italian seasoning: basil, oregano, rosemary, and ground red pepper
- Tarragon: chervil, fennel seed, aniseed
- Majoram: basil or thyme
- Saffron: ground turmeric
Just as the name suggests, hot spices are the ingredients that add a kick to your recipes. Whether you’re looking for a lot of spice or just a hint of heat, these hot spice substitutes should do the trick for any favorite recipe.
- Chili powder: hot pepper sauce, dried oregano, and ground cumin
- Cumin: chili powder
Meat Ingredient Substitutions
When people talk about meat ingredient substitutions, they’re often referring to plant-based alternatives. However, sometimes people are looking for substitutions that are not vegan or vegetarian.
In other words, you may still want a meat-based dish, but you don’t have the specific cut or type of meat your recipe calls for. To make finding these ingredient substitutions easier for you, we’ve broken down a variety of meat cuts into 4 main categories: beef, poultry, pork, and seafood.
As one of the most common types of meat, many recipes call for a variety of beef. When substituting beef for another meat, you’ll need to pay attention to the specific cooking method you’re going to use.
For example, steaks are usually cooked for a short time on a grill or stove whereas roasts and stew meats require longer cooking times. Below, we listed popular types of beef and their appropriate substitutes.
- Steak (T-bone, ribeye, top sirloin, or filet mignon): other steak cuts (flank, strip, or skirt), bison steak, or pork chops
- Steak (Flank, strip, or skirt): other steak cuts (T-bone, ribeye, top sirloin, or filet mignon), bison steak, chicken breast, or turkey cutlets
- Ground beef: ground bison, ground turkey, ground chicken, ground pork, or ground lamb
- Roasts (round or chuck): beef stew meat, pork shoulder, or whole chicken
- Beef stew meat: roasts (round or chuck), ground beef, or ground bison
Poultry, or meat from a chicken, is the most common meat eaten in the U.S. When you are substituting different types of poultry, you want to consider the cooking methods and the thickness of the cut. See the list below to find what the best substitutes are for each type.
- Whole bird: cornish game hen, chicken thighs, chicken drumsticks, chicken breasts, or whole duck
- Breast: chicken tenders, chicken thighs, ground chicken, pork chops, turkey cutlets, white fish (cod or halibut), or steak (sirloin or skirt)
- Thighs: chicken drumsticks, chicken wings, chicken breasts, or sausage (links)
- Wings: chicken drumsticks, or chicken thighs
- Drumsticks: chicken thighs, chicken wings, pork tenderloin, or pork chops
- Ground chicken: ground turkey, ground beef, ground pork, or ground lamb
There is a wide variety of pork options, whether it’s making bacon for breakfast or preparing a pork shoulder for dinner, knowing these ingredient substitutions can be helpful when you’re in a pinch.
Just as you do with beef and poultry, you’ll want to think about how you’re cooking your pork before you decide on the best substitute.
- Pork chops: pork tenderloin, chicken thighs, chicken breasts, steak (sirloin or skirt), salmon, cod, or halibut
- Loin: pork shoulder, chicken drumsticks, or roasts (round or chuck)
- Tenderloin: pork chops, chicken breasts, or chicken thighs
- Pork shoulder: pork loin, or roasts (round or chuck)
- Ground pork: sausage (loose), ground beef, ground chicken, or ground turkey
- Sausage (loose or links): ground pork, chorizo, chicken sausage, turkey sausage, or chicken thighs
- Bacon: pancetta, prosciutto, Canadian bacon, Serrano ham, or turkey bacon
Different fish come in a variety of textures and tastes, making substitutions tricky at times. However, with the right information, you can learn the best ways to substitute the most common types of seafood with ease. Below, we covered the most common types of seafood used in recipes.
- Salmon: arctic char, cod, tuna, chicken breasts, or shrimp
- Tuna: swordfish, Mahi Mahi, halibut, salmon, shrimp, chicken breasts, or steak (sirloin or skirt)
- Tilapia: flounder, trout, red snapper, grouper, cod, or shrimp
- Shrimp: scallops, tilapia, or cod
- Scallops: shrimp, cod, or tilapia
- Mussels and clams: oysters, scallops, cod, tilapia, or shrimp
Substituting ingredients may be necessary, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a beginner in the kitchen, knowing the best ingredient alternatives can make following any recipe easier and more enjoyable.
If you want to learn more common substitutes that can be used while baking, read our common baking ingredient substitute guide.
Need fresh ingredients for your favorite recipe? Visit our online grocery store today to see what we have to offer.