Ingredient Substitution Guide | Vegetarian Times Skip to main content

Ingredient Substitution Guide

The next time you're missing an ingredient in a recipe, don't panic. Many recipes are flexible and will still come out delicious when you improvise. Plus, many non-vegetarian recipes can be tweaked to create a new veg version. Use our chart below as a starting point, and start asking yourself questions such as: What do I really want this dish to taste like? What textures do I like? Why did the recipe developer put all of these ingredients in here, anyway? Here are some general guidelines about making substitutions in recipes: Try to keep ingredients within the same ethnic category. Ethnic flavor combinations have been developed over centuries and blend together naturally. If you are making over a Mexican dish without meat, use traditional Mexican proteins and starches such as pinto beans, black beans, and posole (hominy), not Asian mung beans or Indian lentils. Dissect the basic flavors of the dish. If you're missing a certain flavoring, ask yourself if it is basically sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or spicy? Think of something from your cupboard in the same category. Substituting starches and proteins makes less of a difference in overall taste than spices and flavorings. Try the pantry approach to cooking: If you find yourself continually missing key ingredients, analyze your pantry and consider restocking it. Assemble complementary herbs, spices and flavoring in groupings in your pantry. That way, when you are experimenting with a dish—Italian, for example—your Italian seasonings such as basil, parsley, garlic, and oregano will be grouped together, and you can substitute accordingly. Keep staples such as flours, oils, beans, and grains on hand so you don't have to run out to the store at the last minute. Make It Meatless Ingredient: MEAT Substitute: Beans, cheese, seitan (wheat meat), tempeh (cultured soybeans), textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu Ingredient: MEAT/SEAFOOD STOCKS Substitute: Vegetable stock, water in which beans, pasta, or vegetables have been cooked, vegetable bouillon cubes, miso (fermented soybean paste) diluted with water Ingredient: SEASONED OR SMOKED MEATS Substitute: Flavored soy meat substitutes, crumbled tofu seasoned with fennel, parsley, and garlic, canned chipotle chiles, roasted vegetables, toasted nuts, smoked tofu, smoked cheeses Ingredient: GELATIN Substitute: Agar-agar (powder or flakes), arrowroot (powder), guar gum (made from seeds), xanthan gum (made from corn), kudzu powder Make It Vegan Ingredient: BUTTERMILK Substitute: Clabbered soymilk (1 cup soymilk mixed with 2 tsp. lemon juice or white vinegar) Ingredient: CHEESE Substitute: Soy- and nut-based cheeses Ingredient: CHEESE OR RICOTTA CHEESE Substitute: Crumbled tofu Ingredient: EGGS Substitute: Ener-G Egg Replacer, 1 mashed banana or 1/4 cup applesauce per egg (best for baked goods); 1 Tbs. agar flakes whisked into 1 Tbs. water and chilled for 5 minutes (for an egg white substitute), 1 Tbs. ground flaxseeds simmered in 3 Tbs. boiling water for 2 minutes Ingredient: MAYONNAISE Substitute: Soy-based mayonnaise Ingredient: MILK Substitute: Nut milk, rice milk, soymilk Make It Low-Fat Ingredient: CREAMY SOUPS AND SAUCES Substitute: Nonfat strained yogurt, soymilk, puréed roasted vegetables, cooking rice in soup then puréeing it Ingredient: OIL IN BAKED GOODS Substitute: Applesauce, puréed bananas, puréed cooked prunes Ingredient: OIL FOR SAUTÉING Substitute: Vegetable stock, wine, vinegar Ingredient: SALAD DRESSING Substitute: Vinegar or citrus juice thickened with puréed roasted red peppers, carrots, onions, or