“Instead Of Water, I Use Stock”: Home Cooks Are Sharing Their Best Ingredient Substitutions, Here Are 30 That Might Help You Level Up The Flavor Game
If you don’t know much about cooking, your impulse when preparing a meal might be to make it exactly according to the recipe. Follow each instruction to a T, and you will certainly receive great results, right? But sometimes, allergies, dietary restrictions, and running out of a key ingredient can get in the way of our adventures in the kitchen. So rather than letting these little roadblocks stump us, we should learn ways to work around them!
One curious home cook, Jnwiggs1, recently asked on Reddit, “What ingredient do you normally replace in your recipes?” and hundreds of fellow kitchen aficionados came through in the replies. From suggestions to maximize flavor to tips that will save you some cash, we’ve gathered all of the best responses down below to help you boost your culinary knowledge. Keep reading to also find an interview with Emese and Nandi of the My Pure Plants blog to hear some of their best ingredient substitution tips, and be sure to upvote the replies you find particularly helpful. Then let us know in the comments what your favorite ingredient swaps are, and if you’re still hungry for even more cooking tips from Bored Panda, we’ve got you covered with this article right here.
To gain some insight from cooking experts who are very familiar with ingredient substitutions and swaps, we reached out to Emese and Nandi of the My Pure Plants blog, which shares vegan and gluten-free recipes that are making me salivate just by looking at the photos. First we wanted to hear a bit about the background of their blog and how it came to be. “We kind of divide and conquer in a sense that Nandi does all the cooking, and Emese does all the baking,” they told Bored Panda.
“For both of us, creating dishes in the kitchen was the ultimate stress release. When you go into the kitchen and concentrate on how to create something from scratch, you forget about the outside world for a while,” they said. “Nandi especially loves to just open the pantry door and see what he can come up with the ingredients we have on hand. Emese on the other hand loves precision and well-thought processes, to understand the science behind baking. Why does it become fluffy or why is it gooey?”
I replace unsalted butter with salted butter. Even in baking. I honestly like the extra salt, especially in desserts since it balances out the sweetness.
Depending on the meal, I will replace liquids with other liquids. Instead of water, I will use stock. Instead of stock, I might use wine. Or vice versa, if I do not have stock, I will use water and then up the flavor elsewhere. If I do not have wine, I might use stock.
“We started My Pure Plants in 2018,” they told Bored Panda. “Actually, we had been searching for something to do instead of our regular jobs that is exciting, rewarding and creative, something we would enjoy doing for a long time. We put our heads together from time to time to discuss opportunities, and during one of these discussions the idea of a food blog came up. And we just knew right then that we could make a great team and that this project would be something we would enjoy immensely. And we still do. Some might say I would never ever work this closely to my spouse, but we just love every minute of it.”
I am sadly allergic to garlic, so I replace it in every recipe with a homemade frozen paste made from shallots, green onions, and red onions. I also add additional fresh shallot.
Not really a replacement per se, but I use canned tomatoes in place of fresh ones unless I can get good local and in-season ones.
Green onions instead of chives. They’re cheaper and i can’t really tell the difference. And I usually have a jar of them growing in my kitchen.
We also wanted to know if they could share some of their top tips for ingredient swaps. “We share recipes that are plant-based and gluten-free as well, which means we have to work with a lot of substitutions,” Emese explained. “In terms of gluten-free cooking there are literally hundreds of recipes where you don’t really need flour but for whatever reasons (usually due to consistency issues) the recipe calls for some. Those ones are the easiest recipes to convert using a bit of cornstarch or tapioca starch instead.”
“We also frequently use potatoes to thicken any soup. Their starch content is perfect to make them creamy,” Emese told Bored Panda. “Breadcrumbs are used in many recipes as a coating, as a binder or as a topping. But if you need something to give the dish a crispy finish that is gluten-free, use crushed corn flakes. They will outperform even panko in terms of crispiness. As for plant-based recipes, our recommendation is to find meals that are naturally vegan (like ratatouille or hummus) or uses the ingredients you already like and start from there. We also found at least 16 different types of sushi that are accidentally vegan as well.”
Onion powder instead of raw onions when I cook for my mother only, because they bother her if not cooked.
As for me though, I use extra raw onions.
I'm a south Indian in the US, fresh coconut is often difficult to come by and processing it for future storage is also challenging on a busy schedule when you're cooking for one. I have found that coconut powder and coconut flakes are excellent substitutes in many dishes which require ground or grated fresh coconut; plus they're shelf stable and can help adjust consistency of the dish too.
