Thursday, June 20, 2024

Quarantine cooking: some substitutions for when supplies run out

With many of us cooking more than ever before there’s a good chance we’re running out of ingredients we normally have on hand. I thought I would share some “in a pinch” substitutions for those occasions when you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize you don’t have any baking powder, for example, or not enough eggs.

If you run out of vegetable oil, you can use an equivalent amount of regular margarine (not light), coconut oil or even manteca (lard) which contrary to our north-of-the-border sensibilities actually makes for light, fluffy, flavorful biscuits, pie crusts and such. You can also substitute ½ cup of applesauce for ½ cup of oil; the pectin in the apples is what allows this to work, although it’s best for muffins because the finished product will be a bit denser than if you’d used a fat. Be sure to use unsweetened applesauce – check the label!

There are lots of substitutes for eggs in baking; some work better than others at leavening, and some will alter the texture and/or the density of the finished product. Try ‘em out and see what you think. For one egg, substitute: 

  • 2 Tbsp. plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • ½ pureed banana (1/4 cup)
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds soaked in 3 Tbsp. water for 15 minutes
  • 1/4 cup blended silken tofu
  • 2-3 Tbsp. regular mayonnaise (not lite)

It happens to me all the time: my baking soda hasn’t been used for a while and isn’t “fizzy” anymore. What to do? Use 4 tsp. of baking powder for every teaspoon of baking soda needed.

If the recipe also calls for an acidic liquid (vinegar, sour cream, yogurt, lemon juice, buttermilk) replace it with the same amount of milk.

And what about the reverse? That’s a little more difficult. Replace 1 tsp. baking powder with ¼ tsp. baking soda plus ½ tsp. cream of tartar, or ¼ tsp. baking soda plus ½ cup buttermilk (and then decrease liquid in recipe by ½ cup). That’s if you have cream of tartar or buttermilk! (See below.)

For cream of tartar, the easiest thing to do is substitute an equal amount of baking powder. Or, ¼ tsp. lemon juice and ¼ tsp. white vinegar equals ¼ tsp cream of tartar.

Buttermilk is one of those things I miss a lot. Make an OK substitute by mixing 1 Tbsp. white vinegar, fresh lime or lemon juice with enough milk to equal 1 cup; let sit for 10 minutes. The milk and acid will react and give you the tangy flavor you’re needing. Alas, it’s not as good for drinking by itself.

Although there’s no substitute for the taste of fresh lemon or lime juice, in a pinch you can use 1½ tsp. white wine vinegar for each Tbsp. of citrus juice. This will yield the required “chemical reaction” for leavening quick breads, muffins and such.

I’ve mixed and matched sour cream and yogurt forever, and now with Greek yogurt available everywhere, it’s even easier. Supposedly (I haven’t tried this) in a pinch you can substitute 3/4 cup cream cheese plus 3 Tbsp. milk, blended, for a cup of sour cream.

Sometimes you can use black beans in place of flour.
Sometimes you can use black beans in place of flour.

Although I said I wasn’t going to get into healthier alternatives, I’m making one exception for nut flours and a couple of gluten-free flour alternatives. Did you know you can substitute black bean purée for regular flour in some baking recipes? One cup black bean purée (about a 15-oz. can) for one cup flour. Almond or other nut flour – high in protein, low in carbs – can be easily made in a blender or food processor.  Substitute 1 cup nut flour plus ½ teaspoon of a rising agent in cookies, cakes, pancakes/waffles and quick breads. One cup of blanched, slivered almonds makes one cup of flour.

Another gluten-free alternative for baking is blended oats instead of regular flour. Rolled oats work best, but you can use steel-cut or quick-cooking oats too. All you have to do is blend the oats to a fine powder in a blender, and then substitute it equally for regular flour.

You knew it all along: powdered sugar (azucar glas) is simply granulated sugar blended fine with the addition of a little cornstarch. In a pinch, for some baked good recipes, you can swap out 1¾ cup confectioners’ sugar for 1 cup granulated sugar.

I consider vanilla extract a crucial ingredient, but in a pinch, you can sub 1 tsp. of bourbon or rum for 1 tsp of extract. It won’t be exactly the same flavor, but will add some depth to the finished product.

Run out of hot pepper sauce and craving that spicy fix? Replace1 tsp. of hot sauce with 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper mixed with1 tsp. vinegar. Oops! Not enough ketchup left in the bottle? Make your own quick version by mixing 1 cup tomato sauce,1 tsp. vinegar and 1 Tbsp. sugar.

Those of you who like Asian food – or perhaps are experimenting with new things in the kitchen – have surely come across the ingredient mirin in recipes. Made from rice wine, the aged mash and malted rice of mirin provide a non-sugar sweetness, a burst of umami (that “savory depth of flavor”) and a nice glaze to dishes like teriyaki or a stir-fry.

Several things can be used to mimic the taste of mirin: rice wine vinegar, dry white wine or sherry. Use the same amount as the mirin called for in the recipe. You may need to add a bit of sugar; use ½ tsp. of sugar per tablespoon of the substitute.

Last but not least, here’s a link to a printable pdf of the most common ingredient substitutions.

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at

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