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There are few things in this world as annoying as being in the middle of a recipe and suddenly realizing…you are completely out of a key ingredient.

Some people might give you a lecture about being more diligent about actually having a grocery list and putting things on said list before you run out…but since I would mostly be lecturing my own self, I am instead going to give you a list of some common ingredient substitutions that can work in a pinch.


Now, some things to keep in mind about substitutions: There is a reason why recipe writers call for specific ingredients. It is because the ingredients listed in the recipe provide a specific flavor, texture, or other desired outcome in the final dish. Cooking – especially baking – is all about chemistry. Do you remember how in chemistry lab in high school, your teacher always told you to follow the directions exactly? This was because they knew that using different chemicals than those listed could result in vastly different outcomes than those desired – namely, accidentally blowing yourself to high heaven. And while substituting an ingredient in your recipe won’t cause a dangerous reaction like it would in chem lab, it does means that you run the risk of a slightly different outcome than what the recipe writer intended. Substituting nearly all of the ingredients guarantees an entirely different outcome – and likely not a positive one. So, our lesson is this: Substitute ingredients with caution, and keep in mind that once you deviate from the original recipe, you cannot be guaranteed the same outcome that the writer originally intended.

As always, the list below contains just some of the most common ingredients you may find yourself in need of, and what I consider to be the “easiest” substitutions for them. If you ever have any questions, or have any substitutions that you like to use, send me an email, Facebook message, or even a Tweet! I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.

Original Ingredient



Alcohol (in sweet recipes) 1 tablespoon 1 tablespoon fruit juice (such as orange or apple, depending on the recipe)


In small quantities, it is often ok to omit the alcohol altogether, as it is usually just used as a flavoring component.

Baking powder 1 teaspoon ¼ teaspoon baking soda + ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Baking soda ½ teaspoon 2 teaspoons baking powder (replace acidic liquids in recipe with non-acidic liquids)
Bread flour 1 cup 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 ½ teaspoons vital wheat gluten
Brown sugar 1 cup 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses (for light brown sugar; use 2 tablespoons for dark brown sugar)
Butter 1 cup 1 cup vegetable shortening


1 cup applesauce or mashed banana (for baking)

Buttermilk 1 cup 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice + low fat milk to equal 1 cup


1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt or sour cream

Cake flour 1 cup ¾ cup all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Cornstarch 1 tablespoon 2 tablespoons flour
Cream of tartar ½ teaspoon ½ teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
Maple syrup 1 cup 1 cup honey
Mayonnaise 1 cup 1 cup plain yogurt
Molasses 1 cup 1 cup honey


1 cup maple syrup

Powdered sugar 1 cup 1 cup granulated sugar, ground (even more) finely in a blender
Self-rising flour 1 cup 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ¼ teaspoon salt
Shortening 1 cup 1 cup butter
Sour cream 1 cup 1 cup plain yogurt
Vanilla bean 1 bean 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vegetable oil (for baking) 1 cup 1 cup applesauce or mashed banana
White wine (in savory recipes) 1 cup 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock


Would you like to know more about how I use specific ingredients, or do you have a “Back to Basics” topic that you’d like to see me cover? Maybe you’d like to know how to properly cook rice, or the difference between baking powder and baking soda. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email and I will see what I can do!

Previous “Back to Basics” posts:

Reading Recipes {Part 1: The Ingredients}

Reading Recipes {Part 2: The Instructions}

Pantry Staples




  1. Could you also add that if you make a substitution and the recipe fails, you do not have the right to send nasty emails and comments to the recipe developer? I’m so tired of people. I know I’m grouchy today. But if I get one more email asking why I have to separate an egg, or can I triple your recipe, I’m going to scream. Sorry to vent.
    I will print this list and post it in my kitchen! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Ha! I had actually noticed your comment alluding to that in your “sorry in getting married, peace out Internet!” post, which is kind of why I put that disclaimer. But I TOTALLY feel ya on that.

  2. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set out to make cookies and realized I’m out of butter…or baking powder…or baking soda…or all of the above. I live about 15 minutes away from the nearest grocery store so having a handful of replacements at my disposal is very helpful! I love your back to the basics series!

    1. I grew up 20 minutes from the nearest good grocery store, so having substitutions has always been a must! And sometimes I just don’t want to put on shoes to go out. Haha. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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