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.

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Use our suggestions 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 for 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

Related: 8 Alternative Flours to Bake With 

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 White 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

Related: Substituting Agave for Honey

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 (Course 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