Our Essential Guide to Cooking Ingredient Substitutions
Our cheat sheet of swaps will help you finish preparing dinner without a trip to the store.
We all know what it's like to reach for an ingredient mid-recipe and find out we don't have it. (Yes, we all know we should read the recipe through before starting and set out all ingredients before we begin.) We also how annoying it can be to try a recipe that calls for a speciality ingredient that we know we won't use again. Our cooking substitution guide will help you to use what you have on hand-and it just might lead to more creative cooking.
First Taste, Then Taste Again
The best piece of advice any cook will give you is to taste your food as you go along, especially when you are trying out new ingredients. Keep this in mind with all our substitution suggestions-and remember that substituting an ingredient may change the color, flavor, or texture of the recipe you are making.
Small amounts of spices bring big flavor to food, but often the size of jars of spice are much larger than we need. Here are a few handy spice swaps.
- Saffron: If your missing saffron, one of the pricier spices, add a dash of turmeric instead to mimic saffron's yellow color.
- Fresh ginger: If you don't have any fresh ginger on hand, substitute ¼ teaspoon dried ginger for every inch of fresh grated ginger.
- Spice Mixes: Try substituting spice mixes like garam masala with masala curry powder or more obscure spice mixes that are gaining popularity, like vadouvan, with yellow curry powder.
Pro Tip: Turning whole spices into ground spices couldn't be easier. Wipe out your coffee grinder and buzz whole spices, like cumin seed and coriander, until they are powdery. The flavor will be fresher and more intense than pre-ground and you don't need jars of both the whole spice and the ground version in the cabinet.
We are huge proponents of fresh herbs in the test kitchen and know we can sub following this cheat sheet.
- Leafy green herbs: Herbs like basil, mint, and dill have similar potency. Tarragon and chervil are both more assertive and harder to find, but basil makes a great substitute.
- Woody herbs: Use oregano and marjoram interchangeably and sparingly. Or try rosemary instead, which you can probably add a bit more.
- Dried Marjoram: If a recipe calls for dried marjoram, a herb not so frequently seen in recipes today, use the equivalent amount of dried oregano, which has similar a flavor and potency.
Pro Tip: Forgot to buy a fresh herb? In a pinch, use dried instead, substituting one third the amount of the dried herb.
A hint of heat wakes up a recipe, but be aware of how hot different chiles are and substitute more or less accordingly.
- Fresh Chilies: Consult our chile glossary for information on chile types. Then try jalapeños instead of Fresno or serrano chiles. Super-hot Thai bird chiles and habanero can be used as well, in much smaller quantities.
- Hot sauce: Most standard hot sauces like Franks, Tabasco, and Cholula, are similar in heat. Use hotter sauces in smaller quantities. Add a dash of hot sauce to replace dried chile flakes.
- Dried chilies: Dried chiles are a staple in many cuisines. Try using a much smaller amount of red pepper flakes in a recipe that calls for Aleppo pepper. If a recipe calls for ancho or chipotle chile powder, which can be harder to find, substitute regular chile powder.
A dash of vinegar or a squeeze of citrus balances a dish and you probably have what you need in your kitchen already.
- Vinegar: Substitute the vinegar called for in a recipe with whatever type you have. Some vinegars, such as rice vinegar and champagne vinegar, are milder, so consider adding more than originally called for. White distilled vinegar is pungent and should be used with caution in place of other vinegar.
- Citrus: Life isn't giving you lemons? Try lime. Don't have either? Add freshly squeezed orange juice and a dash of white-wine vinegar. Same goes for citrus zest; use lemon, lime, or orange interchangeably.
Broth and alcohol add flavor and moisture to dishes.
- Broth: Chef's love to use broth or stock instead of water, because it adds flavor. But home cooks don't always have a vat of broth on the back burner. Use whatever broth you have on hand, beef, chicken, or vegetable or switch to water-it won't be quite as flavorful but does the trick.
- Alcohol: There are many options for cooking with different types of alcohol. Substitute white wine with vermouth, a light beer, or hard apple cider. Save leftover sparkling wine and use it in place of white wine. Try a porter instead of red wine in a stew.