Substitutions in Recipes

Substitutions in Recipes

Reading Time: 5 minutes


If the pandemic has taught us one crucial skill with homemaking, it’s flexibility, especially regarding food preparation.    

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to substitute one ingredient for another because we were sheltering in place and out of the ingredient called for, or the grocery was out of a particular item.    

Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and what has happened is that I’ve become more confident about replacing ingredients.     

I wanted to share some of the best substitution tips that I’ve used. I know some will be familiar to you; others may be new discoveries.     

Here’s a list of substitutes for common ingredients:    


One bouillon cube stirred into one cup of boiling water or one teaspoon jarred “Better than Bouillon” to one cup of water.    

Two to three teaspoons of soy sauce and enough water to make one cup. Use less salt in the recipe since soy contains sodium.    



Cheddar: Colby or Monterrey Jack. For a spicier kick, try a Mexican blend.    

Parmesan: Romano is a good swap, but use a little less, as Romano is stronger tasting.    

Mascarpone: Full-fat cream cheese.    

Brie: Camembert tastes almost the same and is less expensive.    

Full-fat cream cheese. Lighter fat cream cheese can usually be substituted, but not nonfat.    

Fresh milk    

  1. Powdered milk mixed with water according to package directions but add an extra teaspoon for each cup.    
  1. Evaporated milk. Mix with an equal amount of water.     

Heavy cream/whipping cream    

Melt 1/3 cup butter, cool just a bit, and whisk into 3/4 cup of milk.     

This can be used in most recipes, like casseroles, soups, sauces, etc., but it cannot be a swap for cream that needs to be whipped.    

Sour Cream/Yogurt    

Swap equal amounts of Greek or natural yogurt for sour cream. Yogurt has less fat than sour cream, so be careful when cooking with it. Use low heat.     

Don’t use nonfat yogurt because it may have added stabilizers and thickeners.     

Swap equal amounts of sour cream for yogurt.    

Note that yogurt is tangier than sour cream, and the texture of baked goods might be a little less tender since yogurt has less fat.    


Stir in one tablespoon lemon juice or one tablespoon clear vinegar into one cup of milk. Let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the juice or vinegar to curdle the milk a bit.    

Onion, onion flakes, garlic, and garlic powder


Substitute 1/3 the amount of dried herbs for fresh in recipes (one teaspoon dried equals one tablespoon of fresh). Dried herbs have the moisture taken out, so the herb is stronger than fresh.    

The exception, in my opinion, is rosemary. Use equal amounts fresh or dried.     

Fresh garlic    

For the most part, sub in 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder for each clove fresh. Go by taste.    

Tip: Mince fresh garlic, then freeze in glass containers. It will last up to four months.     

Fresh onion    

Dried onion flakes work well. Use about 1/4 cup dried onion flakes to equal one cup of fresh chopped onion.    

Onion powder can be used as a flavor substitute, too. One tablespoon equals one cup of fresh chopped onion. You’ll get the flavor but no texture.     

Fresh ginger root    

1/4 teaspoon or so of ground ginger equals one teaspoon fresh grated ginger.    

The flavor of ground ginger vs. fresh will be less complex, and the texture will be smoother.    

Tip: Freeze ginger root whole or grated. (Peel before freezing.) It will last up to three months.    

Pumpkin pie spice    

Make your own! Stir together one teaspoon cinnamon with 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and ginger powder and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.     

The flavor of ground ginger vs. fresh will be less complex, and the texture will be smoother.    


Self-rising flour    

Self-rising flour is simply flour with leavening and salt added to it.    

For each cup of self-rising flour, whisk together one cup all-purpose flour with 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.     

Tip: Make sure baking powder is fresh enough to leaven!    

Stir in one teaspoon of baking powder into warm water. It should fizz immediately. If it doesn’t, toss it out.    

Rice: brown for white    

You can substitute back and forth. Brown rice takes more liquid and has a longer cooking time.     

Quinoa is a good substitute for rice. Read labels. Some quinoa needs rinsing before cooking to remove the bitter-tasting natural compound that coats the seeds. (This coating wards off insects from eating the tiny seeds).    

Cake flour    

Cake flour has a lower protein/gluten content than all-purpose, which makes for tender baked goods. Make your own!    

Measure one cup all-purpose flour. (Take a whisk and whisk the flour a bit if it has been sitting in a container. This makes for a more accurate measurement.).     

Remove two tablespoons of flour from the cup.    

Stir in two tablespoons of cornstarch.    

Sift or whisk three times. This mixes the ingredients and aerates it to make it more of the same consistency as cake flour.     


All-purpose flour can be subbed in. But it has only half the thickening power of cornstarch. Now it won’t give foods the somewhat opaque shine that cornstarch does, but it works.     

For every tablespoon of cornstarch, substitute two tablespoons of all-purpose flour.    

Substitute 1/3 the amount of dried herbs for fresh in recipes


Honey for sugar.

Honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar, which means it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as quickly. It’s also sweeter than sugar.    

For every cup of granulated sugar, use 3/4 cup of honey.    

Tip: Honey lasts just about forever but sometimes crystallizes. Bring it back to a fluid state by warming it in the microwave.    

Brown sugar    

Mix one cup of granulated sugar with two tablespoons of molasses to make dark brown sugar.    

Swapping dark brown for light brown sugar 

Yes, you can. Dark brown sugar has twice the amount of molasses in it than light brown sugar. This gives foods a more toffee and caramel-like flavor.     

Tip: Make rock-hard brown sugar soft again.    

The molasses in brown sugar lose moisture if the sugar is not kept in a tightly sealed container. This makes it hard.    

Place a wet paper towel on top of the sugar and microwave on high for 10-20 seconds.     


Wine vinegars    

For every cup of wine vinegar, mix together one cup wine with 1/4 cup vinegar.    

For white wine vinegar, use white wine and clear vinegar.    

For red wine vinegar, use red wine and cider vinegar.    

Tomato sauce    

Use tomato paste mixed with water: equal amounts.     

Have you had to substitute ingredients, too? If so, I hope you’ll share with us here at Countryside.    

RITA HEIKENFELD comes from a family of wise women in tune with nature. She is a certified modern herbalist, culinary educator, author, and national media personality. Most important, she is a wife, mom, and grandma. Rita lives on a little patch of heaven overlooking the East Fork River in Clermont County, Ohio. She is a former adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, where she developed a comprehensive herbal course. column:  

Originally published in January/February 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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