Any seasoned home cook knows the frustration of getting halfway through preparing a recipe before reaching for an ingredient, only to realise it’s not there. Meanwhile, another major source of annoyance is shopping for recipe ingredients and finding the store you’re in is missing just one key ingredient.
Recipe-specific ingredients can also lead to food waste, especially for perishables. Buying a four-pack of garlic bulbs or a carton of buttermilk to use a small amount is likely to see the remainder eventually wind up in the bin. That’s why I refuse to buy ingredients such as butter, lemongrass, cooking wine and tomato paste, as I know my tastes won’t see me use it all up.
For the vegans among us, I’ve tried to include at least one plant-based option for each ingredient substitute. There’s plenty of easy vegan ingredient swaps that make your favourite meals more ethical, healthier and better for the environment.
Luckily, many cooking ingredients can be substituted with simple household items you likely already have or a clever combo:
Easy cooking ingredient substitutions and swaps
- Tbsp = 1 tablespoon (15mL/0.5fl oz)
- tsp = 1 teaspoon (5mL)
Switch 1 cup breadcrumbs for 2-3 pieces of toasted stale bread blitzed in a food processor (or torn into fine pieces) OR 1 cup rolled oats OR 1 cup crushed plain crackers
Broth or stock
Substitute 1 cup of chicken or beef stock for 1 Tbsp soy sauce + 1 cup water
Swap 1 cup butter for 7/8 cup vegetable oil OR 7/8 cup olive oil OR 1 cup apple puree OR 1 cup greek yoghurt
Switch 1 cup buttermilk for 1 cup natural yoghurt OR 1 cup of cows milk + 1 Tbsp vinegar OR 1 cup soy milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice
Substitute 1 Tbsp cornstarch for 2 Tbsp wheat flour OR 2 Tbsp oat flour
Swap 1 cup grated cheese for 3/4 cup nutritional yeast
Switch 1 can butterbeans (400g/14oz) for 3/4 cup dried butterbeans, soaked overnight then boiled
Substitute 1 can chickpeas (400g/14oz) for 3/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then boiled
Canned kidney beans
Swap 1 can kidney beans (400g/14oz) for 3/4 cup dried kidney beans, soaked overnight then boiled
Switch 1 can lentils (400g/14oz) for 3/4 cup dried lentils, soaked overnight then boiled
Substitute 1 cup chocolate chips or buttons for 1 cup of roughly chopped chocolate bar OR 1 cup chopped nuts OR 1 cup dried fruit
Swap 1 cup wine for 1 cup of stock OR 1 cup of unsweetened fruit juice + 1 Tbsp vinegar
Switch 1 cup cows milk for 1 cup soy milk OR 1 cup homemade oat milk OR 1 cup almond milk
Substitute 1 medium egg for 1/4 cup silken tofu, blended OR 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 2.5 Tbsp water OR 1 Tbsp ground flaxseeds + 3 Tbsp water OR 1/2 medium banana, mashed + 1/2 tsp baking powder OR 1/4 cup apple puree
Swap 1 garlic clove for 1/2 tsp ground garlic
Switch 1 Tbsp gelatine powder for 2 tsp agar agar powder
Substitute 1 tsp minced ginger for 1/2 tsp ground ginger
Swap 1 cup wheat flour for 1.75 cups of oats, blitzed in a food processor (or blender) into oat flour OR 1 cup oat flour OR 1 cup almond flour
Switch 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano or sage for 2 tsp dried versions
Substitute 1/2 cup chopped green onions for 1 brown onion, chopped
Swap 1 cup honey for 1 cup white sugar + 1/4 cup hot water, stir vigorously until combined
Switch 3 Tbsp ketchup for 3 Tbsp passata (tomato sauce) + 1 tsp sugar + 1 tsp white vinegar
Substitute 1 Tbsp chopped lemongrass for 1 Tbsp lemon zest
Swap 1 Tbsp lemon juice for 2 tsp vinegar
Minced or ground beef
Switch 500g/1lb of minced or ground beef for 1 can lentils OR 1 can red kidney beans
Sub 1/2 cup parmesan for 1/2 cup nutritional yeast + 1 tsp dijon mustard + salt and pepper
Swap 1 cup ricotta cheese for 1 cup cottage cheese OR 1 cup of silken tofu
Switch 1 pinch saffron for 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Sub 1 cup self-raising flour for 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1.5 tsp baking powder
Swap 1/2 cup chopped shallots for 1 medium white onion, chopped
Switch 1 cup shortening for 1 cup butter OR 1 cup coconut oil
Sub 1/4 cup soy sauce for 1/3 cup coconut aminos OR 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce + 1 Tbsp water
Sweetened condensed milk
Swap 1 can condensed milk (400mL/14fl oz) for 2 cups cows milk or 1 can coconut milk + 2/3 cup white sugar, mixed then gently simmered for 40 mins
Switch 1 Tbsp tomato paste for 3 Tbsp passata/tomato sauce OR 3 Tbsp crushed/chopped tomatoes *consider adding less liquid to the recipe or cooking with the lid off to reduce
Substitute 1 tsp vanilla essence for 2 tsp maple syrup
Swap 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce for 1. 5 Tbsp soy sauce
Many of the substitutions above will depend on the recipe you’re making. Switching out butter for apple sauce works wonderfully when baking, but not so much for a béchamel (try olive oil there!). Meanwhile, nutritional yeast might not cut it if you’re after a cheesy pizza but it’s fantastic in mac and cheese.
To confirm whether an ingredient substitution will work in your recipe, it’s helpful to Google your recipe and the substitute ingredient you’re planning to swap it for. You will usually find recipes with the substitute ingredient that can guide you on how much to use.
Egg substitutes are just the beginning. Don’t let one ingredient stop you from making delicious recipes at home. Instead, reduce food waste and save money by substituting recipe-specific ingredients for those that you likely already have in your cupboard.
Lastly, make sure you pin or bookmark this for later so you don’t get caught out by a missing ingredient ever again!