Finally, we asked Emese and Nandi if they think it’s possible for any recipe to taste as great as the “original” when some ingredient substitutions are made. “To tell you upfront, finding the perfect plant-based alternatives is not easy,” they admitted. “One option can match the taste, but the texture is horrible. Or the texture is spot-on but the taste is awful. If you are looking to substitute something, you need to decide first which is more important to replicate: texture or taste.”
“However, if someone wants to try a vegan diet, they need to be open-minded and focus on what they can add and not what they need to eliminate. Our favorite shredded meat alternative is for example oyster mushrooms since they have a meaty texture but not too aromatic earthy taste. With the right seasoning they can be turned into gyros, Philly cheesesteak or pulled pork. Ground beef is a common ingredient in many recipes, but there is a plant-based alternative called TVP (textured vegetable protein) which mimics it perfectly. We use them to make meatballs, lasagna, moussaka, or tacos. If you need something to avoid eggs, tofu is the first thing you can try. It has a neutral taste, but a spongy boiled egg white texture. That is why it makes a killer vegan egg salad.”
If you’d like to learn more ingredient swap tips from Emese and Nandi or find delicious plant-based recipes, be sure to check out My Pure Plants right here.
Pecorino Roman for Parmesan. I find Parmesan ,even parmigiano reggiano, are just too subtly flavored. I prefer the more pronounced cheesy funk of pecorino.
Regular breadcrumbs with panko
I never keep buttermilk but always keep heavy cream. 1 tsp vinegar + enough heavy cream to make a cup. Wait 15 min. Viola buttermilk substitute.
There are a number of reasons we might want to substitute or swap ingredients every now and then. Perhaps you’re preparing a recipe that you have made a thousand times, and you just need to get creative and mix it up. Maybe you’re hosting friends who have a nut allergy or are gluten-free. Or perhaps your doctor recommended that you cut back on your meat consumption, so you want to start experimenting with plant-based versions of your favorite recipes.
The great thing about cooking is that experimentation is encouraged. It is best to learn the rules first before you begin to break them, but the tips on this list are tested and pre-approved by the hundreds of people who recommended them. So if you always make your curry exactly as the recipe describes, maybe it’s time to get creative with the vegetables or protein included. You never know when you’ll find a swap you actually prefer to the original!
When I don’t have oyster sauce or fish sauce I use Worcestershire sauce
I never buy brown sugar…I just add molasses to white sugar. That way I can control the darkness easily.
For almost all dips and dressings I sub greek yogurt for Mayo.
It is very easy to slip into habits in life and everything can become routine, including what meals we eat. I have to admit that my partner and I cycle through about 10 meals regularly and occasionally add in a new one when we’re feeling crazy. But one thing I do love to do is change up the vegetables and proteins. The general vibe of the meal can be the same, but it does not always have to have the exact same ingredients. That can get boring quite fast, and our bodies thank us for fueling them with wide range of nutrients. And while I may not know too much about cooking, I do know that whatever you want to eat can be made in a variety of ways.
I have been vegan for over 6 years now, and I have to admit that making that transition made me much more creative in the kitchen. If there was something I wanted that was not sold in stores or prepared in a restaurant nearby, I had to start experimenting. And while there are countless blogs online of chefs and home cooks sharing their best tips and tricks of the trade, the best way to decide what swaps you prefer is to just get cooking.
Oils and vinegars. Like I already have 5 kinds of vinegar and I’ll be damned if I’m going out to get yet another just for this one meal.
Usually replace anchovies with a vegan umami source because they wig me out so I don’t keep them in the house
I use ghee instead of butter or oil for a lot of cooking.
Now, I completely understand that not everyone wants to start eating plant based all the time, but it’s useful to know how to prepare meals in a variety of ways. You never know when a sneaky allergy will pop up, you’ll have a child with an intolerance, or you will host a guest who is vegetarian for religious reasons. Plus, grocery stores run out of products and inflation has affected how many of us shop. We cannot always buy the exact same ingredients, so it is practical to have back-up plans on hand. Some of the suggestions on this list might seem odd or far-fetched at first, if you are set in your culinary ways, but I implore you all to keep an open mind, pandas. Even if it’s a small swap, like using ghee instead of regular butter, you might be surprised by how delicious the outcome is!
