Back to Basics 5: The beginners guide to ingredient substitutions

Please follow and like us:

Don’t you just hate it when you’re in the middle of a recipe and have forgotten to get an ingredient at the store? Or you’re sure you had self-raising flour at the back of the cupboard but can’t find it now? Well today I’ll give you a few handy tips for using other ingredients that you might already have on hand.

As a general rule though, if you want to switch one product for a like product you can usually do that without too much fuss. For instance if the recipe calls for carrots but you’ve got zucchinis there is no problem switching these two vegetables because they’re still vegetables. Likewise if you want to switch beef for lamb or beef for chicken you can usually do it but you’ll need to adjust the cooking times depending on which cut of meat you’re swapping it for.

The same applies for grains. If you’re switching rice for pasta, pasta for couscous or couscous for freekah you can make the switch without too much fuss, but whichever you do use make sure you adjust the cooking time (couscous will cook in 5 minutes whereas brown rice needs 30 minutes).

Lentils replaced beef mince in my homemade sausage rolls

Check the tables below for some of the most common ingredient substitutions I use in my own cooking.

Pantry Items

Item Substitute
Self-raising flour Plain flour with 1-2 tsp baking powder
BBQ sauce Tomato sauce mixed with Worcestershire sauce
Chicken/veg/beef stock Water and salt (+ herb/spice for flavour)
Taco spice mix Cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano and lemon
Red wine Grape juice and vinegar (equal mix)
White wine Apple juice and vinegar (equal mix)
Mayonnaise Make your own using oil, egg, salt and lemon juice.
Olive oil Oil from vegetables packed in oil (e.g. sundried tomatoes, marinated feta, chargrilled capsicum)
Red food colouring Beetroot water (boil some beetroots and use the water for recipes that need a red colourant)
Onion Leek, scallions, shallots
Potato Sweet potato, parsnip or other root vegetable (depending on recipe)
Fresh vegetables Frozen vegetables
Soy sauce Fish sauce, salt,
Lemon juice Vinegar (if you need the acidity) or other citrus juices (like orange or lime)


Dairy Products

Item Substitute
Cream Greek yoghurt or Greek yoghurt thinned with water/milk (depending on recipe)
Milk Greek yoghurt thinned with water
Coconut milk/cream Greek yoghurt/cream with desiccated coconut (best used in a curry or casserole)
Sour cream Greek yoghurt with lemon juice
Mozzarella cheese Bocconcini, feta, tasty cheese
Tasty cheese Elemental, gouda, edam, vintage cheese
Parmesan cheese Romesco, pecorino cheese


Other Items

Item Substitute
Beef Lamb, pork, chicken (depending on recipe)
Chicken Pork, turkey, duck
Bacon Feta, olives (to give salty flavour), chargrilled capsicum or eggplant (for smoky flavour).
Minced meat Lentils
Diced meat Beans – kidney, cannellini, black, fava
Pastry Depending on recipe you can switch filo pastry for puff and vice versa, or you can switch shortcrust for puff in sweet recipes


Don’t forget that you can also use an ingredient substitution if you don’t like a particular ingredient. Personally I don’t like bacon so I use feta and olives if a recipe calls for bacon and I need a salty ingredient to take its place.

Obviously the ingredient substitutions are best if you’re cooking a meal which requires an ingredient you don’t have. I don’t expect you to drink a glass of Greek yoghurt thinned with water if you don’t have any milk on hand! But I would use it if the cake I’m making needs a cup of milk and I don’t have any. 

Hopefully these substitutions have been helpful for you. Do you know of any other ingredient substitutions? If so, put it in the comments.

And check out the other Back to Basics posts too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *