Creative Ingredient Substitutions for Home Cooks

Emily Richards, Canadian Professional Home Economist, Author and Celebrity Chef 

I’m sure we’ve all been there: you’re halfway through a recipe when you realize that the ingredient you were sure you had on hand is nowhere to be found. Or worse, someone used it in the morning smoothie or in the sandwich you’re watching them eat as you realize your frantic pantry search is futile. Rather than surrender and start over, here are some tried and true kitchen tricks to help you execute your dinner or baking plan without experiencing culinary failure. 

Creative Substitutions


Baking Powder substitution: If 1 tsp of baking powder is needed for a recipe, decrease the liquid in the recipe by 1/2 cup (125 mL), and substitute 1/4 tsp (1 mL) baking soda whisked into 1/2 cup (125 mL) buttermilk or ‘sour milk’. 

Buttermilk substitution: No buttermilk? Measure 1 tbsp (15 mL) white vinegar or lemon juice into a 1 cup (250 mL) measuring cup and add enough milk (whole or 2%) to make 1 cup (250 mL) ‘sour milk’. Let stand for 5 minutes.
OR
Stir in 1 3/4 tsp (9 mL) cream of tartar into 1 cup (250 mL) of milk and let stand for 5 minutes.
OR
Substitute plain yogurt for buttermilk in equal amounts. 

Lard or Shortening substitution: Use butter in equal amounts. 

Coconut milk substitution: Use whole milk in equal amounts. 

Coconut cream substitution: Use 35% whipping cream in equal amounts. 

35% Whipping Cream substitution: Melt 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter and whisk in 3/4 cup (175 mL) 10% half-and-half cream or whole milk before using. For lighter cream, use slightly less butter. 

Mayonnaise substitution: You can use sour cream, plain yogurt or smooth cottage cheese in equal amounts, adding a pinch of sugar for sweetness, if desired. 

Cheddar Cheese substitution: Feel free to use a similarly textured cheese like Monterey Jack or Colby. 

Ricotta substitution: Cottage cheese is a great stand-in for ricotta. 

Cream cheese substitution: Try using smooth cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt or drained ricotta. 

Evaporated Milk substitution: Use 10% half-and-half cream instead. 

Sour Cream substitution: Use plain Greek yogurt
OR
Measure 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice or white vinegar into a measuring cup and add enough 35% whipping cream to equal 1 cup (250 mL).
OR
Whisk together 1/3 cup (75 mL) melted butter into 3/4 cup (175 mL) buttermilk. 

Creme Fraiche substitution: Whisk together 1 cup (250 mL) 35% whipping cream with 1 tbsp (15 mL) plain yogurt and let stand at room temperature for at least 6 hours. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Parmesan Cheese substitution: Use Ontario Asiago or similar hard cheese.

Mascarpone Cheese substitution: Beat together 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cream cheese with 1/4 cup (60 mL) 35% whipping cream and 1/4 cup (60 mL) sour cream. This will give you 2 cups (500 mL) of homemade mascarpone cheese.