“Help! I Ran Out Of…!” Substituting Ingredients – Learn To Swap Like A Pro

Ever been so deep in the process of cooking and realized you ran out of an important ingredient in the recipe you were making? And the grocery shops are too far away for you to make a quick trip?

Or you have recently found out that you are allergic to a key ingredient that makes up your favorite meal, and you are feeling quite sad about it; could it be that you decided to cut a few pounds and that gluten and carbs have to go?


Don’t panic as yet: whether it’s for a healthy reason, dietary need or last-minute shortage in your pantry, you deserve to have a way out, and the good news is most recipes are quite bendable, in fact, even breakable!


That being said, the recipe developer has a certain desired flavor profile, texture and overall visual appearance in mind while they are sharing it for us to follow, so we should keep in mind that once ingredients are substituted, there might be a change in the final product.


However, a similar taste can be achieved and that’s what makes cooking more enjoyable – having the choice to be flexible and experiment – and that’s how many new dishes are discovered.

Most ingredients can be substituted, keeping in mind the flavor profile

Without further delay, I will share some of the popular ingredients found in recipes, and their possible substitutes:

Mayonnaise (for salad & dressings): Use the same amount of Greek yogurt or sour cream – these are healthier and even cheaper. Tip: to make homemade Greek yogurt, strain plain yoghurt for 3 hours to get rid of the excess water.

Corn starch/ flour (for thickening): For 1 tablespoon (15grams) of corn starch replace it with 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. This is common while making sauces or gravies.

Bread crumbs (for coating) : If you desire to make some crispy fried chicken or fish fingers, blend oatmeal into a sand-like consistency and use as you would with the crumbs; crushed corn flakes or potato chips are other, easier alternatives.

Buttermilk : Some recipes call for buttermilk for a marinade or for baking, to achieve a moist and light cake, but I haven’t seen it sold anywhere around, to make this at home: for one cup of milk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and stand for 5 minutes to get a curdled consistency with a tangy taste.

Corn syrup:  In baking, corn syrup can be swapped with honey or brown sugar dissolved in water. Same can be applied when using any recipe that calls for it especially while making French and Asian cuisine meals.

Italian seasoning: This is a common one in many recipes – you can definitely make your own from home. For 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, mix 1 teaspoon of Oregano + ½   tablespoon of dried basil + ½ tablespoon dried thyme. It’s perfect for grilled vegetables, sprinkled on pizza or added to beans.

Lemon grass : commonly used in Thai and Indian cuisine, is very aromatic and gives a lemony flavor with a hint of ginger. To achieve this, for 1 stalk of lemon grass replace with 1 ½ teaspoon of grated fresh lemon zest plus ¼ teaspoon of minced fresh ginger.

Popular spices: Substitute mint for basil; paprika instead of chili powder; nutmeg for cinnamon; oregano for thyme.

Rice: If you are on a weight-loss diet and you are getting rid of rice, boiled and blended cauliflower will give a similar texture and visual appearance while providing loaded nutrients; the same can be done for pizza bases, for individuals on the Keto diet.

Wine : For one cup of red wine, swap in ¾ cup of red grape juice, apple juice or a mixture lemon juice diluted with water (for marinades)

Worcestershire sauce: although I have seen Worcestershire sauce a Simba supermarket and Frulep supermarket, I feel like it’s pricey. So if you feel the same way, a homemade option is probably cheaper and it utilizes ingredients you already have at hand. Mix soy sauce, pepper sauce, lemon juice and granulated sugar and voila! you will have the pungent, sweet and sour condiment ready to be used for meat, soups and stews.

Beef:  Mushrooms, especially Portobello, provide a meaty and earthy texture with a smoky flavor; it is quite popular as a substitutes in burgers and sandwiches. As a bonus it’s cheaper in most cases (ironically, not in Rwanda) and mushrooms have less calories.  

Self-rising flour: Scones, American biscuits, fluffy pancakes and quick breads are all some of the things that the mighty flour is able to do. It helps in getting an even rise in baked goods. However It’s not as available on the market here in Kigali: I have seen it T200 and the price, as always, way higher than the all-purpose flour. When a recipe calls for this kind of flour, you can make a homemade version that will do the work just as perfectly as the store-bought: mix 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.

The list could get very long, so I would advise that with these few aforementioned suggestions, you do further research and create a file or even hang it in your kitchen for those days that you will need them.

I guarantee you that if you cook often, these moments  come many times so this will come in handy!

{Featured image courtesy of Baking Business}


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