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Common Food Substitutes – 12 Quick Recipe Replacements

Have you ever been in the middle of cooking a recipe on a busy night and discover that you are out of an ingredient? Then you might find this list of common food substitutes really helpful.

One thing to keep in mind with this list of recipe swaps is that when you substitute one food for another, the flavor and texture of the finished recipe might not be quite the same as the original.

Still, even with these differences, knowing what to use when you run out of one item can sometimes be a recipe saver. Keep reading for my handy list.

common food substitutes for cooking ingredients

12 Common Food Substitutes

While there are literally hundreds of foods that can be substituted one for another, I have tried to think of some common ingredients used in the recipe swaps for this list.

Many of these are items that I use all the time, so running out of them could really make my recipe come to a halt. These recipe replacements are quick and easy and most of them feature items we all stock in our pantries.

Tomato sauce substitute

This ingredient is used in many Italian based dishes and the texture of the sauce is the key to making it a key ingredient in the recipe.Make a tomato sauce substitute using tomato paste and water.

If you run out of tomato sauce and need it for a recipe, just substitute 1/2 cup of tomato paste mixed with 1/2 cup for water to make one cup of a tomato sauce substitute.

Once you have the texture of the sauce right for this recipe swap, you can add some fresh herbs and seasonings to suit your recipe.

Buttermilk substitute

Buttermilk makes homemade cornbread muffins taste better and gives a tangy taste to many sauces.  When you run out of it, you can use this mixture for similar results.fresh buttermilk in a jar

To make one cup of buttermilk substitute, combine 1 tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of regular whole milk.  The vinegar will give you the tang you are looking for.

It’s a quick and easy recipe replacement that only takes seconds to prepare.

Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Substitute 

It’s time to make your favorite dessert and you don’t have a square of unsweetened baking chocolate. What to do?baking chocolate and melted chocolate on a whisk

Easy, peasy!  Just mix 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder with tablespoon of shortening for each square of baking chocolate. Problem solved with this food substitute!

Apple Pie Spice Substitute

Fall will be here before we know it and for me that means homemade apple desserts. Many of my favorite apple desserts call for apple pie spice.cinnamon and nutmeg

If you don’t have it on hand, there is no need to worry. Just mix together  the following ingredients to give you very similar results! (you can even make this ahead of time and never have to worry about buying apple pie spice again.)

This recipe makes just over 4 tablespoons – more than enough for a few apple recipes:

  • 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon of allspice.

If you don’t have the last two, a teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg for each teaspoon of apple pie spice called for will also do in a pinch.

Baking Powder Substitute

Baking powder is used to lighten the texture and increase the volume of baked goods. What do you use if you run out of it?Baking soda

Just substitute 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar for each teaspoon of baking powder needed.

Bread Crumbs Substitute

So many recipes call for bread crumbs as an outer coating to give protein a crisp finish, or to use as a binding agent in items like meat balls or meatloaf.

Bread crumbs on schnitzel

When you find that you have run out of bread crumbs, there are several items that can be used instead.  Just use a rolling pin and crush crackers or cereal to use instead.

Even items like pretzels and corn chips or potato chips can be used in place of bread crumbs to give a similar texture.

The taste of the food swap will vary depending on what item you crush, but the texture will be similar.

Cornstarch Substitute

I use cornstarch to thicken sauces quickly and also to coat fruit before I bake it in pies and flans.bowl of cornstarch

If you run out of cornstarch, use two tablespoons of flour for each tablespoon of cornstarch called for.  Arrowroot is also a good substitute (and it’s gluten free). 

I use 2 teaspoons of arrowroot in place of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Note on using flour as the food substitute:  Cook the recipe a little longer than you would if you used cornstarch to get rid of the flour flavor.  

Sour Cream substitute

This used to be a substitute for times when I ran out of sour cream (or it had gone off in the fridge) but I now use it as a replacement most of the time.Jar of sour cream

I use fat free plain Greek Yogurt as a substitute for sour cream in most recipes that call for it.  It has a very similar taste and texture and it’s loaded with protein and much lower in fat and calories.

Try it! You may be surprised with how much you like this recipe replacement.

Substitute for Eggs

Have you run out of eggs, but your family is asking for some of their favorite peanut butter cookies?Cracked egg

No problem at all, just substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce for one egg. In a pinch,  you can use 1/2 cup of applesauce for 2 eggs.

If your recipe calls for more than 1 or 2 eggs, the substitution can be trickier. Recipes calling for more eggs usually need the eggs to provide structure to the recipe and applesauce has no comparable proteins to help with this.

Applesauce is also a great substitute for oil in baked goods and helps to keep the fat and calories down. I use it 1:1 in this case.

Mustard substitute

One of the common standbys for most summer barbecues is bottled mustard.  We all have it on hand in the fridge or pantry most of the time.Mustard in a container

If you find that you have run out of it, or the bottle is just about empty, you can achieve almost the same flavor by mixing 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried mustard with 1 tablespoon of vinegar

Substitute for Molasses

molasses on a spoon

image adapted from Wikimedia Commons photo

One of the ingredients called for when making homemade gingerbread or Boston Baked beans is molasses.  Many people don’t stock it since it is not often used in other recipes.

A good replacement for 1 cup of molasses is 3/4 cup of brown sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Since brown sugar is made from both granulated sugar and molasses, the flavor of this recipe swap will be the quite a close match.

Shrimp cocktail sauce substitute

It is time to serve that delicious shrimp cocktail for your party and you discover that the cocktail sauce you were sure you had on hand is not in the pantry.seafood cocktail sauce

What to do? For this substitute, you’ll need a few pantry items but luckily they are ones most of us have stocked. 

Mix these ingredients together to make your own shrimp cocktail sauce – ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.

Use the recipe card below for the amounts and to print out this recipe.

Yield: about 2 cups

Shrimp Cocktail Sauce - Easy Food Substitute for the Bottled Kind

seafood cocktail sauce

Make your own seafood cocktail sauce easily with this simple recipe.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes


  • 2 cups of ketchup (chili sauce works too)
  • 2 tablespoon of horseradish (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • Optional: 1/4 tsp hot sauce (if you like it spicier)


  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until they are combined thoroughly.
  2. Store in a covered Mason Jar or other air tight container.
  3. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

2 tablespoons

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 36Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 319mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 0gSugar: 7gProtein: 0g

Nutritional information is approximate due to natural variation in ingredients and the cook-at-home nature of our meals.

Knowing what foods to substitute for others means that you can avoid last minute trips to the grocery store.

Armed with these food replacements, you can also use some of them to cut down on You can also use food substitutes to cut down on fats and sugar in a recipe to make it healthier.

For more on this topic, check out my healthy snack food swaps, and heart smart food swaps, as well.

Being aware of these food swaps will come in handy time and time again in the kitchen.

Pin these common food substitutes for later.

Would you like a reminder of these recipe replacements? Just pin this image to one of your cooking boards on Pinterest.Food Substitutes for buttermilk, eggs and cocktail sauce plus many other ingredients

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