Substitution Guide and FAQs

By far the most common questions I get have to do with exchanging ingredients. Of course I encourage you to make changes to suit your dietary restrictions and preferences! Here are a few tips and easy substitutions.

Substitutions in Baking

If you are looking at a recipe and are considering changing more than 2 of the ingredients, proceed with extreme caution. The more changes you make, the less likely your baked goods will turn out the way you want them, especially in terms of texture.

  • eggs. if vegan or allergic…
    • (per egg in the original recipe) grind 1 tbsp. flax seeds and soak in 3 tbsp. water! The resultant flax gel will bind ingredients similar to eggs, but will not give the same airy quality to baked goods. This works for most types of baked goods
    • in cookies, substitute ¼ cup plain yogurt per egg (this is obviously not a vegan alternative)
    • in cakes, omit eggs and add 1 tbsp. white vinegar per egg
  • white flour. if going whole grain…
    • consider using a mix of half white, half whole wheat flour for sweet baked goods. Whole wheat flour has a very strong, nutty taste that may overpower other flavors if substituted completely 1:1
    • in cakes and flaky pastries, substitute whole wheat pastry flour
    • in breads and pastas, use whole wheat or white whole wheat flour. You may need to increase the liquid in order to maintain elasticity and compensate for the tougher grain
  • white flour. if going gluten-free…
    • look for pre-mixed all-purpose flour blends, such as Gluten Free Mama. Personally, I dislike Bob’s Red Mill (it doesn’t have a neutral flavor at all)
    • substitute by weight rather than volume. 1 cup all-purpose wheat flour weighs about 4½ oz.
    • to make your own all-purpose blend, mix together grain flours and starch in a 70:30 ratio by weight. Don’t forget to add xanthan gum or another binding agent. This post from Gluten Free Girl explains in much more detail!
  • butter or oil. if going low-fat…
    • in cakes and quickbreads, try unsweetened applesauce. But do realize your baked goods will have a totally different texture (generally more spongy and less crumb-ful), and they will be much higher in sugar. For good texture and moisture, I generally recommend subbing no more than half the original fat for applesauce
    • never, ever, ever, ever, ever use low-fat butter (or margarine, unless you are allergic to dairy). Low-fat butter tastes like licking a refrigerator shelf
  • other dairy. if experimenting or low on ingredients…
    • for buttermilk, add 1 tbsp. white vinegar to 1 cup low-fat or whole milk. Let sit on the counter to curdle for at least 10 minutes. Do not use powdered buttermilk, as the texture will not work
    • for butter, try a neutral-flavored oil. Coconut oil is the healthiest and is solid at room temperature, like butter, but it will definitely flavor your baked goods. If substituting a veggie or seed oil, look for expeller-pressed oils, which have undergone less harsh processing. Liquid oil will not work as a substitution for butter in cookies unless the original recipe calls for melted butter
    • sour cream and yogurt are interchangeable
    • for milk, try water, coconut milk, or even coffee. Other dairy products, such as buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt, are also options. Do not try juice, as the sugar content will change the chemical composition of the batter/dough you are making

Substitutions in Cooking

  • dairy products.
    • for butter, try substituting olive oil. Consider adding an extra pinch of salt to compensate for the lack of salt from the butter
    • for milk or cream, try water or veggie stock, keeping in mind that this will dramatically change the flavor of the original recipe. Other options include unflavored non-dairy milks, such as rice milk or soy milk
    • for cheeses, feel free to try a different cheese based on personal taste. Unfortunately, there is not a great vegan/non-dairy substitute for cheese, although nutritional yeast has a slightly cheesy taste; if avoiding cheese due to dietary restrictions, look for recipes that do not feature cheese or use cheese only as garnish
  • herbs and spices.
    • there is no substitute for fresh herbs, especially cilantro and basil. if you only have access to dried herbs, then use one-third of the amount of fresh herbs called for in the original recipe
    • feel free to make substitutions for taste! cilantro-averse? parsley is pretty but doesn’t even come close to achieving the right flavor balance—I recommend adding ground coriander instead (which, I’m told, does not usually present the same soapy taste)
  • veggies.
    • feel free to make substitutions and additions for taste! keep seasonality and water content in mind
  • grains.
    • in grain salads, any grain is interchangeable. Don’t like quinoa? Try barley or farro!
    • if gluten free, try cornstarch as a thickening agent in place of flour. Try rice or buckwheat flour in place of all-purpose wheat flour in thin batters


  • Do you really not like fruit? What about strawberries? What about mangoes? What about bananas? No. I don’t like fruit. I am still trying to grow in that, and I am willing to give fruity bites a try…I just don’t usually go for a second bite.
  • What is your favorite kitchen tool? Garlic press! And microplane zester! And pastry cutter! Oh, there are so many ways to answer this question…
  • How do you really eat? Do you stick to a healthy diet? Well, my lunches often consist chiefly of peanut butter toast or egg salad wraps. So no, I do not always eat healthy, well-rounded meals (which also means I have no judgment for you if you similarly indulge in your favorites).
  • Do I really have to measure that exactly? If you are baking, I highly recommend sticking to exact measurements. Please read my advice on measurements under the Food Dictionary. In cooking, exact measurements are generally less important, and you can feel free to eyeball it or “measure” into the palm of your hand if you are so inclined.
  • Can I use low-fat instead of full fat? Sure! But consider the role that the fat played in the original recipe: was it serving to make something creamy? If so, try subbing something creamy instead (e.g., don’t just use milk or light cream instead of heavy cream in cooking; try fat-free Greek yogurt!) to achieve a similar consistency. Also, please check the ingredients! Not all low-fat items are made equal, and more highly processed foods are likely to replace the fats with chemicals and sugars.
  • Should I really spend money on a block of parmesan? Yes. Please. Do not buy the powdered stuff in the green can. You’ll thank me later.
  • and the dreaded… Why didn’t this recipe turn out the way I wanted? Um…I don’t know. Shoot me an email and I will try to help you figure it out. Keep in mind that I am a home cook (and I still have my fair share of unlucky kitchen disasters), and I may not be able to figure out exactly why your attempt at a recipe went sideways unless I can share a kitchen with you. Feel free to pick my brain anyway!

What Do You Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s