Popular Cooking Substitutions that will save your dish in a Pinch

Cooking substitutions are life savers in the kitchen, am I right?

cooking substitutions

Right now there’s a lot going on in our world, and I’m learning to make do with what I have to avoid going out when I don’t need to. I’ve already lived a life of making do for years now, but this is the time it’s an absolute necessity.

This past weekend I realized we were out of bread. The shelves at the stores are half empty and I really didn’t want to drive 15-20 minutes to the store to battle the crowds only to find they didn’t have bread. So I just decided I would make my own. I tend to go back and forth between making my own and buying it anyways, but right now I’ll be making a lot more of it.

If you need a simple bread recipe to get you going, check out this one. It requires no kneading and is a perfect one for those just new to bread making. It makes a beautiful, rustic loaf perfect for soups, stews, and chilis, or making a really, really good sandwich. 🙂

Aside from making your own bread though, what happens when you are trying to cook at home and discover you are out of something, and maybe like me you are trying to avoid the stores as much as possible right now.

The list below are common substitutions that often work. However, it doesn’t mean it will ALWAYS work. It really depends on the recipe. But, cooking comes with trial and error and you won’t know what works and what doesn’t for your recipe until you try it out.

And if you have kids like I do, they often eat a ruined baked good anyways because there’s enough sugar in it that they still like it regardless. 🙂


Baking and discover that you are out of butter? There are a few cooking substitutes for butter. Use substitutions like lard, canola or vegetable oil, or coconut oil. You want to avoid using olive oil in baked goods as it has a strong taste.

You can also substitute applesauce for oil in many recipes when baking.

If you need butter for cooking but are out, try using olive or canola oil, or you can even use bacon grease.

Need some buttermilk? Use 1 cup of milk and 1 tbsp of lemon juice, let sit for 5 minutes

Ran out of baking powder? Use  1/2 baking soda and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar for one tsp baking powder.

Need some bread crumbs but you are out of them, and you are out of some good ole’ stale bread to make some? Use crushed crackers or crushed cereal like corn flakes or rice krispies.

No sour cream for your tacos or fajitas? Try using plain yogurt instead.

Ran out of vinegar? Find something acidic to replace it with, like lemon juice or lime juice. Alternatively you can replace lemon and lime juice with vinegar.

Feel like pasta but have no tomato sauce? If you have tomato paste combine it with some water to make sauce. You can also blend up a can of diced tomatoes for a thin sauce for spaghetti.

If a baking recipe calls for mayo (sounds weird, I know, but there are recipes that call for it) you can replace it with plain yogurt or sour cream.)

Recipe calls for cow’s, soy, or almond milk? There are substitutions for milk in cooking. You can interchange a lot of these milks in recipes. I like to keep canned coconut milk on hand for this purpose. The flavor will change a bit, but for the most part you can interchange them.

Need brown sugar but only have white? If you have some molasses in the cupboard you can mix the white sugar with molasses to give you brown sugar.

Low on white flour? If you have other flours like whole wheat and/or spelt, use one of those. It will change the texture, but can still work. Spelt does not rise like white flour, but still makes delicious baked goods with a nuttier flavor.

You can use ricotta cheese instead of cottage cheese, or cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese.

Out of eggs? Try this cooking substitute for eggs. Make a “flax egg” with 1 tbsp of ground flax seed mixed with three tbsp of water.

No fresh garlic? Use 1/8 tsp of garlic powder for every clove.

Ran out of fresh broth? Let’s just talk about how that’s a total bummer. 🙁 But in the meantime you can use a bouillon cube. I prefer fresh homemade broth for the health qualities and taste, but I do have bouillon cubes in the pantry for emergencies.

Replace soy sauce with 3 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tbsp of water for every 1/4 cup of soy sauce.


I know for me, living in the country makes running to the grocery store inconvenient and time consuming if I need to go for just one or two items. I’ve learned to work with what I have in my pantry and fridge.

Sometimes these substitutions can help tide you over until the following payday as well if you are low on money.

Over the years I’ve learned to try substituting different ingredients depending on the dish I am making and what I think may work. There have been times this has failed, but most of the time I can make it work without any problem.

Of course, there are times I substitute an ingredient without meaning to! The other day I was making cheesy biscuits and instead of reaching for the baking powder I grabbed my arrowroot powder by accident. The biscuits were NOT light and fluffy.

They were super dense. But they still tasted good and there was none left – everyone ate them! Now, I don’t plan to use arrowroot powder again – biscuits are meant to be light and fluffy – but my mistake did not amount to a bunch of food waste which I was very thankful for.

So don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen (hopefully on purpose, instead of accidentally like me. 🙂 ) You may be surprised at what you create!

I’m curious, are there substitutions you have used that are not on this list? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

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