garlic Ingredient: SOUR CREAM Substitute: Strained nonfat yogurt Ingredient: WHITE SAUCE Substitute: Puréed white beans Make It Allergen-Free Ingredient: BUTTER Substitute: Clarified butter (milk solids have been removed), olive oil, sesame oil Ingredient: CHOCOLATE Substitute: Carob Ingredient: COW'S MILK Substitute: Goat's milk, soymilk, rice milk, nut milk Ingredient: COW'S MILK CHEESE Substitute: Goat cheese, sheep cheese, soy cheese, nut cheese Ingredient: EGGS Substitute: Ener-G Egg Replacer, 1 mashed banana or 1/4 cup applesauce per egg (best for baked goods); 1 Tbs. agar flakes whisked into 1 Tbs. water and chilled for 5 minutes (for an egg white substitute), 1 Tbs. ground flaxseeds simmered in 3 Tbs. boiling water for 2 minutes Ingredient: PEANUTS Substitute: Almonds Ingredient: WHEAT FLOUR (FOR BAKING) Substitute: Flours made from barley, buckwheat, corn, kamut, oats, rice, rye, spelt Ingredient: WHEAT PASTA Substitute: Pasta made from corn, spelt, kamut, quinoa, rice Make It Ethnic Origin: AMERICAS Ingredient: CACTUS PADS (NOPALES) Substitute: Green beans, okra Ingredient: CHAYOTE SQUASH Substitute: Yellow or green pattypan squash or zucchini Ingredient: POBLANO OR ANAHEIM CHILES Substitute: Minced jalapeño chiles and green bell pepper Ingredient: POSOLE (DRIED HOMINY) Substitute: Canned white hominy Origin: ASIAN Ingredient: BOK CHOY (CHINESE WHITE CABBAGE) Substitute: Beet greens, kale, Swiss chard Ingredient: CHINESE COOKING WINE Substitute: Dry sherry Ingredient: CHINESE FIVE-SPICE POWDER Substitute: Mixture of anise seed or star anise, fennel seed, cinnamon, black peppercorns, and cloves Ingredient: GALANGAL (THAI GINGER) Substitute: Fresh ginger Ingredient: LEMONGRASS Substitute: Lemon zest Ingredient: LOTUS ROOT Substitute: Jicama or water chestnuts Ingredient: MIRIN (JAPANESE RICE WINE) Substitute: Sweet white wine Ingredient: NAM PLA Substitute: Soy sauce and lime juice Ingredient: RICE WINE VINEGAR Substitute: Cider vinegar, white wine vinegar Ingredient: SESAME OIL Substitute: 1 Tbs. sesame seeds fried in 1/2 cup vegetable oil Ingredient: THAI BASIL Substitute: Italian basil Ingredient: WATER CHESTNUTS Substitute: Jicama Origin: INDIAN Ingredient: ATTA (CHAPATI FLOUR) Substitute: 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour plus 1/2 cup sifted whole-wheat flour Ingredient: CHANA DAL Substitute: Split yellow peas Ingredient: CURRY POWDER Substitute: Mixture of ground ginger, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, turmeric and fennel Ingredient: GARAM MASALA Substitute: Mixture of 1 tsp. cardamom seeds, 1 Tbs. cumin seed, 1 Tbs. coriander seed, 2 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. cloves, and 1 tsp. nutmeg Ingredient: JAGGERY (COARSE PALM SUGAR) Substitute: Date sugar or brown sugar Ingredient: TOOR DAL, URAD DAL, MUNG DAL Substitute: Red lentils Origin: MEDITERRANEAN Ingredient: BROCCOLI RABE Substitute: Broccoli plus arugula or dandelion greens Ingredient: CANNELLINI BEANS Substitute: Great Northern beans, navy beans, red kidney beans Ingredient: FAVA BEANS Substitute: Lima beans or butter beans Ingredient: FENNEL Substitute: Celery plus some fennel or anise seeds Ingredient: PARMESAN CHEESE Substitute: Any hard, aged grating cheese such as Asiago, Romano, or aged Monterey Jack Ingredient: PINE NUTS Substitute: Walnuts or a mixture of walnuts and almonds Make It Alcohol-Free Ingredient: RED WINE Substitute: Pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup water with 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar Ingredient: WHITE WINE Substitute: Vegetable stock, apple juice, carrot juice Ingredient: WINE OR BEER Substitute: Non-alcoholic wine or beer

