Clever Food Substitutions When Cooking with a Bare Pantry

Woman In Pantry looking for food substitutions

Missing an ingredient? Here is our list of the most common food substitutions for when you just can’t find exactly what you need.

We’ve all been there: You’re halfway through making your favorite dinner or dessert recipe only to find that you are missing a key ingredient.

The only thing worse than having to skip an important ingredient and hoping for the best is having to stop in the middle of what you’re doing to run to the store.

Luckily, there is usually a third option. And that’s to find an adequate substitute for whatever food you’re missing. We’ve created this list of the most common ingredient substitutions to help you through those times when the pantry is bare and going to the store just isn’t an option.

Food Substitutions for Dry Ingredients

Below are some of the most common dry baking and recipe ingredients with substitutions that will work in a pinch. Most of these substitutions work both ways (those shown in bold) just make sure to note the ratios they need to be used in.

  • Baking Powder (1 tsp) – ¼ tsp Baking Soda plus ½ tsp cream of tartar or Baking Soda plus ½ cup of buttermilk (subtract ½ cup of liquid from the recipe)
  • Baking Soda (1 tsp) – Baking Powder (4 tsp) or Potassium Bicarbonate (1 tsp) plus salt (⅓ tsp)
  • Bread Crumbs (1 cup) Cracker Crumbs (1 cup) or Ground Oats (1 cup)
  • Brown Sugar (1 cup) – White Sugar (1 cup – with or without 1/4 cup molasses, will need to reduce liquid in recipe by ¼ cup) or Confectioners’ Sugar (1 cup)
  • Chocolate Chips (1 cup) – Chocolate Candy (1 cup) or Dried Fruit (1 cup) or Chopped Nuts (1 cup)
  • Unsweetened Chocolate (1 oz) – Unsweetened Cocoa (3 tbs) plus 1 tbs shortening or vegetable oil
  • Cornstarch (1 tsp) – Flour (1 tbs) or Arrowroot Powder (1 tsp)
  • Evaporated Milk (1 cup) – Light Cream (1 cup)
  • Gelatin (1 tbs) – Agar Agar (2 tsp)
  • Raisins (1 cup) – Dried Cranberries (1 cup) or Chopped Dry Fruit (1 cup)
  • Rice (1 cup cooked) – Barley (1 cup) or Quinoa (1 cup) or Bulgar (1 cup)
  • White Sugar (1 cup) – Brown Sugar (1 cup) or Confectioners’ Sugar (1 ¼ cup) or Honey (¾ cup) or Corn Syrup (¾ cup)
  • Active Dry Yeast (1 package) – Rapid Rise Yeast (2 ½ tsp) or Compressed Yeast (1 cake)

Food Substitutions for Wet Ingredients

Most wet ingredients have a number of appropriate substitutes you can easily find in your house. When it comes down to it, it is often just a matter of finding the right amount of liquid and fat to replace whatever it is you are missing. In truly desperate circumstances, water and/or oil will do in many cases, though, you may need to add more spices or flavors to the recipe to make up for what you’ve lost.

Just as with the dry foods section, bolded ingredients can be substituted either direction, just note the ratios listed.