Mirin. A lot Japanese recipes tend to call for both mirin and sugar, I don't like sweetness too much in my savory dishes so I switch to Japanese sake instead.
I replace water with black coffee for boxed baking recipes.. and milk with almond milk for almost everything.
For anything calling for raw onions in the finished product, I rehydrate dried onions and use those. I am allergic to raw onions, but I can tolerate and even enjoy rehydrated dried ones. My favorite use for them is in salsa, they soak up the extra tomato juice that gets released while it sits overnight and it ends up perfect. I use fresh onions if whatever I'm cooking will cook them down until they're translucent and soft.
Some of the suggestions on this list are purely taste-based as well, which I fully support. If I am making banana bread or pancakes, it is implied that I’m adding chocolate chips and cinnamon to them, regardless of what the recipe says. One of the recommendations is also to add twice the amount of garlic called for in a recipe, which I naturally do as well. When we start listening to our intuition and our preferences, cooking can become much more fun. If you don’t like onions, don’t add them to the recipe just because it calls for them. (Although I personally would add more onions than are called for, we all have our preferences.) Fennel or celery can be a great swap if you have an allergy, or if you tell people you have an allergy just because you don’t like them. Recipes are a great jumping off point, so the vast majority of us who are not chefs don’t have to reinvent the wheel when cooking. But don’t feel the need to stick to them religiously.
I’m vegetarian so basically any dish that has chicken or pork in I sub with tofu. It’s got a very neutral flavor so depending on how you season and cook it, it can takes like whatever you want it to.
Smoked paprika with regular paprika. I cannot stand the smoke flavor. Tastes too fake to me.
Cottage cheese in place of ricotta. Less salty and less fat, especially if you can find salt free and low fat versions.
Home made spice combinations instead of mixtures, less salty. Literally just read the back of the bottle it will tell you whats in there.
Anchovy sauce in place of msg. The savory saltiness of it works just as good
Vinegar or lemon juice in some cases when you need a acid.
Sugar /honey/ artificial sweetener. Whichever you have on hand.
Almond/soy/coconut milk works with a lot of recipes just as well with regular milk.
Croutons, soup crackers, ritz etc instead of breadcrumbs or literally old dry bread that you crush. The croutons worked amazing with some parmesan styled chicken.
Some vegetables can be switched say specific potatoes varieties or radish for daicon, cabbage instead of bok choi.
When it comes to cooking, each component serves a specific purpose, so if it is substituted for another ingredient with similar properties, it will often work just fine. For example, butter and oil can be substituted for one another in many recipes because they are both fats. Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar are both acids, so they can often be used interchangeably as well. And if you’re looking for a vegan alternative to honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are two other liquid sweeteners that will do the job just as well. There are also a wide variety of different flours out there if you’re looking to mix up your recipe or you’ve developed a gluten allergy. Don’t be scared of ingredient substitutions! There are plenty out there that will work in the vast majority of recipes.
Oo, I've always wondered about this one. I constantly hear people using fish sauce in places where I would use worcestershire sauce (e.g. a tomato pasta sauce) but I've been curious if that means you could use worcestershire sauce in a south east Asian dish
I replace anything that calls for sugar with Swerve. It's a diabetic-friendly sugar substitute that doesn't have the weird aspartame aftertaste.
Pecorino romano is unavailable to me living in Singapore. I just sub in parmeggiano in 100% situations.
Guanciale is also impossible to procure for reasonable cost. I just use bacon.
Also, all those different peppers...serranos, pimentos, anaheim, banana...you dont get them in Singapore. Either generic green chilli or if you're lucky jalapenos.
We hope you’ve gained some valuable tips from this list that will help you elevate your cooking skills. The next time you run out of an ingredient you thought you needed, don’t panic! Consult this list, do a quick Google search and get creative. I might not recommend doing these experiments on Thanksgiving Day or when you’re preparing food for your wedding, but most of the time, you can absolutely swap ingredients and everyone will be equally as happy as if you hadn’t. Keep upvoting the tips you find most useful, and then feel free to share your own tips with your fellow pandas in the comments below! I would love to expand my culinary knowledge, so I’ll be looking forward to your replies.
I do not like the flavor of lemon, but I recognize its purpose as an acid, so I usually substitute it with either white distilled or white wine vinegar.
Celery. It’s the REAL devils lettuce. I always replace it with green bell pepper.
Taste, texture, nutritional value. It’s all bad.