Comments on this Article

RE:Pat April 11,2008.....I found this in one of my cookbooks,,, Golden Simering Liquid for Seitan 6 Cups vegetable stock or water 1 Cup white wine, apple juice or cider 1 Tablespoon salt(if you are using just water) Combine all the ingredients in a large pot with lid, bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, add the pieces of seitan, and cover. Cook using tongs to turn the seitan once or twice for about an hour. Drain and cool for storing, or use in your favorite recipe.

What is tempeh and where do you buy it?

Hi Vicki, Thanks for writing! Tempeh is made from soybeans that are pressed into thin rectangular cakes and fermented. You can also find tempeh made with grains and/or veggies in addition to soybeans. By itself, it has a mild nutty flavor, but like tofu, it absorbs flavors well. Tempeh is usually found near tofu in refrigerated sections. You can definitely find it at natural foods stores, but I've also seen it at many supermarket chains. Lightlife is a common brand ( To prepare tempeh, it's best to steam or simmer it in a marinade, broth, or sauce for at least 15 minutes. This will soften it a bit and make it even more flavorful. Hope you give it a try! ? Lisa Barley, Associate Editor

If a recipie calls for one chopped Jalapeno pepper, can canned green chillies be substituted and if so, how much?

Hi June, You can substitute green chiles for jalapeño peppers. I'd substitute one chile for one pepper, but taste the chiles to see how hot they are before adding them to the recipe. Some peppers are hotter than other, even within the same variety. Hope you enjoy the recipe! ? Lisa Barley, Associate Editor

what is the best substitute for sucanat?

Vegetables can be very high in calcium. Some of the highest content are turnip greens, mustard greens, sesame seeds (& tahini), white beans, etc. There is a very thorough of calcium discussion here:

Can I substitute evaporated milk by boiling down soymilk? Or could I use soy creamer? Thanks for any ideas.

What kind of squash would be a good substitute for Kuri squash? I can't find any in the NorthWest.

I've heard that cow's milk is actually not a very good source of calcium because of the high protein content which breaks the calcium down once it enters the body. Is this true? What other foods ARE good sources of calcium?

I recently found out that I am alergic to milk, corn and peanuts. I am a life-long lacto-ove vegetarian and am finding it very difficult to find anything that I can eat! Any suggetions would be welcome. I am especially interested in finding a recepe for homemade "chicken" style seasoning.

What can I use instead of an egg wash when baking?

Can you tell me what I can substitute for guar gum? I can't find it anywhere.

I am allergic to peanuts and soy beans. Peanuts are easily substituted with other nuts and nut butters. But so many recipes include soy protein in some form that I don't know what to do. Can I just leave it out? Or is there a substitute? I am finding it hard to be a vegetarian and allergic to soy!

What can I use to substitute heavy whipping cream to make any dish that calls for it vegan?

What can I use as a substitute for nutritional yeast? I lie in a rural area and can't find any anywhere to buy. Any suggestions would be welcome.

I want to make a traditional style pecan pie without the corn syrup, what do you suggest.

when you mention an unusual ingredient, such as orange-flower water, would you please tell us where to find it, how to make it, or what to use instead. This would be very helpful. Also, what can I substitute tofu with? I can't eat Tofu.

what's a good vegan substitute for eggs used in omelets and crepes? Has anyone ever tried pureed soft tofu with good results? I would need something that would easily fold over without breaking or crumbling to pieces. Thanks for any help.

Substitution for creme fraiche: if you eat dairy, use sour cream or strained yoghurt (Fage is my favorite!). If you are vegan or lactose intolerant (like me), use the soy sour cream. A good one is the Tofutti brand, and also their cream cheese is so good you can't tell the difference! Hope that helps!

Does anyone know of any substitutions for creme fraiche?

I am making a desert that call for a grahamcracker crust has anyone ever used tvp as a crust.

If you do not have half and half, can you use half whipping cream and half milk?

Does anyone know a vegan subsitute for half and half? Thanks for your help.

athenamjt, If you cannot eat soy products, seitan is a good substitute as a protein source. There are also plenty of proteins in almonds (along with Vit. E), walnuts, peanuts, lentils, adzuki beans, if you can find them, are even richer in proteins than soy, and they are delicious. I am sure you can purchase them online. Roasted red peppers are a good replacer for tomatoes in sandwiches. As for milks, rice milk, almond milk, any be a good alternative. Not as heavy a soy, though. If you are allergic to fresh tomatoes, try -if there is not high risk- sun dried tomatoes. Tomatoe sauce irritates my stomach but fresh tomatoes I can eat. Hope this helps.

Any ideas for a yummy, filling, non-meat breakfast that would include good carbs and adequate protein? I am allergic to soy, eggs, gluten, honey, peanuts, most legumes except for a few select beans. Thanks for any help offered.

Any suggestions for a strong-flavored cheese substitute? My husband takes offense to "stinky" cheese and I'm at a loss for a flavorful substitute in Italian recipes! Thanks!

Being new to VT, I am amazed and cannot thank you enough for the Vegetarian Substitution Guide and the following Q&A. I have spent much time and effort searching for substitutions -- and never found anything so helpful! I am so delighted!

Is there a substitute for Yogurt with Live Active Cultures?

Depending on what you are making try water, milk or soymilk in place of egg wash. Quorn makes soy-free meat substitutes (check the labels I think it uses wheat products instead, but can't remember). Could you substitute cactus nectar or honey for the corn syrup in your pie?

