Learn the Best Substitutes to Use While Cooking – From Herbs to Dairy!

Our handy infographic below shows you the cooking ingredient substitutions to use when you’re out or can’t find what you need.

  • By Taylor Isaac
  • February 19, 2018

It’s safe to say we’ve all experienced the frustration of starting a recipe only to discover that we’re out of an ingredient, or worse, it’s not in stock at our local store.

The good news is our weekly meal plans are super flexible and with a little cook smarts and creative know-how, you’ll have the confidence to swap out ingredients with ease.

Our brand new cooking ingredient substitutions infographic, created with the help of the Cook Smarts Kitchen Hero Facebook community, shows you how to make the best of what you can get or already own!


Cooking Ingredient Substitutions Guide

When you can't find an ingredient or want to use what you have in your kitchen, our substitution guide will help you make an easy and tasty swap!

Infographic Guide to Cooking Substitutions

Our philosophy is that recipes are meant to be guides that you can get creative with and modify to fit your personal tastes. Print out this infographic to hang on your refrigerator or inside your pantry for when you need an ingredient substitute!

The substitutions are:

  • Simple
  • Easily available
  • Similar in flavor to the original ingredient
  • Similar in texture to the original ingredient
  • Or, a good complement to the recipe overall

And broken down into eight categories:

  • Asian
  • Latin
  • Condiments
  • Dairy
  • Nuts & Grains
  • Proteins
  • Produce
  • Spices & Herbs

Ethnic Ingredient Substitutions

In the U.S., most grocery stores have small ethnic food sections where you can pick up ingredients like dried chiles and soy sauce. But the overall quality of the selection varies depending on where you live. If there aren’t any specialty shops in your area, Amazon is a great place to search for and stock up on the ethnic pantry ingredients below.

Asian Ingredient Substitutions

Seafood and chile sauces, flavorful pastes and fresh ingredients like lemongrass are common in asian dishes, but can be difficult to track down. Here’s what to use if you find yourself out of one of the ingredients below:

  • Miso paste (1 tablespoon) — 1 tablespoon of tomato paste combined with 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Or, 4 teaspoons of anchovy paste and 2 teaspoons of tahini.
  • Tamarind Paste (1 tablespoon) — 1 tablespoon lime juice or rice wine vinegar plus 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.
  • Lemongrass (two stalks) — 2 teaspoons lemongrass paste. Or, zest of one lemon.
  • Green Curry Paste — Red or yellow curry paste.
  • Chili Garlic Sauce — Sriracha plus freshly minced garlic.
  • Harissa (1 cup) — 1 cup sriracha or sambal oelek chili sauce plus ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon coriander and ½ teaspoon caraway.
  • Rice Wine Vinegar — Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.
  • Tahini (1 cup) — 1 cup nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew) plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil.
  • Fish Sauce (1 tablespoon) — 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce. Or, one tablespoon soy sauce. Or, 2 teaspoons soy sauce plus 1 teaspoon lime juice.
  • Oyster Sauce (1 tablespoon) — 1 tablespoon soy sauce plus ¼ teaspoon sugar.
  • Sesame Oil, Toasted (1 tablespoon) — 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Or 1 tablespoon neutral-tasting oil (grapeseed, canola) plus ¼ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds.

Latin Ingredient Substitutions

  • Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce (1 pepper or 2 tablespoons of sauce) — Tabasco chipotle hot sauce. Or, 1 tablespoon chipotle powder. Or, 1½ teaspoon smoked paprika plus 1½ teaspoon cayenne powder.
  • Tomatillos (1 tomatillo) — ½ medium under-ripe tomato plus a squeeze of lime juice. Or, 3 tablespoons canned tomatillos.
  • Jalapeno Peppers (1 pepper) — 1 tablespoon canned green chiles. Or, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Or, 2 teaspoons (or as needed) hot sauce or cayenne pepper.

Note: All of these substitutions and measurements can be found in the downloadable guide, which you can print for free when you join our Facebook Group!

Condiment Substitutions

When you find yourself out of the sauces below or want a creative substitution, try these:

  • Mayonnaise (1/2 cup) — Half of a mashed avocado. Or, ½ cup Greek yogurt. Or, ½ cup sour cream.
  • Mustard, Dijon (2 teaspoons) — 1 teaspoon dry mustard plus 1 teaspoon vinegar plus 1 teaspoon water.
  • Ketchup (1 cup) — 1 cup tomato sauce plus 1 teaspoon vinegar plus 1 tablespoon sugar.

