Basic Cooking Substitutions You Should Know

If you cook or bake, you have to know how to substitute ingredients. Inevitably, you’ll be working on a recipe and lo and behold, you discover that one ingredient has either expired or you should have thrown out a week ago or even a year ago. It can be very frustrating and can upset the entire timing of a dish or meal if you have to drop everything and run to the store. It’s so much easier to look in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer or spice rack to see if you can substitute that item. There are hundreds of ingredient substitutions available but here are some of the most common ones.

Baking Substitutions

Self rising flour 1 cup

  • Combine 1 C. all-purpose flour plus 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Cake flour 1 cup–3 variations

  • Combine 7/8 C. all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch OR
  • Sift 1 C. all-purpose flour 3 times and then measure out 1 cup OR
  • Subtract 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Biscuit mix 2 & 1/4 cups

  • Combine 2 cups sifted flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup shortening.

Sugar 1 cup granulated

  • 2 C. powdered sugar OR
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar

Cornstarch 1 tablespoon

  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour OR
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon arrowroot OR
  • 2 tablespoon tapioca

Eggs, Dairy and Cheese

Eggs–1 single egg

  • Combine 1 tablespoon water plus 1 egg yolk, for baking
  • 2 egg yolks OR
  • 2 egg whites OR
  • 1/4 cup cholesterol free egg product OR
  • Combine 1 egg white and 2 teaspoons oil

Butter 1 cup

  • 7/8 C. shortening (vegetable) OR
  • 7/8 C. oil OR
  • 1 cup margarine

Buttermilk 1 cup

  • Subtract 1 tablespoon milk from 1 C. milk and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar. It should stand about five minutes before using OR
  • Combine 1/4 C. milk and 3/4 C. plain yogurt OR
  • Mix two teaspoons cream of tartar to 1 C. milk and let sit for ten minutes

Half and Half cream 1 cup

  • Mix 7/8 C. milk plus 1-1/2 tablespoons butter OR
  • 1 C. evaporated milk OR
  • Combine 2/3 C. low-fat or skim milk plus 1/3 C. heavy cream

Cheddar Cheese, sharp 1 cup

  • Mix 1 C. mild cheddar cheese plus 1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce and 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

Mascarpone Cheese

  • Cream cheese

Ricotta Cheese

  • Cottage cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese

  • Pecorino romano or Asiago, aged, or Parmesan, domestic

Vinegars, Fats and Oils

Balsamic vinegar

  • Cider vinegar or sherry

Red wine vinegar

  • Combine 1 tablespoon red wine plus 3 tablespoons cider vinegar


  • Lemon juice

Chili Oil 1/4 teaspoon

  • Mix 1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil plus pinch of dried pepper flakes or cayenne pepper

Sesame Oil 1 tablespoon

  • Saute 1-1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds in 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

Shortening, solid, 1 cup

  • 1-1/8 C. margarine or butter
  • Shortening, melted, 1 cup

1 C. cooking oil but should not be used if recipe calls for solid shortening

Seasonings, Herbs and Spices

Allspice 1 teaspoon

  • Mix 1/2 teaspoon cloves, ground and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Basil 1 teaspoon

  • 1 teaspoon thyme or oregano

Cayenne pepper 1/8 teaspoon

  • 4-5 drops hot sauce OR
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


  • Chili powder

Garlic 1 medium clove

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced, jar garlic

Italian seasoning

  • Mix equal amounts dried basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary

Poultry seasoning 1 teaspoon

  • Combine 1/4 teaspoon thyme and 3/4 teaspoon sage

Seasoned salt–makes 3 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon–store in small jar

  • Combine 2 tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon each onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric and cornstarch

Fruits and Vegetables


  • Shallots

Lemon or lime juice

  • White vinegar or bottled lemon or lime juice

Mushrooms, fresh 1 pound

  • 3 ounces dried, then add water to reconstitute
  • 12 ounces canned


  • White part of green onion (scallions) plus a dash of jar garlic

Tomato juice 1 cup

  • Combine 1/2 C. water plus 1/2 C. tomato sauce

Tomato paste 1/2 cup

  • Cook, uncovered 1 C. tomato sauce until it’s reduced to 1/2 C.

Tomato sauce 2 cups

  • Combine 1 C. water with 3/4 C. tomato paste

Miscellaneous Items


  • Canadian or smoked ham

Bread crumbs

  • Cracker crumbs,crushed or 1 slice dried bread, crumbled

Broth or stock, canned

  • Chicken or beef bouillon cubes or granules, along with boiling water

Cocktail sauce 1-1/4 cups

  • Combine 1/3 C. ketchup, 1 tablespoons horseradish, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoons worcestershire sauce

Hot sauce

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper or dried, crushed red pepper flakes

Tartar sauce 1/2 cup

  • Combine 6 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 tablespoon pickle relish and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

This should give you some peace of mind that you can still complete that recipe and not feel like it’s a disaster. The key is to trust yourself that you can figure it out.

The Author:

Marilee Johnson’s mission is to help others feel confident in the kitchen and provide easy to understand tips, techniques and recipes.

One thought on “Basic Cooking Substitutions You Should Know

  1. Baking Tip – I tweak each and every recipe I prepare to render it more healthful; When I need 1/2 cup of oil, I use 1/4 cup of applesauce and 1/4 cup of light tasting virgin olive oil, depending on what I’m making. I always use baby prunes for the fat in brownies or chocolate recipes, always use eggwhites and make the adjustment from full eggs. I use the best quality ingredients possible to achieve the optimum result. I buy BIG bags of flour and separate it into 3 pks.1 in the freezer, 1 in the fridge and 1 in my pantry. This ensures me that I’ll always have fresh flour, and it’s fun to do especially when it’s on sale.

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