21 Ingredient substitutions you should always remember

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Because knowing how to be resourceful is an important ingredient, too!

We previously showed you how to stock up your pantry to make cooking easier. But what if you suddenly run out of ingredients with no time to rush to the store? Fret not, we’ve got you covered.

Knowing the most common cooking substitutes can truly boost your kitchen confidence. Here’s a quick guide.

What are some of the most common cooking substitutions?

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image: Calum Lewis on unsplash

1. Five-spice powder

If a recipe calls for this ingredient, like Taiwanese salt and pepper chicken, but you don’t have some on hand, simply mix these Asian spices together: cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds, and clove.

2. Bread crumbs

Some recipes require this ingredient to add texture, like pastas, or to add crunch like fried chicken. This ingredient can also be used to maintain the shape of food, like crab cakes.

What if you don’t have bread crumbs on hand? If a recipe calls for a cup of bread crumbs, great cooking substitutions would be a cup of cracker crumbs or ground oats.

3. Broth

When preparing stews and soups, chicken or beef broth is usually used as a base. But this isn’t really something many would consider a pantry essential.

What if you don’t have any on hand? Simply replace it by dropping a bouillon cube into a cup of boiling water, depending on how much broth you require.

4. Brown sugar

Brown sugar can add to recipes like sweet and sour fish. But if a recipe calls for it and you’re in a rush and can’t head out to get some, then white sugar will do fine. If you’re looking to approximate the taste and moisture of brown sugar, then add a 1/4 cup of molasses to a cup of white sugar.

5. Butter

If you’re looking for cooking substitutions for a recipe that calls for butter, simply use a cup of ordinary, plain margarine, not the low-calorie or fat-free variety. What if your recipe requires melted butter? You can use cooking oil instead.

6. Chilli sauce

To recreate chilli sauce, combine a cup of tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1/8 cup of brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon, some ground cloves and allspice.

7. Chilli garlic sauce

Chilli garlic sauce or sambal boosts the heat and flavour of many Asian dishes, like sambal prawns and sambal stingray. You can combine minced garlic with sriracha if you down have chilli garlic sauce on hand. Or make your own delicious sambal sauce paste, using this recipe.

8. Cornstarch

Cornstarch is commonly used to add texture or thicken sauces of Asian dishes. If you don’t have any on hand, however, you can easily substitute it with flour. For instance, you need 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, just double that, by using 2 tablespoons of flour.

9. Egg

If you’re making a casserole and the recipe calls for eggs to bind the dish together, you can simply use store-bought egg substitutes or bread crumbs and oats. In dishes like frittatas or quiches, you can use tofu.

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image: Heather Schwartz on unsplash

10. Flour

If you need flour for breading chicken or fish dishes, you can also use almond flour as an alternative. It also gives it a nuttier flavour. Don’t have almond flour, either? Then simply use cornstarch, but go for half of what the recipe calls for. 1 tablespoon of flour = 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch.

11. Garlic

Many Asian recipes call for the nutty, subtle flavour of garlic. If you suddenly run out of this pantry staple, however, garlic powder can work just as well. If the dish you’re cooking calls for a medium clove, you can use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.

12, Green Curry paste

Green curry paste works well to boost the texture and flavour of Asian dishes, like Thai green chicken curry or Thai curry egg noddles. If you have none on hand, then it can be replaced with red curry or yellow curry paste.

13. Herbs

If a recipe requires fresh herbs, like curry leaves in Indian cuisine, but you don’t have any, simply replace these with dried leaf herbs or ground dried herbs, but just make sure you use half the required amount.

14. Lemon zest

If you need lemon zest, which is also freshly grated lemon peel, but don’t have lemons, Lemon extract can work just as well, though make sure to use half of the required amount.

15. Miso Paste

This Asian paste isn’t exactly on the list of pantry essentials, but if a dish you plan to make calls for it, then you can substitute it with tomato paste and soy sauce. If you need half a tablespoon, simply use half a tablespoon of tomato paste mixed with half a teaspoon of soy sauce.

16. Tamarind Paste

To substitute tamarind paste when cooking, simply combine lime juice with brown sugar. If you need 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste, mix 2 tablespoons of lime juice with 4 teaspoons of brown sugar.

17. Lemongrass

Need lemongrass but have no time to head out of the house? If you have lemon in your cupboard, simply zest it. Two lemons can substitute the flavour of four lemongrass stalks.

18. Rice Wine Vinegar

Rice wine vinegar is commonly used in pickling vegetables like kimchi and marinades, like sweet and sour fish. To replace rice wine vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar instead. Take note, that rice wine is different from rice wine vinegar, and so cannot be used interchangeably.

19. Fish Sauce

Fish sauce adds a salty, deep umami flavour to dishes, like curry paste and dipping sauces.

Out of fish sauce? Use worcesteshire sauce soy sauce drizzled with some lime juice.

20. Oyster Sauce

What if you run out of oyster sauce? Fret not, you can easily replace it with soy sauce sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.

Hoisin sauce mixed with equal parts soy sauce can also do the trick!

21. Sesame Oil

A wide array of Asian recipes benefit from sesame oil, like Chinese pork belly, beef and broccoli, and pork dumplings. So what if you’re int he mood for these dishes but have no sesame oil on hand.

An equal amount of peanut oil and canola oil with sesame seeds will do the trick!

Knowing the best cooking substitutions can make it an even more of a fun and convenient experience! What are other cooking substitutions you think should make it to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Read also:15 baking substitutes to always remember