I am trying to find a good replacement for using shortening when preparing a cake or bread pan for baking (grease & flouring step). I can't use non-stick sprays because of the soy lecithin. Any ideas??

Brewer's yeast can be used instead of Nutritional Yeast-but it has a stronger flavor; in baking it doesn't matter as much but in a smoothie it tastes stronger. I've made pecan pie many times using real Maple Syrup instead of brown sugar or corn syrup.

I use soy creamer in place of half and half

I am looking for an alternative solution for soy. I am allergic to it as well as corn, onion, tomatoes, and pecans. I am on a migraine and allergy diet, so veggie life seemed the way to go. But I am afraid that I cannot find any alternatives to soy products, biproducts, etc. that are in many recipes. Does anyone have any suggestions?

My son and husband are allergic to soy, which greatly reduces our vegetarian options, but also makes it nearly impossible to eat/prepare asian dishes. Is there any substitution for soy sauce or tamari?

mary, you should look into WORTHINGTON - some have soy in them but many don't. They all come in cans. is the web site, it is the main protein that seventh adventists use.

Reply to Mary on Apr 6, 2008. I replace one Tbsp soy sauce with 2 tsp water and 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (find a variety without the little fishies in it and make sure it has no soy ingredients). Also, Amy's California Burger is the only one I have found with ABSOLUTELY NO SOY INGREDIENTS. And it is very tasty.

Reply to: Dominique on Mar 11 2008 I haven't been able to find any seitan that does not contain soy sauce as a flavoring. Any suggestion for sources?

If you go over to and type in their search engines you can find substitutions for a lot of things. I use their data base a lot.

Reply to: Andrea P on Feb 18, 2008: Use parchment paper to line the pans. Cut a peice for the bottom using the bottom of the pan to trace its dimendions. and measure the height and circumfrence of the sides. Cut a strip that sits upright around the pan sides. Pour your batter in and bake it as directed. The parch ment will not burn its meant for baking. Just don't extend too far above where the cake will rise too. Then let the cake cool partially in the pan and when cool enough to handle flip onto a platter by laying platter across top of the pan before flipping. Once cooled fully GENTLY pull the parchment back. Then Ice, frost or eat as usual.

If you want to cut out animal proteins what should you use. You have to get a certan amount of protein everyday.

Hi Tracy, If you're eating enough calories, you're almost certainly getting enough protein - unless your diet consists of only alcohol, sugar, and fats, the only foods lacking this important nutrient. You can get more than enough protein from a variety of plant-based sources, such as vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, so vegetarians and vegans have plenty of healthy options.

Hi Pat, I've been trying to track down a premade seitan without soy sauce for you, without much luck. Have you ever made seitan? I know it sounds intimidating, but it's actually not that hard (and is much cheaper than store-bought seitain!). Here's my favorite seitan recipe, which you can amend using your great water/vegan Worcestershire sauce idea (or even combine vegetable broth/Worcestershire sauce): Just make sure you don't skip the last step of sautéing/frying the seitan, unless your recipe calls for just "gluten." The first time I made this recipe I started cooking right with the gluten chunks and it turned into a doughy mess. Oops!

Hi Jennifer, In answer to your question regarding which foods contain calcium, besides vegetables, 1 cup cooked quinoa contains as much calcium as an entire quart of dairy milk!! 100 % absorbable and useable by your body.

is seaweed paper considered vegetarian? i have been a vegetarian for about 17 years and have eaten veggie sushi - then my boyfriend made me homemade veggie sushi - but he noticed the seaweed paper said ingredients:seaweed and then there was a disclaimer that said by natural process/farming this product could contain fish i'm confused.

What do you recommend for vegetarians if they can't take soy-based protein or foods with high concentrations of potassium? Appreciate any help.

I am running low on olive oil .What can I substitute this with in pasta salad ?

im allergic to soy and im trying to go vegetarian how can i substitute that? and im also trying to do this with out breacking the bank! why is so expensive to buy in places like whole foods or the fresh market? any advices??

I am making the Cornucopia Compote recipe (Nov 1, 2004 issue) with acorn squash. From the picture, the squash appears to be yellow, as if it were pealed but nothing is mentioned about this; since acorn squash are green am I missing a step? Thx for any help.

In reviewing your "cheat sheet" I note that 1/4 bagel and 1 slice bread is a serving; can you give me an idea of weight? I often make my own wheat bread and this would help me make sure I keep serving sizes in check. Also, are all cooked vegetable serving sizes 1 cup? Thanks in advance for your help.