15 Simple Swaps for When You Run Out of Common Ingredients
These days, you want to make as few trips to the grocery store as possible, which means that a week or two may pass before you're able to refill your pantry with baking ingredients, grains, and simple proteins. When you do get to the store, long lines and low supplies mean your resident cook needs to get creative when it comes to basics like flour, sugar, eggs, and rice. With so many folks at home making their own bread, snacks, and three meals a day, simple swaps for ingredient shortages are a must. Try these easy ideas for substitutions when you're running low on necessities, or consult our complete list of substitutions for common ingredients.
Eggs, oh eggs. Any cook can feel lost without this magical binder and quick protein, but these egg substitutes can come to the rescue. The important thing to know is your purpose: are you baking a cake, or are you making a breakfast scramble? For a scramble, try JUST eggs, the vegan substitute made with mung beans, or whip up a hearty tofu scramble with veggies and spices.
If you're going for a cake, mix up a powdered egg replacer like Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacer or Ener-G Egg Replacer. If you're making bread, waffles, pancakes, or muffins, where a little bit of graininess won't be a problem, a flax egg is great. Smoother textures like brownies can invoke the creamy power of half a ripe avocado, or a quarter-cup of ripe bananas, full-fat yogurt, silken tofu, or applesauce.
Baking and don't have any of those? Try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of white vinegar.
If your store is out of bacon, try other fatty cuts to flavor your split pea soup, casserole, and hash. Pork belly, guanciale (pork cheek cured like pancetta) and other fatty pork cuts are great alternatives to cook your mirepoix in or flavor soups with. A smoky seasoning and a bacon smoked salt can also do the trick.
Milk can be a tricky one to replace, but there is a way if you can't find any at the store.
To replace one cup of milk, combine:
- a quarter-cup dry milk powder plus one cup water OR
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk plus 1/3 cup water
You can also make your own homemade condensed milk with milk powder.
If your kids need nutrition and you can't find dairy milk or alternative milks at the store, you can supplement their diets by mixing up powdered milk with water, though they may not enjoy the taste as much. They can also get a great deal of calcium from foods like broccoli, almonds, and sweet potatoes.
4. Alternative Milks
If oat, rice, and nut milks are out at your store, you can make your own at home. Try these on for taste: cinnamon-scented rice milk, almond milk, flax milk, hemp milk, and oat milk. If you have any kind of nut, you can probably make a non-dairy milk with this roasted mixed nuts milk recipe.
It's hard to replace cheese, it's true. But you can make your own ricotta or fromage blanc for topping pizza or pastas. You can also make paneer cheese at home for your favorite Indian recipes,. It's easy to turn that fresh cheese into cottage cheese, too. If you're not able to grab shells and cheese for your kids at the store, try this vegan mac and cheese recipe which uses soy milk and nutritional yeast.
Related: Can You Freeze Cheese?
6. Cream Cheese
As a substitute for cream cheese, you can puree one cup of cottage cheese or strain one cup of plain yogurt overnight in cheesecloth. If you haven't tried non-dairy cream cheese and it's available, now is the time — Treeline, Miyoko's, Kite Hill, and Toffuti all make great versions.
Though few things impart quite the smell and fat of butter, you can provide enough fat to sufficiently brown your onions and bake delicious cookies with some easy substitutes.
For one cup of salted butter, there are several options:
- one cup margarine
- one cup shortening plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 7/8 cup vegetable oil plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 7/8 cup lard plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
For one cup of unsalted butter, try substituting:
- one cup shortening
- 7/8 cup vegetable oil
- 7/8 cup lard
If you're using butter to sauté vegetables or finish off roasted vegetables, try olive oil or a neutral oil like canola oil instead.
Did you know that if you can get your hands on one small container of plain yogurt and some milk, you can make your own Instant Pot yogurt? In these low-supply times, when you may not be able to find yogurt in the refrigerated dairy aisle, it may be worth investing in this super handy appliance.
If you're looking to bake with yogurt or make dressings or Indian recipes, try substituting one cup sour cream, one cup buttermilk, or one cup sour milk for one cup yogurt.
Peas, soy products, tempeh, tofu, seitan, and textured vegetable protein can stand in for beans in many soups, stews, stir-fries, salads, and casseroles. Though your local grocery store may not have black beans or even chickpeas right now, a quick trip to a local international foods grocery store should provide plenty of options. Experiment with the wide array of beans in the bean world, testing your hand at Chinese mung bean sprout salad, sweet red bean paste for dumplings, or a fragrant mung bean dahl. If you usually make a chili chock-full of beans, go for a meaty Texas-style chili this time.
If your favorite cereal is out of stock, it's time to turn to fun alternative grain recipes like overnight oats, yummy cheese grits, or breakfast polenta. Also, pretty much any kind of grain you can get your hands on in the bulk section can be cooked up as a breakfast bowl, or you can make your own granola at home.
Did you know you can "catch" wild yeast from the air and make your own sourdough starter? If you haven't tried this fun project, it's all the rage in these days when folks are trying to avoid grocery stores (and can't find yeast even if they do go to the store). Though perfect, bakery-level sourdough takes time to perfect, ask around with neighbors and neighborhood associations, as well as your local Freecycle group and Buy Nothing Project group, to see if anyone has any sourdough starter they're willing to share.
You can turn to honey, corn syrup, powdered sugar, or brown sugar if you're out of white sugar. Which is best for your recipe will depend on what you're making.
For one cup of white sugar, sub in:
- one cup brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 cup honey
- 3/4 cup corn syrup
You can cook with Splenda, but be aware that guidelines of subbing in one cup of Splenda for one cup of white sugar often make a recipe too sweet, and you may want to experiment with reducing by half at first.
You can make powdered sugar from granulated sugar by simply blending one cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch until a fine powder. If you absolutely need the taste of brown sugar, try blending one cup of white sugar with 1/4 cup of molasses, decreasing the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
If they don't have the rice you usually use, experiment with new types of grains. You can usually find bulgur wheat, freekeh and Israeli couscous at your Middle Eastern grocery store, and barley at Asian-American grocery stores. Check the bulk sections at health food stores and big chain grocery stores too, where you can often find bins peddling grains that will work just as well for rice salads. For paleo-friendly options, try cauliflower rice.
If you can't find onions at your local store, consider your purpose and which color of onions you were planning on using. For spicier, more vibrant or robust recipes (white onions), leeks and green onions are great substitutes. But for more delicate flavors (yellow onions), you'll want to stick with shallots, dried minced onion, or onion powder.
Related: How To Pick, Prep, and Store Onions
Is the stinky rose not in stock at your store? You can swap in:
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Just remember to reduce the salt you add to the recipe. Chopped up garlic chives, which you can usually find at Chinese and Korean grocery stores, may also work for certain recipes like stir-fries where the garlic is mainly a flavoring. Dehydrated garlic may also be an option, if the dish will have time to rehydrate the garlic pieces to draw flavor out.