  • Barbeque Sauce (1 cup) – Ketchup (1 cup) plus 1tbs liquid smoke
  • Beer (1 cup) – Beef Broth (1 cup) or Chicken Broth (1 cup)
  • Butter (1 cup) – Margarine (1 cup) or Vegetable Oil (⅞ cup) or Lard (⅞ cup) or Shortening (1 cup) (*Note – if your recipe calls for Salted Butter, also add ½ tsp salt except if you are substituting margarine) 
  • Buttermilk (1 cup) – Plain Yogurt (1 cup) or Milk (slightly less than 1 cup) plus 1 tbsp vinegar/lemon juice
  • Bullion (1 tbs) – Broth (1 cup, reduce liquid in recipe by 1 cup) or Stock (1 cup, reduce liquid in recipe by 1 cup)
  • Cream (1 cup) – Evaporated Milk (1 cup) or Milk (¾ cup) plus ¼ cup butter or oil
  • Half and Half (1 cup) – Milk (⅞ cup) plus 1 tbs butter/oil
  • Cream of Tartar (1 tsp) – Vinegar (2 tsp) or Lemon Juice (2 tsp)
  • Egg (1) – Ground Flax Seed (1 tbs) soaked in 3 tbs water or Mayonnaise (3 tbs) or Pureed Tofu (¼ cup) or Banana (½) mashed with baking powder (½ tsp) 
  • Ketchup (1 cup) – Tomato Sauce (1 cup) plus 1 tsp vinegar plus 1 tsp sugar
  • Lemon Juice (1 tsp) – Lime Juice (1 tsp) or Vinegar (½ tsp) or White Wine (1 tsp)
  • Mayonaise (1 cup) – Plain Yogurt (1 cup) or Sour Cream (1 cup)
  • Milk (1 cup) – Plant Milk (1 cup) or Dry Milk (¼ cup) plus 1 cup water or Evaporated Milk (⅔ cup) plus ⅓ cup water
  • Sour Cream (1 cup) – Plain Yogurt (1 cup) or Cream (less than 1 cup) plus 1 tbsp vinegar/lemon juice or Buttermilk (¾ cup) mixed with butter (⅓ cup)
  • Soy Sauce (½ cup) – Worcestershire Sauce (¼ cup) plus 1 tbs water
  • Vegetable Oil for baking (1 cup) – Applesauce or other pureed fruit (1 cup)
  • Wine (1 cup) – Beef/Chicken Broth (1 cup) or Fruit Juice (1 cup) plus 1 tbs vinegar or Water (1 cup)

Spice and Flavoring Substitutions

Last, but possibly most important, here is a long list of spice and flavoring substitutions. You will want to pick the best option for the taste you are going for (savory verse sweet, for instance). Just as with the above sections, bolded items can be substituted with one another on the same line, though you may find better alternatives later on in the list, so be sure to check the full list first.

In general, fresh herbs can be replaced with their dried spice counterpart at a ratio of 3 to 1. In other words, substitute 1 tbs Fresh Herbs with 1 tsp Dried Herbs.

  • Allspice (1 tbs) – Cinnamon (½ tsp) plus Cloves (¼ tsp) plus Ginger (¼ tsp)
  • Cinnamon (1 tsp) – Nutmeg (1 tsp) or Cloves (1 tsp) or Allspice (¼ tsp)
  • Cumin (1 tsp) – Chili Powder (1 tsp)
  • Garlic (1 clove) – Garlic Powder (⅛ tsp) or Garlic Salt (½ tsp, use about ¼ tsp less salt in the recipe)
  • Fresh Ginger (1 tsp minced) – Ground Ginger (½ tsp) or Cinnamon (½ tsp) or Nutmeg (½ tsp)
  • Green Onion (½ cup) – Leek (½ cup) or Shallots (½ cup) or Onion (½ cup) or Chives (½ cup)
  • Lemon Grass (2 stalks) – Lemon Zest (1 tbs)
  • Lemon Zest (1 tsp) – Lime Zest (1 tsp) or Lemon Juice (2 tbs) or Lime Juice (2 tbs)
  • Marjoram (1 tsp) – Basil (1 tsp) or Thyme (1 tsp) or Savory (1 tsp)
  • Mint (1 tsp) – Basil (1 tsp) or Marjoram (1 tsp) or Rosemary (1 tsp)
  • Parsely (1 tbs) – Cilantro (1 tbs) or Chervil (1 tbs)
  • Rosemary (1 tsp) – Thyme (1 tsp) or Tarragon (1 tsp) or Savory (1 tsp)
  • Saffron (1 tsp) – Tumeric (1 tsp)
  • Thyme (1 tsp) – Basil (1 tsp) or Oregano (1 tsp) or Majoram (1 tsp) or Savory (1 tsp)

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