Dairy Substitutions

When you run out of milk or want to replace dairy in a recipe altogether, try these substitutions:

  • Milk — Almond or cashew milk. Or, canned coconut milk. Or, rice, oat, hemp or flax milk. Or, sour cream or plain yogurt. Or, canned evaporated milk.
  • Heavy Cream (1 cup) — ½ cup Greek yogurt plus ½ milk. Or, 1 cup milk (result will be less thick). Or, 1 cup coconut cream.
  • Sour Cream (1 cup) — 1 cup plain or Greek yogurt.
  • Cheese, Mozzarella — Provolone cheese or Monterey Jack cheese.
  • Cheese, Swiss — Fontina cheese or Gruyere.
  • Cheese, Parmesan — Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano.

Nut & Grain Substitutions

Whether it’s allergies, affordability or simply the need for a different option, here’s what to use to replace the ingredients below:

  • Peanut Butter — Cashew butter, tahini or sunflower seed butter.
  • Pine Nuts — Walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios or pecans.
  • Bulgur — Farro (requires longer cooking time) or quinoa (which is also gluten-free).

Protein Substitutions

If you’re in need of protein substitutions because of cost, availability or taste preference, here are some creative solutions to try instead:

  • Halibut — Fluke, flounder or turbot for filets. And wild striped bass or cod for steaks.
  • Swordfish — Fresh tuna, boneless pork chops or steak.
  • Chorizo — Spicy Italian sausage or hot soppressata.
  • Andouille Sausage — Chorizo, spicy pork sausage links, kielbasa or German-smoked sausages.
  • Pancetta — Diced bacon or prosciutto.
  • Tofu — Beans, seitan, tempeh, portobello mushrooms or even chicken, if you want a non-vegetarian substitute.

Produce Substitutions

Produce availability depends on the time of year as well as where you live. For some of our overseas community members, tracking down produce that’s readily available in the U.S. can be tough. Here’s what you can use instead:

  • Bok choy — Napa cabbage, swiss chard or spinach.
  • Broccoli Rabe — Broccoli or mustard greens.
  • Swiss Chard — Kale, beet greens, collard greens or spinach.
  • Kale — Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, dandelion greens or beet greens.
  • Arugula — Watercress, curly endive, mustard greens or a mix of spinach and watercress.
  • Napa Cabbage — Bok choy, savoy cabbage or green cabbage (increase cooking time).
  • Mustard Greens — Kale or collard greens.
  • Asparagus — Green beans or broccoli.
  • Parsnips — Turnips, celery root, rutabagas, carrots or sweet potatoes.
  • Mushrooms — Zucchini, eggplant or bell peppers.
  • Butternut Squash — Sweet potatoes, carrots or winter squashes such as delicata, hubbard or pumpkin.
  • Leeks — Green onions, shallots, onions or green onions.
  • Okra — Green beans, red peppers or mushrooms.
  • Lemon Juice — Lime juice, orange juice or half as much white or white wine vinegar.
  • Shallots (2 tablespoons chopped or 1 bulb) — White parts of four green onions or 2 tablespoons of chopped onion.

Bonus Cooking Tip: To keep up with the seasonality of fresh produce, check out our Vegetables by Month Chart, which can also help you determine which substitutions will work best during certain times of the year.

Herb & Spice Substitutions

If you can’t track down a fresh ingredient, for example, fresh ginger, you can often swap it out with a lesser amount of the ground version to impart similar flavors.

When substituting fresh herbs, look for herbs in the same family that impart similar flavors and then move on to those which have a similar appearance.

  • Garam Masala (2 tablespoons) — 4½ teaspoon cumin plus 1½ teaspoon allspice. Or, 1½ teaspoon cumin plus ¾ teaspoon coriander plus ¾ teaspoon cardamom plus ¾ teaspoon black pepper or ½ teaspoon cinnamon plus ¼ teaspoon cloves plus ¼ teaspoon nutmeg.
  • Ginger, fresh (1 tablespoon grated) — ½ teaspoon ground ginger.
  • Cilantro — Parsley or green onions.
  • Mint, fresh (1 tablespoon chopped) — 1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped. Or, ½ tablespoon fresh marjoram chopped. Or, ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped.  

Click here to get all of this information as a printable download. To learn more about cooking substitutions, get access to more incredible resources and see how others get creative in the kitchen join the Cook Smarts Kitchen Hero Facebook community.

Our cooking community is always excited to provide suggestions or share how they put their own spin on a particular meal. Plus, this group is the first to get all of our amazing cooking freebies!

Any clever ingredient substitutions you want share? Let us know in the comments!

As always, we’re here to help you live your best life in the kitchen and provide delicious memories for you and your family. For more cooking tips and resources sent straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below, and we’ll help you raise your kitchen IQ and cook with confidence!

Cooking Ingredient Substitutions Guide Infographic | @cooksmarts


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